If you didn't watch the game, the final score might surprise you. After all, this is a Stanford squad that's supposed to be one of the best dozen teams in the nation, they were coming off of a bye week, they were playing at home, and their opponent was the Washington State Cougars, the last place team in the Pac-10.
On the one hand, this game wasn't nearly as close as the 38-28 score would indicate, but on the other, buried beneath the ten-point win are legitimate concerns.
First the good. The ground game was dominant throughout, as the committee of running backs churned out 249 yards rushing, led by Stepfan Taylor's 142 yards and two touchdowns. Anthony Wilkerson also enjoyed the most productive day of his young career as he ran nine times for fifty-five yards.
Andrew Luck wasn't as sharp as he normally is, but he still managed three touchdown passes, one each to Ryan Whalen, Doug Baldwin, and Coby Fleener.
Once again, though, there were problems on the defensive side of the ball. The Cougars might be a weak team still searching for their first conference win, but there are signs that their offense might be one of the better units in the Pac-12 in 2011. Sophomore quarterback Jeff Tuel still has a ways to go before he'll be seen on a level with Luck, but on this day his numbers were better. He threw for 298 yards and four touchdowns, two to Jared Karstetter. But maybe the most impressive Cougar in the offensive huddle was true freshman Marquess Wilson, who caught six balls for 150 yards, including a 74-yard touchdown.
While the Cougars are definitely talented on that side of the ball, there were times when things looked far too easy for them. Take a look at their four touchdown drives:
8 plays, 58 yards in 3:17
5 plays, 80 yards in 1:49
7 plays, 80 yards in 2:25
4 plays, 80 yards in 1:40
For a team that has BCS aspirations, that simply isn't good enough. To be fair, the last two drives came after the outcome had been determined, but it still isn't good enough. Jim Harbaugh agrees: "Some things we're going to have to address and get better at. It really comes down to some guys just not doing what they were supposed to be doing, and at times it looked atrocious. We have to address it, and I will." I know that he will.
The bottom line, though, is that the Mighty Card is 6-1 for the first time since 1970, and there is still hope for the first Rose Bowl berth in more than a decade. As evidence of the changing culture of the program, Andrew Luck downplayed the significance of the Cardinal's sixth win. "Coach Harbaugh set a standard here. That standard certainly isn't just being bowl eligible." A tough road trip looms on the horizon as the Cardinal will travel next week to face Jake Locker and the Washington Huskies, but on this Saturday night, seven games into the season, things look pretty good.
Go. Mighty. Card.
[Photo Credit: Paul Sakuma|Associated Press]