It's Homecoming at Oregon St., and after playing 4 of their last 5 games on the road, this week really is a homecoming for the Beavers.
It also begins the brutal back end of the schedule, where all of the last 5 opponents are going to be tougher than any of the first 7, beginning with tonight's visit from #8 (#6 in the BCS) Stanford.
The Cardinal bounced back from their only loss of the season the week before in Utah with a 24-10 shutdown of UCLA, while the Beavers completed a sweep of their recent road games with a 49-17 romp at California.
The focus nationally has and will be on the Oregon St. offense, and Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks, against the Stanford defense, and Ben Gardner, Shayne Skov, and Ed Reynolds. Can the Beavers, who haven't met any defensive resistance since Salt Lake City, approach their recent productivity against the best defense they will see this season?
The short answer is probably not, but I do think they will come relatively close. Mannion's accuracy has had a lot to do with his success, but the real key has been his making timely decisions quickly, and that will continue to serve him well. Despite dominating California, he did suffer a couple of sacks, which he admitted was his own fault, for waiting too long for something to develop. That will remind him to avoid that trap against Stanford.
The more important matchup I see is the Oregon St. defense against the Stanford offense. Tyler Gaffney is the best running back the Beavers will have seen so far this season, and it puts a lot of pressure on a predominantly nickel defense for run support.
That could open the door for Kevin Hogan to go to Ty Montgomery, though the Beaver secondary actually has shown the ability to shut down bonafide big play, first option receivers (see Colorado's Paul Richardson and Washington St.'s Gabe Marks).
How well Ty Zimmerman and Ryan Murphy communicate, how well LB Jabral Johnson makes his reads, and how often Stephen Christian, who will probably see more action as the nickel back than Sean Martin as Oregon St. gears up for the Stanford power packages, can keep up with creative routes Stanford coach David Shaw dials up will probably decide the game.
Beaver Believer's Keys To The Game:
1) Stop the Run. The Cardinal have a strong run game, averaging 198 yards per game on the ground, which is only ten yards less than their average passing yards per game. The interior of the Beaver defense has been questionable so far and that was without facing a quality run game like Stanford's. The Beavs are going to have to return to a normal 4-3 front, with less nickel and dime packages, to keep a middle linebacker on the field to prevent the run. This will leave a lot of pressure on a secondary that has struggled at times this year, but forcing Stanford to throw the ball is preferable to getting run over by the Cardinal run game.
2) Create Turnovers. The Beavs have been adept at this lately, creating loads of turnovers which have been the difference in a couple games so far, namely the SDSU, Utah, and Wazzu games. Against the Cardinal it should be a tight game, and just having a one turnover difference in the game would make a difference. Stanford does not make a lot of mistakes. Even in the loss with Utah they had only had two fumbles, gave up one sack, and had six penalties for 33 yards. The Beavs need to force the Cardinal to make mistakes in this game.
3) Keep Contain! The Beavers are often caught rushing past the quarterback and creating rush lanes for opposing qbs to run through, which is a large portion of why mobile quarterbacks slice apart the Beavs. Oregon State needs to show some discipline and keep in their lanes, because while Stanford qb Kevin Hogan is not especially quick or fast, he is mobile enough to burn the Beavers if given the chance.
All of my keys were on defense, and that is what will decide the game. The Beavs will get their points, Brandin Cooks has become an unstoppable force, but it is on the defense to create at least a few stops. I believe that they will do that too, 31-30 Beavs.
Wow, am I excited for this one. It's the end of a long week and we're rewarded with our first home game in nearly a month. Under the lights, ESPN, Top 25 matchup. It doesn't get better than this.
In order to shock Stanford, the Beavers need to be able to run the ball. It doesn't have to be anything major, but we have to keep that terrific Stanford defensive line off balance. Hopefully Riley doesn't call for too many draw plays; those have worked, what, once a game? And with the penetration the Cardinal get, that number may drop to zero tonight. Instead I would like to see some north and south, smash mouth football on the third and fourth and short type plays and some creative ways to keep the ball on the ground on first down. Fly sweeps, pitches, that kind of stuff.
Now, once the ground game is established, it's time for the bread and butter. Big games will once again be required from Kevin Cummings and Caleb Smith as Stanford focuses in on Brandin Cooks and Richard Mullaney. With our O line and the speed of Stanford's D line, a big key will be for the wideouts to get into their breaks quicker than usual so Sean Mannion doesn't get hit to death back in the pocket.
I expect this one to be a back and forth game that is a bit lower scoring than our last few outings. Our defense steps up early against the run and forces David Shaw into some unnecessary play calls like they did at Utah, and our offense stalls early on in the red zone, settling for field goals on a couple possessions. The Beavers have a chance to go up ten heading into the half, but a Washington State-esque turnover in the end zone keeps the score at 13-10. The teams trade touchdowns to start the third quarter before both defenses settle in, but a Cardinal field goal early in the fourth ties the game. Stanford begins a clock-eating drive with five minutes to play and has a 40 yard field goal with ten seconds left to win it, but the ball sails wide right off Conrad Ukropnia's foot and a late night is extended even further.
