SEATTLE -- Using smothering defense and a big-play offense, Stanford took control early and overpowered Washington State 55-17 on a rainy Saturday at CenturyLink Field.
That's right: A big-play offense.
Known for its ground-and-pound approach, the fifth-ranked Cardinal instead went over the top. Quarterback Kevin Hogan threw three touchdown passes of more than 30 yards to propel Stanford to its 12th consecutive victory, the second-longest winning streak in the nation (Ohio State, 17 in a row).
Receivers Devon Cajuste (two touchdowns) and Michael Rector (one) were the beneficiaries of Hogan's downfield strikes, which came against a Cougars defense that loaded up to stop Stanford's running game.
The strategy left WSU's cornerbacks in man-to-man coverage, and Hogan feasted. The sophomore completed 16 of 25 passes for 286 and three touchdowns while improving to 9-0 as a starter.
"That's the difference between us this year and last year," Cardinal coach David Shaw said. "When people drop their safeties down, we've got the ability to go deep. We had some opportunities tonight. We didn't hit all of them, but we hit a good portion."
The Cardinal defense did its part, knocking two WSU quarterbacks out of the game, stuffing the Cougars rushing attack (51 yards) and producing 14 points of its own: Strong safety Jordan Richards and outside linebacker Trent Murphy had 30-yard interception returns for touchdowns in the third quarter.
"We hadn't put our best foot forward defensively the last three weeks," linebacker Shayne Skov said. "It was a more polished product this week, and we've got to keep getting better."
Murphy's Pick 6 was the second of his career. The first came a year ago in this stadium -- the lone bright spot in Stanford's 17-13 loss to Washington.
This year's visit to CenturyLink unfolded in far different fashion for the Cardinal: Instead of not scoring an offensive touchdown, it scored five.
The total included a 22-yard touchdown run by reserve tailback Barry Sanders, one of a handful of underclassmen who played in the fourth quarter for Stanford (4-0, 2-0).
"Those reps will pay off in the future," Shaw said.
Hogan went downfield on the first play, but receiver Ty Montgomery was unable to corral a well-thrown ball near the left sideline. Two plays later, on third-and-three, Hogan unleashed a 48-yard strike to Rector. Stanford failed to reach the end zone and settled for a short field goal by Jordan Williamson.
Washington State responded with a 12-play drive that featured a slew of short passes and ended with a game-tying field goal. Little did anyone realize at the time, but that was as good as it would get for the Cougars.
Stanford's second possession featured the first strike to Cajuste. On third-and-nine, Hogan delivered a deep crossing pass on time and on target. Cajuste never broke stride and outran the pursuit for a 57-yard touchdown that gave the Cardinal a 10-3 lead late in the first quarter.
Early in the second, the Hogan-Cajuste connection struck again. Cajuste faked a move to the right sideline, then sprinted downfield past befuddled cornerback Nolan Washington. He hauled in Hogan's pass for a 33-yard touchdown to extend Stanford's lead to 17-3.
"Kevin's playing great," Shaw said. "He's not throwing it just to throw it. He throws it when it's there. We hit more than we missed. That has to be a part of who we are."
Murphy made the first big play of the second half, knocking WSU quarterback Connor Halliday out of the game with a crunching hit. Halliday managed to release the ball, but the pass floated down the left sideline and was picked off by Richards, who scooted 30 yards for a touchdown.
Two minutes later, Hogan hit Rector for a 45-yard touchdown. Then Murphy struck with his Pick 6 to give Stanford a 38-3 lead.
"It felt pretty good, especially to do it in the same stadium," he said.
Washington (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12)
at Stanford (4-0, 2-0),
7:30 p.m. ESPN