Stanford Cardinal: The Pac-12 and CFP Out of Reach

October 8, 2016; Stanford, CA, USA; Washington State Cougars wide receiver River Cracraft (21) catches a touchdown pass against Stanford Cardinal safety Zach Hoffpauir (10) during the fourth quarter at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
October 8, 2016; Stanford, CA, USA; Washington State Cougars wide receiver River Cracraft (21) catches a touchdown pass against Stanford Cardinal safety Zach Hoffpauir (10) during the fourth quarter at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

The Stanford Cardinal were no match for the Washington State Cougars on Saturday, and the 42-16 loss has knocked Stanford out of the College Football Playoff and possibly the Pac-12 title.

A changing of guard is happening in the Pac-12 North Division. The state of Washington has currently asserted themselves as the teams to beat. Both Washington and Washington State defeated both the Stanford Cardinal and Oregon Ducks soundly the past two weeks. What was once a stranglehold held by Stanford and Oregon in the conference has dissolved. The statement wins by the Washington schools is a change in the guard for the Pac-12.

The Cougars and the Huskies are both riding impressive victories over their Pac-12 division opponents, the Ducks and the Cardinal respectively. Washington showed no signs of having a let-down game by dropping 70-points on Northwest rival Oregon. A 12-game losing streak was snapped against a Ducks team that was checked out by halftime.

Washington State had defeated Oregon the week before and wanted to bring their success from home on the road. The challenge would be going up against Stanford’s more formidable defense, who looked to rebound.

By riding the momentum from defeating Oregon in Pullman, Washington State got off to a good start at Stanford Stadium. The Cougar’s defense forced a three-and-out giving an early opportunity for Luke Falk to make his presence felt.

However, the presence and momentum were short-lived after Falk’s first pass attempt was intercepted by Stanford’s Dallas Lloyd. Despite the setback, the team looked unconcerned on the sideline.

Stanford left points on the field in what could have been a difference maker. Conrad Ukropina missed two field goals, both hitting the post, deflating an already struggling Stanford offense. Had the field goals been made, Stanford would only trail 14-9 at the half and perhaps make the game swing in their favor the second half.

However, two factors from Stanford’s loss were the play of Ryan Burns and the play of the offensive line. Burns finished the night throwing for 222 yards, but an interception and not producing on drives prevented the Cardinal from getting into the game. To make matters worse, receivers were dropping catches in potential turning-point moments.

JJ Arcega-Whiteside caught Stanford’s only offensive touchdown of the night. However, the touchdown was meaningless as time expired and the Cougars were celebrating with their fans. He finished with 68 yards receiving, but had a few dropped passes which could have made a difference. Trenton Irwin also dropped a few critical passes. Michael Rector caught five passes for 90 yards, but his efforts went in vein as he could not find the end zone.

After a poor effort in Seattle, Stanford’s offensive line knew their play had to change. The message was lost in translation as the Cougar defense outplayed the Cardinal offense. Stanford was unable to block to allow Christian McCaffrey to get going. McCaffrey ended up injured in the third quarter, and did not return. He was on the sidelines trying to stay loose, but the decision was made for him to not return.

McCaffrey was never involved from the start, and neither was the play of Stanford’s offensive line. Keller Chryst replaced Burns for the second straight game early, but even his efforts could not get the Cardinal offense moving. Pressure came as Burns was sacked four times, picked off, and lost a fumble. The ground game was non-existent, only rushing for 61 yards total.

With Stanford’s offensive struggles, Washington State capitalized. The absence of Quenton Meeks and Alijah Holder was noticeable for the Cardinal, as Falk found his receivers easily down the field. He threw four touchdowns on 357 yards passing.

Frank Buncom had a pick-six on Falk’s second interception, but Falk stayed calm. The following series, he led the Cougars down the field, capped by a 17-yard touchdown reception by Gabe Marks.

Falk’s pass to Marks on the score came after two false start penalties, putting the ball at the Stanford 17-yard line. Stanford applied pressure, but Falk stayed poised, finding Marks open all alone in the back of the end zone.

Throughout his career, River Cracraft has been a solid go-to receiver for Washington. Although he was quiet in the first half, he made himself known in the second half. He finished the night catching seven passes for 130 yards and a touchdown.

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Tavares Martin Jr. was targeted only two times, but he made those receptions impact the scoreboard. Both receptions resulted in touchdowns. Stanford’s defense contained the run game but missed tackles on receivers proved costly.

Washington State took advantage of a reeling Stanford team. Stanford’s struggles began in the first road game against UCLA. The struggles only grew more in a crushing loss to Washington. With the early jump to the game, the Cougars added more woes to the Cardinal.

Mike Leach has Washington State trending in the right direction. Where the team finishes in the conference remains to be seen. Games against UCLA and Arizona State have the caliber to send the Cougars reeling if Leach cannot keep the momentum going after two quality wins.

Although tied with Washington with 2-0 conference records, the Huskies are playing at a higher caliber despite the Cougars success.

How David Shaw handles Stanford will be critical the rest of the way. Expectations before the season are no longer a reality. Play on offense and defense needs to improve before heading to South Bend for a matchup against Notre Dame. McCaffrey may have lost out on the Heisman this season, but he needs to be the centerpiece for Stanford to have success.

Next: Stanford Cardinal Look To Rebound Against Washington State

Reality has set in for Stanford. Two straight losses at the hands of the Washington schools have ended a chance to repeat as Pac-12 Champions. College Football Playoff hopes have gone up in flames for a team entering the season with high hopes. The goals may have been lost, but pride is at stake the rest of way. If Stanford cannot turn fortunes around, the season will be a total loss if a bowl game is not made.