The top of the first overtime results in a quick Cardinal first down, but the drive stalls on a dropped pass in the corner of the end zone on third down. This time, the sophomore knocks in the chip shot, and a touchdown wins it for the Beavers. And a touchdown is what they get. On the first OSU play from scrimmage, Victor Bolden goes 25 yards, tip-toeing down the sideline after getting the ball on a fly sweep. The Beaver Dam floods the field, and gets to erupt a second time when the call is confirmed from up in the booth.
Well hello, national spotlight!
After 6 weeks of Beavers fans clamoring for people to pay more attention to Oregon State, it's come this week in a big way. Sports Illustrated and ESPN have run pieces on that lethal QB and WR connection that's developed, and now they get to show what they've got against the #8 team in the nation.
It doesn't look too great for the Beavs -- Stanford prides itself on its pass defense and rushing offense. Oregon State won't even really try to run, and, though they *have* tried to stop the run, they haven't been too successful.
However Kevin Hogan isn't too much of a running threat, and Mannion/Cooks have looked literally unstoppable this season. But that changes if Stanford's talented front 7 gets pressure on Mannion quickly. Luckily, screens and quick hits should hold the pass rush at bay at least a little bit.
But really it's time for the defense to put on a show. Can they rediscover that swarm defense from last year? Will the speedy, high-flying linebacker play return? We've called them into question throughout the year, but they haven't had the chance to face as strong a run game as the Cardinal have. DJ Alexander and crew could open some eyes tonight.
I don't think the Beavers win this game (if they do, I see it being by 2 scores), but they certainly can. They need to come out firing on all cylinders, the defense needs to punch the Cardinal in the mouth, and the Beavs need to razzle dazzle their way to a victory, a spot in the top 25, and more national recognition.
Time again to stay up late again and watch some OSU football! Oh wait I said this last week didn't I? At least this week is a home game!
Thoughts and questions for this very big game:
Offense living up to their hype? Interesting in that this is really the first game where the Beavs offense is coming in with some hype. Mannion is now on some short lists for Heisman, and both he and Cooks are getting the press they well deserve. Will they be able to continue having their way with the best defense they have seen to date?
Personally I think Cooks will have some difficulties at times and will also be able to get loose, but this is only going to happen if others step up on the offensive side of things. One has to think that Cooks will end up with some nice numbers yet again, but I believe that is only going to happen if others step up (Mullaney, Cummings, the tight ends, and Woods and Ward).
Defense against a ranked team's offense? Not a lot to really say here beyond what basically everyone is asking; can the defense match up against a (top 10) ranked team's offense? The offensive scheme the Cardinal run seems to be a better match up for Banker's schemes, but will we get any pass rush on what has actually not been the most dynamic of passing attacks this season so far? Will the OSU rushing defense be able to control the line of scrimmage? Stanford's offense might not be putting up huge numbers, but they have the athletes and are exceptionally well coached enough to take advantage of any weaknesses in an opposing defense (as their 16th in the country passing efficiency numbers demonstrate). The Beavs are going to have to be aggressive but also play very smart.
Special teams as the difference makers? We know well the issues the Beavs have had with their returns, but their special team coverage overall has been solid. On the other side of the ball though Stanford has Ty Montgomery who has scored twice on kick-off returns and brings a dynamic that the Beavs have not faced yet. This to me is an area of the game that may be a bit overlooked, as in something has to give in terms of making an important difference in the game.
Stanford? The Cardinal are easily the best team OSU has faced thus far in the season, but are they as good as they were last season? Stanford does seem to have a little more inconsistency on offense this season. How are they doing working on rebuilding some key position losses over the last few years (tight end, running back, and even maybe quarterback)?
From what I have seen so far from Stanford they also seem to be a little inconsistent overall with some strong wins against WSU and UCLA, an very strong win over ASU, but then a barely scrape by win over UW, a typical Stanford sloppy loss to Utah, and also some "easy" but not spectacular wins in the beginning of the season. In a weird way their resume reminds me a bit of WSU's mixed bag resume before the Cougs played OSU. That said Stanford is not WSU, and have a played a much stronger schedule so far versus Oregon State's.
What I am assuming is this is going to be a hard fought game between two teams who have got to this point of their 6 and 1 records in very different ways. Many are predicting a fairly high scoring game, but as much as I can't deny it seems to point to be that, I also wonder if maybe this might be more of the type of scoring we saw last season when it ended 27-23. Any way you slice this one though, this is going to be an interesting game for sure, and one has to imagine a very good one too!