SEATTLE — Washington State’s football season took a sobering turn Saturday night at CenturyLink Field, where No. 5-ranked Stanford not only schooled the Cougars but battered them, 55-17.
Earlier in the week, WSU defensive coordinator Mike Breske had called the Cardinal style “big-boy ball,” and it was on display all night, but no more so than in a four-minute stretch of the third quarter that was positively ghoulish for the Cougars, who had won three of their first four games.
With 10:42 left in the period and WSU trailing 17-3, Stanford’s massive outside linebacker, Trent Murphy, blew through the left side of the WSU offensive line like a missile and buried quarterback Connor Halliday, who threw the ball up and had it picked off by safety Jordan Richards and returned 30 yards for a touchdown.
Halliday, the fourth-year junior, mounted a stationary bike on the sideline to try to minimize pain on his left side and returned for the next series. But he was visibly hurting as he tried to throw a swing pass and came out of the game, helped to the locker room by a couple of training-staff members.
His condition appears questionable for next Saturday’s game at California. The Cougars do not announce injury information.
Mere minutes after Halliday’s injury, backup quarterback Austin Apodaca was belted by another outside linebacker, Kevin Anderson, and he lay on the turf briefly but was able to continue. But running back Teondray Caldwell also left for the locker room shortly after Halliday exited with an unknown ailment.
As if the injury news weren’t alarming enough, the Cardinal reinforced its ranking in that dominating stretch. Quarterback Kevin Hogan, who had passed for two first-half touchdowns to Devon Cajuste, hit Michael Rector for a 45-yard touchdown, and on WSU’s next series, Murphy stretched up his massive frame, hijacked an Apodaca pass to the left on an intended bubble screen, and galloped 30 yards past the WSU quarterback to make it 38-3.
The weather — mostly dry but breezy in the first half and then increasingly rainy in the second — was already a downer, and the crowd count added to WSU’s misery. Only 40,095 fans turned out, the smallest crowd the Cougars have drawn in the 11-game history of the Seattle game.
WSU entered the game No. 2 in the nation in pass defense, allowing only 118 yards per game, but the Cardinal shredded that statistic as Hogan threw for 222 yards before intermission. The Cougars simply couldn’t get to him enough to impact his throws, and WSU couldn’t hold up on the back end.
On the other side of the ball, WSU was clearly mindful of the 10-sack beating quarterback Jeff Tuel took in 2012 in a 24-17 loss in Palo Alto.
Halliday threw quick passes and WSU pecked at the Stanford defense for 11 first-half first downs, but couldn’t get much done deep in Cardinal territory.
It took only three plays for Stanford to dictate terms, as Hogan, with a third-and-3 at his 35, gunned a 48-yard pass over the middle to Rector, who had beaten cornerback Damante Horton.
That led to Jordan Williamson’s 28-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.
WSU knotted it on Andrew Furney’s 36-yard field goal after a good drive, but Stanford took control on its next series.
At the Cardinal 43, WSU brought pressure but couldn’t dent the Stanford protection, and Hogan had time to zip a deep post pass to Cajuste. He got a step on linebacker Cyrus Coen and outlegged him to the end zone with 2:49 left in the first quarter and Stanford was up, 10-3.
Now the Cougars started making errors that hurt them. What would have been a first-down catch was dropped by Isiah Myers, and WSU punted from its 17. Inconsistent Michael Bowlin shanked a punt, his first of two such, and it rolled out of bounds at the WSU 48.
On third-and-six, Hogan stepped through a big WSU blitz and bolted 11 yards for a first down at the Cougar 33. Then Hogan found Cajuste again on a deep post for another touchdown, and Stanford controlled it 17-3.