Sunday, October 27, 2013
Stanford, Oregon now eyeball each other
By Ted Miller
CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Stanford and Oregon both sputtered at times in their own specific ways Saturday. Ultimately, they both also asserted themselves and emerged victorious against ranked teams in ways that are typical of them and familiar to fans since they became the top dogs -- and top rivals -- in the Pac-12.
While No. 3 Oregon pressed its secret green button to engage ludicrous speed and dispatched No. 12 UCLA 42-14 with 28 unanswered points in the second half, No. 6 Stanford beat No. 25 Oregon State 20-12 with a rugged running game, gritty defense and a goal line stand in the waning moments.
Oregon, as is its wont, made things look easy after a first half that was, at times, sloppy. Stanford, as is its wont, wasn't as aesthetically pleasing. It played mostly successful smashmouth against the resilient Beavers, but a late fumble and a failure to convert a third-and-1 -- a Cardinal staple -- made things interesting at the end.
Quarterback Kevin Hogan struggled against Oregon State, completing only 8 of 18 passes for 88 yards.
Oregon State, its potent passing game muted most of the game by a furious Stanford pass rush and blanketing secondary, was gifted life when running back Tyler Gaffney fumbled on the Cardinal's 20-yard line with 4:13 left and the Stanford lead 20-9. The Beavers had to settle for a field goal, but that made it a one-score game -- a touchdown and 2-point conversion.
Stanford took over with 2:53 left. Typically, the Cardinal and its touted and monstrous offensive line would take control of the line of scrimmage, grab a couple of first downs with running plays up the middle and then strike a pose in victory formation. Only the Beavers stopped Gaffney for no gain on third and 1.
After a 28-yard punt return from Brandin Cooks gave the Beavers the ball at Stanford's 43-yard line with 1:34 left, the Beavers quickly drove for a first and goal on the 7-yard line.
But four passes fell incomplete, and the Cardinal walked out of Reser Stadium murmuring to one another, "Too close."
It was a road win over a ranked team in the Pac-12 North Division, but it wasn't dominant or decisive by any stretch.
The reason these games and teams cannot help but be juxtaposed, of course, is because both the Ducks and Cardinal, the Pac-12's highest rated teams, are off this weekend before they meet in Stanford Stadium on Thursday, Nov. 7, with the North Division likely on the line.
"I'm already done thinking about Oregon State and the effort tonight," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "It wasn't good enough to beat Oregon or good enough to be in the game against Oregon."
Oregon will arrive at the Pac-12 game of the year squarely in the national title hunt. The Ducks are rolling on both sides of the ball, though special teams might get some emphasis over the next week and a half. The Ducks have won every game by at least 21 points.
Stanford will arrive at the marquee matchup with an upset loss at Utah and a struggling passing game.
Of course, the Cardinal went into Autzen Stadium last year a few weeks after making a change at quarterback. They already had been upset by Washington. A week before they went to Eugene, they barely slipped the Beavers at home 27-23.
Yet they shut down QB Marcus Mariota and the Ducks' high-flying offense in a 17-14 victory that won them the North Division. It was the worst game -- only bad one, actually -- of Mariota's two years as a starter, and it was quintessential Stanford football.
So Stanford fans don't need to panic over an offense that generated just 88 yards passing against the Beavers. Right?
"Offensively, we didn't play well enough, bottom line," Shaw said. "We missed too many things in the passing game -- quarterback, receivers, coach, blame us all."
Stanford got 145 yards rushing and three touchdowns from Gaffney, who averaged 6.6 yards per carry. But his fumble spurred the Beavers comeback.
"It was unacceptable," Gaffney said. "They put trust in me, and I lost a little focus."
On the other side of the ball, Stanford was brilliant. The Beavers entered the game with the nation's leading passer, quarterback Sean Mannion, and receiver, Cooks. While Mannion mostly played well, completing 41 of 57 passes for 271 yards and a touchdown, that was more than 150 yards below his season's average. Cooks caught nine passes for 80 yards, which was less than half his season average.
Most importantly, Stanford rolled up eight sacks and 13 tackles for a loss. Oregon State had yielded just nine sacks in its first seven games. The Beavers led the nation in plays of 20-or-more yards, but they had just one against the Cardinal. Oregon State was 6 of 17 on third down and, perhaps most notable, just 1 of 5 on fourth down.
"You have to be spot-on against them, and that's why we had more negative plays than we've had all year and had a hard time with protection," Beavers coach Mike Riley said.
Pretty or not, Stanford still controls its own destiny. If it beats Oregon and takes care of the rest of its conference schedule, it will win the North Division and advance to the Pac-12 title game, where it can earn a second consecutive berth in the Rose Bowl.
It also can once again deny the Ducks a chance to play for the national title.
"It's going to be a great game," Hogan said. "100 percent focused getting ready for the Ducks."