After a few days off for Thanksgiving, The Daily Axe is back in action, getting you ready for Stanford football’s final regular season game in 2010. The Cardinal will face a feisty but inconsistent Oregon State Beaver team that we foolishly picked in the preseason as a dark horse candidate to win the PAC-10 this year. Though Jacquizz Rodgers and Company stumbled out of the gates, they preserved their conference title hopes until November 6th, when the Beavers fell on a 4th quarter field goal to UCLA. They then got shellacked by Washington State (that’s right: Washington State) before obliterating USC last week. Now, we don’t have many synonyms of “beat easily” left to use in this preview, but Oregon State has been involved in a blow-out, for better or for worse, in 3 of its last 4 games.
The Beavers now sit at 5-5, and 4-3 in conference play. Like Cal, Oregon State has serious problems on the road, but is good for a win almost every time they play in Corvallis. Their only road win in 2010 came in a nail-biter against Arizona, when the Beavers knocked off the then-#9 Wildcats, 29-27.
But if precedent and personnel play any part in deciding the outcome of Saturday’s game, Stanford and Oregon State will combine for more than 56 points. The Beavers are just 58th in the country in scoring defense, which ranks well below the defenses of Cal, Arizona, and Oregon, all of whom allowed more than 30 points against the Card. The Oregon State defense has allowed 28 points or more in 6 of their 10 games so far this year, including 31 points by Washington State and 35 by Washington (albeit in double-overtime against the Huskies).
That’s good news for Andrew Luck, who not only hopes to finish off an 11-1 season, but also solidify a spot as a Heisman finalist. Like so many other PAC-10 teams, the Beavers start a pass-defending squad that’s ripe for the picking. Though Cardinal wide receiver Chris Owusu likely won’t play (he’s missed the last several games and was seen on crutches during Big Game last week) Luck has formed a prolific on-field relationship with receiver Doug Baldwin. Baldwin made a couple of circus grabs last week against Cal, and compiled 97 yards and a touchdown on 5 catches. Luck would surely like to have Owusu back, but he’ll still look to Baldwin as Stanford’s primary down-field receiving threat. After Baldwin, expect Luck to distribute the ball around to several receivers. Luck has thrown to Ryan Whalen less frequently in recent weeks, so the quarterback will probably get the ball fairly evenly to Whalen, tight ends Coby Fleener and Konrad Reuland, and possibly Stepfan Taylor out of the backfield.
Luck should have fewer opportunities to throw this week than he did against Cal. Against a Beaver defense that does not stop the run as effectively as Cal does, Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh will go back to emphasizing the running game as the primary method of moving the ball. Stepfan Taylor will start for the Card, but Anthony Wilkerson could get just as many–or more–carries than Taylor. Last week, Taylor rushed for 3 touchdowns, but Wilkerson had more yards (67) and more carries (18). Wilkerson has been getting more touches every game, and the season finale won’t be an exception.
Oregon State has a very effective running game of its own. Texas native Jacquizz Rodgers averages 102 rushing yards per game for Oregon State, and he’s contributed another 35 catches for the Beavers in the passing game. Unlike many of the nation’s most prolific runners, Rodgers has posted some of his best games in his team’s closest games. His best game of the season, a 145-yard and 2-touchdown day, came in Oregon State’s 31-28 win over Arizona State. Keep in mind that the Sun Devils all but eliminated the Stanford rushing attack when the two teams met on November 13.
Rodgers’s brother, James, combined with Jacquizz to form presumptively one of the most dynamic WR-RB duos in the country at the beginning of the season. But James suffered a season-ending leg injury in Oregon State’s win over Arizona, and sophomore quarterback Ryan Katz has yet to find a replacement in the passing game. Katz’s favorite man has been fellow sophomore Markus Wheaton, who has rapidly become one of the Beavers’ primary offensive weapons. Wheaton probably won’t blow open the Card secondary–he’s only had one 100-yard receiving game in his collegiate career–but he has the talent to cause problems for a Stanford defense that has struggled to defend skilled receivers.
But as difficult as it might be to trust the Stanford defense, it has proven that it generally holds lower-caliber teams to unremarkable point totals. Yes, Oregon State has an excellent starting running back and a blossoming young quarterback, but the Beavers managed just 14 points against UCLA and Washington State, neither of which boast top defenses. If the Bruins and Cougars can prevent the Beaver offense from taking off, then the Cardinal unit should be able to do the same.
Unfortunately for fans of the orange and black, the Beavers cannot say the same. Andrew Luck should be able to engineer another big day for the Stanford offense, and show Heisman voters that he deserves a seat in New York for the presentation of the trophy.
Even with the added motivation of becoming officially bowl eligible with a win against Stanford, Oregon State won’t be able to handle the Card’s offensive firepower.