They have a group of sneaky fast wide receivers that are more than happy to go deep on cheating defenses.
"That's the difference between us this year and last year as far as (when) people drop safeties down we have the speed and the ability to go deep," Stanford coach David Shaw said.
That ability was on full display Saturday night when the fifth-ranked Cardinal routed Washington State 55-17 thanks in part to Kevin Hogan being able to throw over the top of the Cougars defense.
Hogan threw for 286 yards and three touchdowns in the victory, all three scores of at least 30 or more yards. He found Devon Cajuste for touchdowns of 57 and 33 yards in the first half and hit Michael Rector on a 45-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
Stanford came into Saturday with three touchdown passes of 30 yards or more this season and doubled that total in less than three quarters against the Cougars defense and all of them have gone to wide receivers.
The Cardinal had three touchdown passes of 30 or more yards all of last season.
"We've got playmakers outside and sooner or later people are going to have to respect them and I'm just going to try and get the ball to them as much as I can," Hogan said.
Now begins a stretch of anticipated showdowns for the Cardinal, all of them coming at home. Stanford's stretch begins Saturday at home against No. 15 Washington, followed by No. 12 UCLA on Oct. 19 and finally No. 2 Oregon on Nov. 7.
The Cardinal were already saying late Saturday night that payback won't be motivation against the Huskies after Washington's 17-13 win last season.
"Remembering what happened last year is not going to change the way we play next week," Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov said.
Washington will have to be paying a bit more attention to what the Cardinal present on the outside. Washington State decided to take the risk, bringing its safeties down close to the line of scrimmage in an attempt to combat the size and bulk of the Cardinal run game. The move worked to a certain extent as Stanford's two main ball carriers — Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson — were held to 54 and 47 yards rushing respectively.
But the decision left the Cougars vulnerable in the back end and Stanford took its shots.
It started from the very first play of the game when Hogan tried to go deep for Ty Montgomery, but overthrew a potential touchdown. Two plays later, Hogan hit Rector deep behind the defense for 48 yards and the Cardinal's aggressive approach was on.
"I feel like we always look at it like we're the underdogs, as a unit. Every game we always come out that 'We've got to show them. One game, one play at a time. We're out here too. We don't just run the ball, we throw it,'" Cajuste said. "You can throw it anywhere as you can tell. We don't just have a one receiver guy or a one tight end guy. We can throw it to anybody that goes out there. I think that's amazing."
Hogan understands the big picture benefit of what having an effective pass game on the outside can mean. With defenses not able to load up on the line of scrimmage, it should lead to more lanes for Gaffney and Wilkerson in the Cardinal run game. The Cardinal will be tested by Washington, which hasn't allowed a team to pass for more than 200 yards yet this season.
"It takes some of the pressure off the run game. I know the running backs are happy because the holes are going to open up a lot seeing the guys we have outside making plays downfield," Hogan said. "That's our bread and butter is the run game and we're going to stick to it but just knowing we can take those shots when they present themselves."