uess what? Stanford is 8-0 with 2/3 of the regular season through, is ranked fourth in the country in the AP poll and the BCS (and 3rd in the coaches’ poll) and has a realistic shot at winning a berth in the national championship game. And you probably knew all of that already. But for all of those reasons–in summary: because Stanford is doing very, very well–some people are worried about Stanford’s trip to Corvallis this weekend.
After all, isn’t Stanford-Oregon State a classic trap game for the Card? After an emotional and physically exhausting win over an in-state rival and top-25 opponent last week in the Coliseum and before a much-discussed tilt with Oregon back on the Farm on November 12, Stanford has to visit a team that sports a 2-6 overall record and has a historic knack for unexpectedly knocking off the big boys. It’s hard to imagine the Card overlooking Oregon, or (Enemy Since the Dawn of Time) California, or even Notre Dame, who comes to town to end the regular season.
The Beavers are the team that Stanford might take too easily, one might say, but OSU won’t return the favor. The Beavers need to win out to be bowl-eligible, and considering that they’ll need to beat Stanford, Oregon, Washington and Cal (not in that order) in consecutive weeks to do so makes the postseason look like a virtual impossibility. But facing Stanford at home in Reser Stadium? That might be every bit as good as playing a 6-win team at some crummy stadium in late December.
One thing we know for sure: recent history. Stanford blew out Oregon State at roughly this team last year, but fate was not so kind when Stanford visited OSU in 2009 and came back to California with a 38-28 loss burned into the record book. 2009’s game was all about running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who rushed for 189 yards and chipped in another 82 yards in the receiving game. When Rodgers couldn’t manage even half of that production last November, Stanford held Oregon State scoreless and won by 38 points. Stanford dramatically improved between October 2009 and November 2010, but Rodgers and a dominant running game from OSU were the biggest ingredients to the Beavers’ success the last time these teams played in Corvallis.
Rodgers is now in Atlanta playing for the Falcons; Oregon State will start freshman Sean Mannion, rather than Ryan Katz, at quarterback. But while Jim Harbaugh is gone for Stanford, the personnel in white and red will be largely unchanged from last year’s squad. Andrew Luck has had another year to further develop into one of college football’s all-time great quarterbacks and the Card have the swagger of a BCS bowl win under their collective belt. Stanford didn’t play particularly well last week in its first true road test of the season, but it won nonetheless. Playing in Reser Stadium during a year when Oregon State has struggled to be competitive shouldn’t pose nearly the atmospheric challenge that winning last week in a packed LA Coliseum did, after all.
If Stanford struggles, difficulty will probably come in the first half, which the Card have made a habit of botching so far in 2011. But there’s little reason to think that the Beavers can give Stanford trouble for very long. OSU’s defense is average to mediocre in every defensive metric other than those that gauge a team’s performance against the pass. When the ball flies, the Beavers thrive. No defense in the Pac-12 sees as few passing attempts as OSU does and the team ranks 2nd in the conference in overall passing defense. A big part of that has been the play of defensive back Jordan Poyer, who’s said publicly that he thinks OSU can pull off the upset on Saturday. Oregon State allows 222 passing yards per game, or roughly 70 fewer yards than the Card typically gain in the air on a given weekend.
If Stanford struggles, difficulty will probably come in the first half, which the Card have made a habit of botching so far in 2011. But there’s little reason to think that the Beavers can give Stanford trouble for very long.
While the Beavers deserve credit for playing well against the pass this season–and for using players like redshirt freshman defensive end Scott Crichton to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks–Stanford still has the most skilled passer in at least the last 20 seasons of college football directing plays. Shutting down Luck would require shutting down the Cardinal running game first, allowing the defense to blitz without threat of running past a ballcarrier coming through a gap in the line. Oregon State, however, has one of the worst rushing defenses in the conference and will have a very hard time stopping Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney from putting up big numbers on the ground. Once those two get going, Stanford head coach David Shaw can go back to the play action, gadget and good, old-fashioned drop-back pass plays that let Andrew Luck show why he’ll be the most coveted NFL draft prize of the decade. Thanks to Harbaugh, Stanford has an offensive attack as balanced as any in the country; stopping only one of the two phases of the Stanford offense quickly proceeds to a failure to stop either.
Saturday could be a trap game, and maybe Shaw’s ability to keep the team focused amidst the growing media attention and escalating injury problems will be tested. But the trap, if it springs at all, should rust and fall away by halftime, leaving the enormous feet of the Stanford football program to get back to its regular dominance by a few minutes into the 3rd quarter. It’s not lost on the players that they represent what could be the best Stanford football team in a long, long time. Despite the temptation of letting loose and celebrating last week’s win for a bit too long, throwing history away to a shaky underdog from up north seems highly improbable.
Verdict: Stanford beats Oregon State, 49-14
How to Follow the Game
12:30 pm PST, Saturday, November 5
Live: Tickets at StubHub
TV: ABC (check local listings)
Radio: KZSU (90.1 FM or streaming online); KNBR (1050 AM)
Social Media: @DailyAxe on Twitter
(Headline image courtesy of Greg Keene on Flickr)