STANFORD, Calif. -- Stanford's young defense showed considerable growth over the first half of the 2015 season, but there's concern in the Cardinal camp about a scary test looming on Halloween night: Washington State's pass-happy yet run-capable offense, which has been logging dizzying numbers as of late.
The Cougars have thrown for over 400 yards and rushed for over 100 yards in their last three games. In two of those, quarterback Luke Falk attempted over 60 passes and passed for over 500 yards. Pullman "is on a scale with Woodstock" when it comes to excitement level on game days, and much credit for that belongs to Mike Leach's Air Raid. The offense has exhausted opposing defenses, and the Cougars have scored at least 45 points during their past three games.
Stanford coach David Shaw recognizes the disciplinary challenge facing his defense, which has been establishing its new identity after losing nine starters from last season.
"If you're two steps out of place, the ball is going to go right past you," he said.
Cardinal defensive lineman Aziz Shittu thinks that relentless pressure from his position group will be key to disrupting the Cougars. And the pass rush is precisely where Stanford has stumbled the most this season: After leading the country in sacks in consecutive seasons (2012-2013) and finishing sixth nationally in 2014, the Cardinal have dropped to 105th this season. They've recorded only 10 sacks through seven games after tallying 46 last season.
"It's going to be a test of wills out there," Shittu said. "The first 20 rushes may not get [to Falk], but that 21st rush may be the one that gets there. We just have to keep on coming, and get that hit on the quarterback."
Stanford's rushers have also been working a drill to better anticipate when Falk is about to throw the ball so that they can create disruption on plays where they're well blocked.
"Once you see the quarterback take his left hand off the ball, when you see that, a throw is probably coming," Shittu said. "So you get your hand up [to bat down the ball]."
Washington State will further complicate the Cardinal's challenge with its respectable run game. The Cougars have now surpassed 100 rushing yards in three straight games after not reaching the century mark at all last season.
"When you're in full pass rush mode, they're gonna hit you with a stretch play," Shittu said. "You'll be high and out of position. So we have to keep our pad level right... We have to study their offensive linemen, and their weight distribution because they're always in two-point stances. If we can read that, then we can anticipate what's coming."