Stanford vs. Washington State: Is Stanford the Most Balanced Team in the Nation?

Kyle KensingContributor ISeptember 29, 2013

Sep 28, 2013; Seattle, WA, USA; Stanford Cardinal running back Barry Sanders (26) carries the ball against the Washington State Cougars during the 1st half at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Stanford's offensively anemic showing at Seattle's CenturyLink Field one year ago against Pac-12 rival Washington cost the Cardinal a win—and potentially, a shot at the national championship. 

The Cardinal returned to the scene of their sole conference loss in 2012 and showed off just how far they have come on that side of the ball. The 311 yards Stanford gained in the first half were almost 60 more than what any of Washington State's three previous opponents amassed through entire games.

The Cardinal finished with 560 total yards on the night. 

Stanford has beefed up its offensive production without sacrificing anything from its stellar defense. The Cardinal showed off their balance in the first two scores coming out of halftime. 

After Stanford's Jordan Richards ran back an interception of Connor Halliday 30 yards for a defensive touchdown, Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan uncorked a 45-yard TD pass to Michael Rector.

Those consecutive scoring sequences early in the second half were head coach David Shaw's team in a nutshell.

Two defensive scores, three passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns by two different ball-carriers—Washington State experienced the full gamut of what Stanford has to offer. This is a squad capable of beating opponents in more different ways than any other team in the country. 

A week ago, Stanford dominated special teams in its 42-28 defeat of Arizona State. The Cardinal also rushed for 240 yards, attacking the holes in the Sun Devil run defense. 

Against Washington State, Shaw and offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren changed the game plan. Stanford still pounded away with the rush, but quarterback Kevin Hogan was given the green light to throw. Hogan's presence was the missing element in that aforementioned loss a season ago.

With an effective passer behind center, Cardinal receivers are getting into the mix—and a lot of them, at that: Eight different receivers caught passes against the Cougars, none more than six. 

Stanford's ground game didn't have the evening off, either. Seven ball-carriers got touches en route to 238 rushing yards. 

Compare that to No. 1 Alabama, which beat SEC counterpart Ole Miss 25-0 Saturday. Eight Crimson Tide players made receptions. Seven rushers had their numbers called. If Stanford is going to have comparable patterns to anyone, the two-time defending national champion is a good place to start. 

And like the defending champion Tide, Stanford's multidimensional offense backs up one of the stingiest defenses in college football. 

Derek Mason's aggressive blitz packages overwhelmed Halliday and backup Austin Apodaca, while the secondary prevented any hope of the big play. Cougar quarterbacks averaged just five yards per pass attempt. 

Washington State only reached the end zone after Shaw went deep into his reserves. The Cougars notched two, late fourth-quarter scores that made the final count a little bit more palatable for those on the Palouse, but the statement Stanford made was no less resounding. 

Stanford may have left CenturyLink Field one year ago asking itself what would it take to balance its defense with an equally potent and efficient offense. This time, the Cardinal leave with the prevailing question being just how much it can do with all this balance.