With Bryce Love sidelined by an ankle injury, 18th-ranked Stanford’s offense nearly ground to a halt in a slim victory against Oregon State.
Now it’s unclear if the nation’s leading rusher will play Saturday at No. 25 Washington State, a major reason the Cougars are slightly favored in the game.
“He’s a possible game-time decision,” Stanford coach David Shaw said.
Both teams remain in contention with No. 12 Washington for the Pac-12 North title, and need a victory to stay in the race.
Washington State (7-2, 4-2 Pac-12) has stumbled a bit, losing two of its past three games while dealing with issues on both sides of the ball. But the Cougars are 6-0 in Pullman this season.
“They play lights out at home,” Shaw said. “They have a great defense, which is active.”
And, he said, “Their quarterback play has been outstanding.”
Actually, Washington State’s quarterback play has been short of expectations the past three weeks.
Four-year starter Luke Falk, who is rewriting the Pac-12 record book, was pulled last week shortly before halftime against Arizona for lack of production. Backup Tyler Hilinski threw for more than 500 yards and produced four touchdowns. But he also threw four interceptions that helped Arizona upset the Cougars 58-37.
Washington State coach Mike Leach said Falk would start against the Cardinal.
“He needs not to put any pressure on himself,” Leach said. “He is the most successful quarterback in the conference.”
Leach said Stanford is big, strong and physical, especially on the offensive and defensive lines.
Of Love, Leach said: “He’s a good running back in a conference full of good running back.”
That might be light praise for a player who averages 198 yards per game. But the Cougars have already contained good rushers like Oregon’s Royce Freeman and Colorado’s Phillip Lindsay this year.
With Love on the bench last week, Stanford produced only 222 yards of total offense, 81 yards on the ground, against Oregon State, which is winless in conference play this season. Stanford (6-2, 5-1) won 15-14.
Things to consider as Stanford prepares to play at Washington State:
Falk needs five touchdown passes to break the Pac-12 record of 116 set by Matt Barkley of Southern California. He also needs 132 passing yards to break the career record of 13,600 set by Sean Mannion of Oregon State. He already holds league records for pass completions, pass attempts and total offense.
Stanford kicker Jet Toner leads the team with 78 points and is fourth in the nation with 15 field goals this season. He has made all 33 of his extra point attempts.
Toner won’t be enough to beat the Cougars, Shaw said. “If we kick three field goals, we’re going to be down by three touchdowns going into the fourth quarter,” Shaw said. “Our red zone offense is vital for us.”
Shaw has 70 career wins, one shy of matching the school record set by Glenn “Pop” Warner from 1924-32.
Washington State defensive lineman Hercules Mata’afa, one of 18 semifinalists for the Bednarik award given to the nation’s best defensive player, has 15 tackles for loss this season.