Survival. That's how you win football games on the road in the rain when seemingly everything is stacked against you.
There won't be many style points attached to Stanford's 30-28 victory against feisty Washington State on Saturday night in the Palouse, but it's irrelevant. Escaping with a win was the only goal, and the Cardinal has now won seven straight games and placed a strangle hold on the Pac-12 Conference North Division with a 6-0 record.
On Sunday, however, Stanford fell from No. 8 to No. 9 in The Associated Press Top 25 poll, with Notre Dame switching spots with the Cardinal.
Playing on Halloween in front of national television audience, Stanford knew it would get Washington State's best shot. The Cougars were riding a three-game winning streak with wins over Oregon, Oregon State and Arizona, and took control of the game early, twice leading by 12 points.
But led by fifth-year senior quarterback Kevin Hogan and a bend-don't-break defense that limited Washington State to five field goals, Stanford kept it close and finally pulled ahead in the fourth quarter.
It could have easily been a loss, but every good team finds a little luck and a way to escape games like this, and the Cardinal did thanks to Hogan's feet and freshman defensive back Quenton Meeks' hands.
Hogan shook off a tough first half in which the Cougars stacked their defense to stop sophomore running back Christian McCaffrey, then used his legs -- an ever-healing ankle and all -- to gash them with the quarterback read-option play for a career-high 107 yards on 45 attempts and scored two touchdowns.
"He's such a fighter," Shaw said of Hogan. "I couldn't be more proud of him. Not everything was working, and we had to lean on him as runner. We won this game because of his heart."
Also because of two interceptions by Meeks, the last setting up Stanford's winning field goal.
Earlier in the week, defensive backs coach Duane Akina gave his young corps a crash course on Mike Leach's Air Raid Offense. Now in his 35th year as a coach, there isn't much Akina hasn't seen, and he schooled his unit on the Cougar tendencies.
Stanford didn't stop Washington State quarterback Luke Falk, but it kept him out of the end zone more times than not. The Pac-12's leading passer completed 35 of 61 attempts for 354 yards as the Cougars outgained the Cardinal 442-312 and ran 27 more plays. But when it mattered most, Stanford came up with big stops and held Washington State to only six points in the fourth quarter.
Stanford has only one remaining road game, this Saturday at 10 a.m. (PT) against host Colorado, which gave UCLA all is could handle yesterday. The Cardinal concludes the regular season at home against Oregon, Cal and Notre Dame.
Stanford student-athletes continue to insist the most important game is the next game, and that strategy is paying off. The early season loss at Northwestern was a wakeup call and the team has used that disappointment to drive them every day in practice.
Saturday's win proved something else. While McCaffrey surpassed 100 yards rushing for the fifth-consecutive game and maintained his national lead in all-purpose yards (244.25), the Cardinal demonstrated it is not a one-man show. The defense was gritty, Hogan retained his composure and did what he had to do, and Stanford captured a win without playing its best in a hostile environment and a bullseye on its back.
"We needed this," Hogan said. "We needed to look adversity in the face and punch it in the mouth."
Stanford and Colorado have played three common opponents: Arizona, Oregon State and UCLA. The Buffaloes lost to Arizona, beat Oregon State and lost to UCLA. Stanford defeated Arizona, Oregon State and UCLA.
Fifth-year senior outside linebacker Kevin Anderson from Palo Alto High played after missing the previous four games with an injury. He made an impact, making three tackles, one for a loss and recorded a sack.
Senior inside linebacker Noor Davis, who was injured during off-season conditioning drills, also saw game action for the first time this season.
Hogan is now tied with Connor Cook of Michigan State for the most wins by a starting quarterback with 31 . . . Senior inside linebacker Blake Martinez collected a team-high 11 tackles and is now tied for second nationally, averaging 11.4 per game . . . Stanford improved to 14-5 on Halloween.
"We never saw darkness, just the light at the end of the tunnel." -- Christian McCaffrey