Washington State faces a hard-nosed, complete team when it meets Stanford

STANFORD, Calif. — Jim Harbaugh is old school.

As in Bo Schembechler old school.

And why not? It was Schembechler who Harbaugh played for at Michigan as an old-school, hard-nosed quarterback in the mid-1980s.

And now, in one way at least, it’s Schembechler who Harbaugh coaches like at Stanford.

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Harbaugh talks often about the Pac-10 as a “man’s league,” in which the toughest team wins. And that’s the type of team Schembechler always tried to produce, it’s the type Harbaugh played on at Michigan, and the type of team he puts on the field at Stanford.

It also works. Stanford was 8-5 last year. The Cardinal is 5-1 overall, 2-1 in the Pac-10 this year, ranked 12th in the nation and looking to move up after the game Saturday against Washington State (1-6, 0-4).

“Watching film, they do a whole lot of one-on-ones, double-teams, just trying to knock you around,” said WSU defensive tackle Bernard Wolfgramm. “Their offensive line looks pretty good so far. They come off low and they’re physical.”

That offensive line, which WSU coach Paul Wulff calls the best in the Pac-10, sets the tone for the offense and for the Cardinal’s physical style.

But it’s a different Cougar team that will show up for the 2 p.m. kickoff at Stanford Stadium, different from the one that played here two years ago and lost 58-0, different from the model last year that opened the season with a 37-13 defeat against Stanford.

And, heck, different from a month ago.

The Cougars have developed an identity as a hard-nosed group themselves, outhitting Oregon and Arizona the past two weeks, though both ended as defeats by decent margins. Still, Wulff said, it’s a step.

“When you start moving forward, before you just jump from where we were at to wins, you’ve got to start closing the gaps on things,” Wulff said.

The intensity gap has closed quickly.

“What I see is a team that plays all out, all the time,” Harbaugh said. “They play every play hard. They’ve got guys who are just throwing their bodies around, which is very impressive.

“They’re definitely more physical. You can’t play much more physical than they are playing.”

Wulff almost chuckled when Harbaugh’s words were relayed to him.

“He probably wasn’t (counting) his own team, apparently, in that comment,” he said. “He’s got a real physical football team, a veteran football team.”

And one that will test WSU’s attitude.

“We’re trying to move ourselves as a program. What I believe in, is to be a tough, hard-nosed football team,” Wulff said. “We’re making strides, but we’re nowhere near where we can be.”

The question is, are they getting closer to Stanford?

Harbaugh thinks so.

“You’ve probably heard a lot of people say it, (this) is a much improved team.”