Much of the talk entering Friday night's Pac-12 showdown between Washington State at Stanford centered around Cougars quarterback Connor Halliday after his record-setting performance the week prior. Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan decided to steal the show.
The No. 25 Cardinal outlasted Washington State at home Friday, 34-17 in a game that Stanford controlled from the opening drive. Hogan led the way offensively, going 23-for-35 through the air for 284 yards and three touchdowns to overcome Stanford's early red-zone troubles.
ESPN College Football summed up the result:
Headed by Mike Leach's typical aerial assault, Washington State (2-5, 1-3 Pac-12) refused to go away by trimming the deficit to one possession in both the third and fourth quarters. Halliday went 44-for-71 passing with 303 yards, two touchdowns and one interception while the Cougars ran it just 10 times total.
But when they needed a score to threaten the lead, Stanford's defense simply rose to the task by forcing eight Washington State punts.
Here's a glance at the final box score:
Stanford (4-2, 2-1) may have been looking forward to coming home after losing at Notre Dame last week, but that feeling changed after seeing Halliday break a NCAA record with 734 passing yards—in a loss—against Cal. After watching film all week, the Cardinal players had a good idea what they were up against.
"It's hard to get reads (on Halliday),"Stanford cornerback Alex Carter told San Francisco Chronicle's Tom FitzGerald. "You just have to focus on your assignment and play your man. Hopefully, he makes a mistake here and there, and we can capitalize on that. I'm going to lock down whoever I’m on."
Stanford's preparation showed off, and one of the nation's traditional defensive powers flexed its muscle early. After its offense drove down the field for an opening field goal, the Cardinal allowed just one Cougar first down before forcing a punt.
Stanford quickly jumped to take advantage. A pair of rushes from Remound Wright and Christian McCaffrey set up Hogan's 39-yard touchdown pass to Eric Cotton.
The game wasn't five minutes old, but Stanford had raced out to a 10-0 advantage.
Halliday quickly mounted an answer, throwing 11 times on an 11-play, 75-yard drive capped off by a nine-yard touchdown to Vince Mayle. But that was all the success Washington State would find early.
The Cougars punted on six of their seven first-half drives, and Stanford's Ty Montgomery had a second-quarter punt return that set up Hogan's second touchdown toss of the game to put the Cardinal up 17-7 at the break.
It wasn't Stanford's lead, but rather its red-zone shortcomings that were the story from the opening half. The Cardinal's last two drives entered the red zone, with only a fumble and a missed field goal to show.
ESPN Stats and Info noted Stanford's horrible red-zone rating:
Jon Solomon of CBS Sports added some context:
Washington State strung together a 14-play drive early in the third quarter, but a brutal intentional grounding penalty on Halliday pushed the Cougars out of the red zone and set up a field goal to make it a 17-10 contest.
Just when Leach and Co. were knocking on the door, Hogan politely shut the door. The Cardinal answered with a nine-play, 56-yard drive. And most importantly, they got it done in the red zone—Hogan threw for his third touchdown on a four-yard toss to Greg Taboada.
David Lombardi of ESPN noticed they let Hogan be Hogan, but most importantly they made it a 24-10 contest:
But as Cal would tell you, Washington State is never out of a game when Halliday is slinging the ball and orchestrating long drives.
Another lengthy march down the field for the Cougars came, running only twice while throwing 14 times. After a five-minute drive, Halliday escaped the pocket and threw across the field on fourth-and-goal with River Cracraft open for a three-yard touchdown that made it a one-score game yet again.
Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com broke down how Halliday looked on the play:
Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports gave a more blunt description:
Washington State didn't have its typical success offensively, something that was expected given the step-up in competition. But that required the defense to step up and force stops in key moments, which it proved unable to do.
Stanford again got the ball back with a one-possession game, and again drove down the field for a 34-yard field goal that made it a double-digit game. Halliday got behind the chains on his next attempt to go down the field, and Stanford took the air out of the ball and pounded the rock late to score a late touchdown that put the game out of reach.
While Washington State's defense couldn't rise to the occasion, Stanford's unit did constantly and was able to thwart the nation's hottest passer. College GameDay noted Stanford's 2014 success:
The defensive success is all well and good, but Stanford still has two early-season defeats to make up for—as told by its plummet to No. 25 in the rankings. With ranked opponents in three of the Cardinal's next four games, however, a 17-point win over a dangerous divisional foe could be just the morale boost they need.
Stanford faces No. 20 Arizona State next weekend in a matchup that will decide which of the two squads has a serious chance at contending in their respective division.
As for Washington State, it has already fallen three times in conference play. After nearly toppling Oregon early in the season, Leach and his coaching staff now look for answers heading into a bye week.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
The Oklahoma State Cowboys came out of the gate a little sluggish last weekend against the Iowa State Cyclones, but right before halftime the kicking game gave them a much-needed boost to give them a 13-6 lead going into the half.
Ultimately, the Pokes managed to turn on the jets in the second half and ride the momentum generated by the special teams to a 37-20 victory.
Kansas hasn't been as fortunate, as the Jayhawks have lost their two Big 12 games by a combined 42 points so far. That's led to Charlie Weis losing his job and has put this team into a bit of turmoil.
On paper, this looks like an easy win for the Cowboys; however, this has the potential for a classic trap game on the road.
Can Oklahoma State take care of business and improve to 5-1 before it hits the meat of its schedule? Read on to find out.