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Friday, November 9, 2012
Take 2: Edge to Stanford or Oregon State?

By Ted Miller and Kevin Gemmell

The Pac-12 game of the week is Oregon State's visit to Stanford, and Ted and Kevin picked different winners. Kevin went with the Beavers and Ted picked Stanford.

They break down their divergent reasoning here.

Kevin Gemmell: It's not often that you and I disagree on game picks. And the fact that we're disagreeing for the same reasons -- quarterback play -- makes for a fun debate. I picked Oregon State to win on the road this week because when push comes to shove, we at least know a little more about Oregon State's Cody Vaz than we know about Stanford's Kevin Hogan.

We know Vaz is 3-0 as a starter. We know he has two of the best wide receivers in the conference (country?) to throw to. And we know he can handle the pressures that come from starting on the road. And while he's fairly green in overall experience, he's been in the program for a few years and knows the playbook. Hogan, by David Shaw's own admission, has about only 80 percent of Stanford's playbook down.

Cody Vaz and Mike Riley
How will Mike Riley's offense run under quarterback Cody Vaz against a stout Stanford defense?
And, maybe most importantly of all, we know there is an In-N-Out Burger exactly 4.9 miles from Stanford Stadium in nearby Mountain View. If that doesn't motivate Vaz and the Beavers to an all-world performance, then I don't know what will.

The similarities between these teams are glaring -- from their offensive and defensive philosophies down to their impressive defensive statistics. Oregon State is 3-1 on the road this year, having scored victories over three teams that are either currently ranked or have been ranked. Two of those came with QB Sean Mannion at the helm. The third -- at BYU -- was Vaz's handiwork, against a team that lost by a point to Boise State and pushed Notre Dame to the brink.

While Stanford's rush defense is no doubt impressive, the Cardinal can be beaten on quick-hit slants and midrange passes. We've seen Mike Riley use this several times to make safeties commit closer to the line of scrimmage to set up deeper tosses as the game progresses. Eventually, this opens up one-on-one coverage for Markus Wheaton or Brandin Cooks over the top. And we know Vaz can deliver the deep ball along with the midrange passes.

I don't doubt Vaz will have some struggles against Stanford's defense. Ed Reynolds is playing some of the best safety in the country right now. He's smart enough not to get sucked in. But in a game that is expected to be low-scoring, all it takes is one hesitation against OSU's wide receivers and they are gone.

On the other side, a healthy Jordan Poyer is athletic enough to keep up with Zach Ertz -- the favorite target of Stanford's quarterbacks. Look for single coverage on Ertz if/when he splits out. He'll get his catches, but the Oregon State secondary is athletic and talented enough to negate his impact.

In the end, Oregon State has more weapons at Vaz's disposal, and the limited experience he does have will pay dividends.

Ted Miller: Kevin makes a strong case, and this is a difficult game to pick. Vaz has answered the call in his previous three starts. There are plenty of similarities between these teams. And differences.

Both lost at Washington in games both probably feel like they blew. Both have very good defenses, particularly against the run.

So why give Stanford the edge, particularly with Stanford's Hogan making his first career start at QB, against a defensive front that will get after him? Further, Vaz has an outstanding receiver combination; Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks will tax the Cardinal secondary. Hogan has some nice tight ends, but his receivers aren't in the same class.

There are three reasons I like Stanford:

1. Stanford is at home.
2. The Cardinal have a better offensive line.
3. USC.

What's USC got to do with this? The Trojans brought a pro-style offense to Palo Alto that featured an elite receiver combination and lost 21-14 after they lost the battle at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.

I think this one plays out the same way, with the Cardinal winning the line of scrimmage.

Oregon State's most obvious weakness this year is a middling running game, one that ranks 10th in the conference. The Beavers won't be able to run against Stanford, which has the nation's No. 1 run defense. That means Vaz will have to throw the ball. Well, guess who also leads the nation in sacks?

Yep, the Cardinal, with a beastly 4.33 per game.

Vaz has faced some good defenses, and he's faced some good defenses on the road. But he hasn't faced one with as formidable a front seven as the Cardinal.

Oregon State also has a good front seven and a very good run defense. But I expect Stanford's offensive line to at least reach a stalemate. I think running back Stepfan Taylor is going to be able to grind out some yards, and that will make life easier for Hogan.

This game looks like a tight, low-scoring, defensive-minded affair. But I expect Stanford to grind out a victory.