Fourth ranked Stanford (8-0, 6-0) rolls into Reser today, to face Oregon St. (2-6, 2-3), in the Beavers' Homecoming game. The Cardinal are 21 point favorites to beat the Beavers on what will be a cold, wet afternoon.
The last time Andrew Luck led the Cardinal into Corvallis, Oregon St. unleashed the "Wild Beaver", Jacquizz Rodgers scored 4 times, and the Beavers built a 31-7 lead, on their way to a 38-28 win.
It was 1 of only 5 losses Luck, Stanford's Heisman Trophy contender and the consensus first pick in next year's NFL draft, has suffered as a starter.
Last year, Oregon St. didn't fare so well "down on the Farm". The winner again scored 38 points, but this time, the loser didn't score any. Luck completed 70% of his passes, 21 of 30, for 317 yards, and 4 touchdowns. Meanwhile, the Cardinal defense allowed Oregon St. only 68 rushing yards, only 19 of which came in the first half, when there was still some chance of making it a game. Stanford went on to earn a berth in the BCS Orange Bowl as a result.
This year, Stanford has looked better than last year, which in turn was an improvement on the season before that. Oregon St. on the other hand, has lost 10 of their last 13 games, and 15 of their last 22, and it appears they could be headed a worse year than last, which in turn was not as good a season as they had 2 years ago.
The pattern for Beaver football has become one of mostly disappointing performances, but with the occasional, almost random, standout effort. It's a behavior typical of persons suffering from a bi-polar disorder. And it makes predicting individual events nearly impossible, because there is no grounded basis for any given day's events.
So even if Oregon St. does play to their potential, and therefore plays a pretty good game, we won't know for a while if it was an isolated event, or a sign of progress.
Because of performances like last year's rout of USC, when the team was in a similar disappointing position, you can't rule out another day like that, especially given the emotional boost of a Homecoming crowd that will be at or near sell-out level, unless the rain keeps a lot of those who have bought tickets away.
Oregon St. fans will turn out in good number because of the opportunity to see Andrew Luck, who as arguably the best player in college football, is worth the price of admission, just as he was last year in Palo Alto. But they have turned out primarily to see the other guy before, yet still hoping and ready for one of those Giant Killer moments that keep happening in November, and keep bringing Beaver fans back.
I see 2 things that will derail those hopes, though. One is Luck, who is NFL ready in more ways than one, the most notable on being inside his helmet. The Beavs, the effects of the schedule, which sandwiches Stanford's trip to Reser between last week's trip to the LA Coliseum and next week's planned ambush of the Quack Attack, and the bad weather, might bog the Cardinal down for a while. But Luck is level headed enough, and the games are long enough, that if a bog down happens, he will still figure out how to get things going.
The other thing I see is a long injury list. Oregon St.'s epic upsets usually involve an unexpected disruption of an opponent's ability to control the tempo of the game. Stanford will still be able to run the ball, and make effective short-to-medium throws.
I really don't see the Cardinal as one of the teams most likely to make game winning plays week in and week out. But they are the team least likely to make game losing plays. As a result, they will very likely pull away. They have scored at least 35 points in 19 of their last 21 games. And won 20 of them. There's nothing coincidental about that.
In any event, Beaver fans should appreciate the opportunity to see Luck first hand. Not many any better have or will come down the ramp on the north corner of Reser Stadium.
But in addition, what I will be watching is to see is if Oregon St.'s approach, both initially and as the game evolves, is sound, or schizophrenic. The coaching staff, and to a degree, the administration, are on trial. There are lots of reasons why Oregon St. might get beat by a better Stanford team. There aren't any reasons why they should still be beating themselves.
This is a tough matchup all the way around for the Beavs. Stanford excels at the run, and OSU had trouble last week stopping it. If you do manage to stop the run, then they have Luck picking apart your secondary. It will come down to how the OSU offense performs.
BB12's Keys to the Game:
1. Turn it into a shootout. Stanford is going to score. That is just going to happen, but OSU needs to respond after every score and keep them in the game. Maybe trying some hurry-up offense helps stop a tough Stanford defense, and helps the Beavs get into a rhythm on offense.
2. Win the turnover battle. Andrew Luck had a human moment last week against USC and he will need to have a couple to keep OSU competitive. The Beavs do not have the firepower to keep up without a little help from Stanford. Oregon State needs to play flawlessly as well, and cannot have a fumble or an interception, not against a steady and talented Stanford team. They are too good to give them any help.
3. Make a play on special teams. OSU has some talent on special teams, and needs a play there. This is a game the Beavers will have trouble winning straight up, they need some help from Jordan Poyer. The potential is always there, but the Beavers need another score to help keep things even.
Stanford plays a more traditional type of football game, sort of like OSU, but they do it much better. The Beavs cannot afford to miss tackles, drop passes, or any other sort of minor mistake. There is a chance Oregon State can win but it will require a lot of help from both Stanford and OSU.
My guess is Stanford isn't that helpful:
Stanford 45 - Oregon State 17
Once upon a time, I saw this game as THE game of the season for the Beavs, as in I thought the Beavs would be coming in as the possible upset of the week bid. But as we all know, the season has not panned out the way we wanted, nor expected.
Honestly I no longer believe the Beavs will win this game, nor have a chance to win, especially after that performance last week. I do think it might be a little closer than expected, as in I'm not sure it will be a true blowout.
But I just believe that Stanford will end up controlling the game. The Beavs are floundering in the season AND coming in understaffed at some key positions, but I think if there is any chance of staying in the game it will come down to being at home, and being fired up, flying around on both sides of the ball. This could translate to giving Stanford a little unpredictability, and maybe get them off their game at times. Additionally, I will have to say that now I think Stanford is much better than I expected them to be this season. I expected a solid to very good season for the Cardinal, but they really are on the brink of great season, and my hat is off to their staff for coming out as strong, if not stronger, than last year.
So what do I want to specifically see (or what are my keys to the game)?
1. I think the Beavs cannot let Stanford get comfortable and in a rhythm, on either side of the ball, but especially the Cardinal offense. Yes, this is one of those "that goes without saying" type of keys, but I think if the Beavs can go out and play loose and all over the ball they, they may well give up some big plays, but they could also make some big plays themselves.
2. On offense I want to see some of the elusive magical balance of ball control and explosive plays. Let's also get Mannion back into a comfort zone. He totally needs to work on some things, and he has a quality opponent to play against, and take some strides forward, building some needed confidence. I personally did not really see him as the weak link last weekend in terms of overall leadership, but I would also like to see him now build a little more on-the-field leadership presence. I think he's done a fair job overall so far, but if he is the future, he needs to take ownership over games, and what better game to demonstrate this?
3. On defense? Honestly I am not sure what the key is here beyond they need to play with energy and fly around. There is no way they are going to hold Stanford's offense down for sixty minutes, but Stanford is coming out of a huge, and very physically and mentally taxing, game against 'SC last week. IF the Beavs can play with a ton of energy and sustain it, I do think Stanford could make some mistakes and lack some focus (but honestly not sure this will be the case with Luck in control).
4. Hekker needs to continue his play AND the Beavs need to get Romaine on track, and mentally back into his kicking game.
All in all, there is the potential for a lot of energy with the Beavs playing in a game where they can play for broke. It is homecoming, and the Beavs have been on the road for a bit of time, and are home again. What my hope comes down to is that this then translates to an exciting and respectable game.
Here's Cliff Kirkpatrick's final thoughts and his pick from over at the Gazette-Times.
BTD will be at the game, and back later with full coverage and analysis.