Beat the Beavers' Offensive Line
Oregon State is leading the nation in passing, but there are two big knocks on the Beavers: They haven't played a good defense yet, and their offensive line hasn't created room in the running game (2.6 yards per carry). The first issue has obviously been outside of the Beavers' control, and they've done their best to address it by winning with the exception of an ugly season-opening loss to Eastern Washington. The second problem will be the hinge point of their match-up with Stanford.
Storm Woods has proven to be a talented running back, but a slew of early injuries up front decimated Oregon State's offensive line and almost completely extinguished the team's rushing production. The Beavers averaged only 55 yards per game on the ground through their first four contests, bottoming out with a grand total of 10 rushing yards at San Diego State. Since then, though, the line has gradually returned to health, and ground production has improved as a result: Oregon State has averaged 99 rushing yards per game their last three times out.
They'll need to maintain some semblance of a ground attack to have a chance against Stanford's defense. When Washington State's pass-happy offense was unable to productively run the football, the Cardinal were able to unleash their pass rush, and they injured two Cougar quarterbacks within a three-minute stretch. The Beavers will obviously try to mitigate similar pressure; whether or not they're successful will depend on their success against the Cardinal in the trenches.
Oregon State's early injuries, though they've mostly passed, have had a season-long effect: Mike Riley was forced to burn true freshman Sean Harlow's redshirt, so the youngster is now starting at right tackle. That's significant: Last week, Stanford's front seven feasted on a youthful UCLA offensive line. It'll be a tall task for Oregon State to continue their run blocking improvement this week. Statistically, their pass protection has been good throughout (one sack per 36 pass attempts), but the odds are also in Stanford's favor for those numbers to take a hit this week.
Win the Deep Pass/Screen Pass Mental Game
Oregon State has compensated for their rushing struggles through passing diversity. Obviously, Sean Mannion (427 passing yards per game) loves to hit Brandin Cooks (76 catches, 1176 yards through seven games) deep, but he's also frequently used screen passes to defuse quarterback pressure -- very necessary to buy time to throw bombs. On top of that, receivers Richard Mullaney (32 catches) and Kevin Cummings (19 catches) have also been productive, so it's clear that the Beavers have established a masterful aerial mix to throw opposing defenses off balance.
After talking to the coaching staff and secondary, it's clear that the screen pass-deep pass combination will probably present the biggest challenge to Stanford. Mannion and Cooks are successfully connecting on 55 percent of their deep connections (a video game-like rate), so that will be hard enough to deal with from the get-go. But once Oregon State starts mixing in the threat of short passes, too, it's easy to see Stanford being victimized similarly to how they were at Utah two weeks ago. Success in Corvallis will depend on how well the Farm Boys perform in the mental chess match against the Beavers, and they'll obviously enjoy a boost in this regard if their defensive line eliminates Oregon State's running game (as outlined above in Key One).
"Coach Riley does a great job of window dressing," Cardinal defensive coordinator Derek Mason explained. "He makes screens look like deep passes and deep passes look like runs. At the end of the day, they do a great job mirroring run and pass plays. We've just have to make sure we read our keys.... If the guys read their keys, the information is there for them to make plays."
Stick to the Running Guns
Stanford's defense, though still hobbled on the line, stayed fresh throughout last week's game against UCLA thanks to a wonderful possession effort from the offense. The Cardinal controlled the ball for over 37 minutes of gametime, and one can be sure that David Shaw wants his club to continue to eat clock this weekend.
The last time Stanford was on the road, the offense seemed to panic facing a deficit, and that led to an identity crisis throughout the middle part of the game. A firm commitment to the power running game disappeared, while wide receivers -- the strength of the Cardinal's aerial attack -- only rarely came out of the woodwork. Oregon State's defense isn't particularly good: They've surrendered four yards per rush against subpar competition. Stanford must neutralize NFL-caliber defensive end Scott Crichton and then turn their attention toward bullying an underwhelming Beavers' defense. The Cardinal offense can rip off a big game if it attacks this opponent correctly. That being said, the same could have been said about the match-up with Utah, but poor handling in that effort was enough to derail Stanford.
Exploit the Special Teams Advantage
Conrad Ukropina will almost certainly fill in for Jordan Williamson at kicker again after doing a fine job in his place last week. On the kickoff and punt return fronts, Stanford looks to have a massive advantage over Oregon State. The Beavers average only one yard per punt return (Cooks, the primary returner, has taken eight back for a grand total of negative three yards) and 21.4 yards per kick return. The Cardinal, on the other hand, are racking up over 31 yards per kick return behind Ty Montgomery.
- According to Shaw, wide receiver Devon Cajuste (bone bruise) had a "good, not great" individual workout on Wednesday. If he cannot fully incorporate himself into practice Thursday, do not expect him to play at Oregon State. Shaw, however, affirmed that Cajuste should be fully good to go on November 7 versus Oregon.
- Williamson likely won't travel with the team to Corvallis, though Shaw also expects him ready to go for the game against the Ducks.
- Defense end Henry Anderson, who hurt his knee September 14 at
Army, is moving without a limp and intensifying his workouts
with sports performance coordinator Shannon Turley. Shaw is not
sure about his exact return date yet, but there seems to be a
strong chance that Anderson will also be ready in time for
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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