Washington State’s football season took a sobering turn Saturday night at CenturyLink Field, where No. 5-ranked Stanford not only schooled the Cougars but battered them, 55-17.

Earlier in the week, WSU defensive coordinator Mike Breske had called the Cardinal style “big-boy ball,” and it was on display all night, but no more than in a four-minute stretch of the third quarter that was positively ghoulish for the Cougars, who had won three of their first four games.

“We couldn’t get out of our own way tonight,” said WSU receiver Gabe Marks.

With 10:42 left in the third period and WSU trailing 17-3, Stanford’s massive outside linebacker, Trent Murphy, blew through the left side of the WSU offensive line like a missile and buried quarterback Connor Halliday, who threw the ball up and had it picked off by safety Jordan Richards and returned 30 yards for a touchdown.

Save 75% on a Digital Subscription Today

Halliday, the fourth-year junior, mounted a stationary bike on the sideline to try to minimize the pain on his left side and returned for the next series. But he was visibly hurting as he tried to throw a swing pass and came out of the game, helped to the locker room by a couple of training-staff members.

His condition appears uncertain for the game next Saturday at California. The Cougars do not announce injury information.

WSU coach Mike Leach, asked if he expected Halliday to be able to play against Cal, said, “Yes.”

Mere minutes after Halliday’s injury, backup quarterback Austin Apodaca was belted by another outside linebacker, Kevin Anderson, and he lay on the turf briefly but was able to continue. But running back Teondray Caldwell also left for the locker room with an unknown ailment shortly after Halliday exited.

As if the injury news wasn’t alarming enough, the Cardinal reinforced its ranking in that dominating stretch. Quarterback Kevin Hogan, who had passed for two first-half touchdowns to Devon Cajuste, hit Michael Rector, a Bellarmine Prep product, for a 45-yard touchdown, and on WSU’s next series, Murphy stretched up his massive frame, hijacked an Apodaca pass to the left on an intended bubble screen, and galloped 30 yards past the WSU quarterback to make it 38-3.

“I thought we fought hard,” said Leach. “We didn’t always fight smart.”

The game was reminiscent, at least by score, of some recent blowouts in WSU’s past, with one exception. The effort appeared to be there, but surely not the execution against a brawnier, more savvy team.

“This group (Stanford) has played together for a long time,” said Leach, “and you can tell.”

The weather — mostly dry but breezy in the first half and then increasingly rainy in the second — was already a downer, and the crowd count added to WSU’s misery. Only 40,095 spectators turned out, the smallest crowd the Cougars have drawn in the 11-game history of the Seattle game.

WSU entered the game No. 2 in the nation in pass defense, allowing only 118 yards per game, but the Cardinal shredded that statistic as Hogan threw for 222 yards before intermission. The Cougars simply couldn’t get to him enough to impact his throws, and WSU couldn’t hold up on the back end.

“They came in with a good game plan,” said WSU linebacker Darryl Monroe. “We came in expecting them to do what they did in previous games (concentrate on the run), and it caught us off-guard.”

On the other side of the ball, WSU was clearly mindful of the 10-sack beating quarterback Jeff Tuel took in 2012 in a 24-17 defeat in Palo Alto. Halliday threw quick passes and WSU pecked at the Stanford defense for 11 first-half first downs, but couldn’t get much done deep in Cardinal territory.

The Cougars dropped a couple of key passes in the first half, and punter Michael Bowlin had an inconsistent night, shanking two kicks.

The sour night stirred some recollections of previous blowouts for WSU center Elliott Bosch.

“It’s obviously really disappointing,” he said. “We’re at this point as a team, where we need to decide if we’re going to change or if we’re going to be like last year’s team. At times it felt like last year’s team.

“Going forward, we need to kind of refocus and set goals and remember why we’re doing this.”

Cougars in Seattle
The Cougars’ current series of games in Seattle started in 2002. They are now 5-6 in the series.
Year Result
2013 L, 55-17 vs. Stanford
2012 L, 51-26 vs. Oregon
2011 L, 44-21 vs. Oregon State
2009 L, 38-20 vs. Hawaii
2008 L, 39-13 vs. Oklahoma State
2007 W, 45-17 vs. San Diego State
2006 W, 17-15 vs. Baylor
2005 W, 48-7 vs. Grambling State
2004 L, 20-12 vs. Colorado
2003 W, 25-0 vs. Idaho
2002 W, 31-7 vs. Nevada

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com