Oregon State had a Stanford problem Saturday night. Again.
For the 10th time in 10 years, Stanford found a way to win a game against Oregon State, and Beaver fans came away from the contest frustrated.
In the decade, Oregon State has had some good teams, some that were at least capable of competing for a while, and some that were flat out uncompetitive. Especially against Stanford. During that time, the Cardinal have had a lot of good teams, and some that were not as good as their record. This year’s Stanford squad looks like it fits in the latter grouping.
But as usual, Stanford was better when it mattered, even if not overall, and got the 31-28 win.
The game was delayed 15 minutes by a thunderstorm, and then the first quarter was played in a deluge. For some reason, most of normal warmups after the local lightning strike were skipped, as was the National Anthem. Despite the disruption, Oregon State started the game with a lot of energy. Perhaps because of the disruption, the Beavers played the first half, without the focus to match that energy.
The deluge was disruptive for both teams, and the Cardinal’s first scoring threat ended in a missed field goal. Notably, the Beavers would “miss” on 2 field goal attempts in the first half. One was short, and one was partially blocked.
But Stanford managed to take a 7-0 lead on an unusual bubble screen pass from Stanford backup Davis Mills, who got the start in place of KJ Costello, who was unable to go after suffering a throwing hand injury in the Cardinal’s 21-6 loss to Oregon, to Michael Wilson.
Expecting that Stanford would send 2 blockers in front of such a play, and over-honoring the blockers on the opposite end of the Cardinal line, the Oregon State secondary was initially confused, as never got safety help in play on the play, and with 1 good block, Wilson was unchallenged enroute to scoring. It was a combination of coaching and execution, a Stanford hallmark.
The rain abated by the beginning of the 2nd quarter, and the rest of the game was clean and competitive, even if the chill made it feel more like a November game than a September one.
The second quarter was almost scoreless, but late in the period, Mills engineered a 10 play, 80 yard drive, and capitalized on the perennial size mismatch that Stanford has had against the Oregon State, finding TE Colby Parkinson, below, for a touchdown the Beaver secondary couldn’t do anything to stop, and a 14-0 lead at the break.
The Stanford TE problem arose again in the 3rd quarter, and Mills capped another 80 yard drive, this one an 11 play foray, with a toss that produced the first career touchdown catch by Brycen Tremayne, below, and a 21-0 Cardinal lead.
After sputtering for much of the game, Oregon State finally got their offense going, and Jake Luton hooked up with his favorite target, Isaiah Hodgins, to cap another 11 play drive with an 11 yard touchdown with 1:21 to go in the 3rd quarter.
The Beavers pulled back within 1 score early in the 4th quarter, when Artavis Pierce pierced the Cardinal defense for a 43 yard touchdown run. It capped the best drive of the day by either team, having started at the Oregon State 5 yard line.
Stanford re-extended their lead to 2 scores on the ensuing drive. But the extension was larger than it could have been, or should have been. It would also ultimately figure in the outcome. And be another huge element of frustration for Oregon State.
The Beaver defense forced a 46 yard field goal, which Jet Toner drilled. But Stanford elected to take the points off the board after Oregon State was called for a personal foul for illegally contacting the Cardinal center while attempting a leveraged leap over him, because the markoff resulted in a 1st down.
Another personal foul on the next play, for roughing the passer, produced another 1st. down.
On the next play, a toss off a jet sweep led to Parkinson throwing a touchdown pass to Mills.
The run of breakdowns by the Beavers left them a full 2 touchdowns behind again, with only 9 1/2 minutes left.
Undaunted, Oregon State still rallied to tie the game, as BJ Baylor, above, capped a 75 yard drive with a 1 yard touchdown run, and then, with only 1:55 left, Pierce capped a 77 yard drive with the game tieing touchdown run.
The Beavers had managed to effectively win the game statistically, out-passing and out-rushing the Cardinal by significant margins. But special teams would ultimately be their downfall.
Stanford hadn’t had any big plays in special teams, but they had had good kickoff returns all day, producing at least enhanced field position. With the game on the line, Connor Weddington, below, came up with a 43 yard kickoff return out to mid-field.
Mills immediately followed that up with an 18 yard completion to Osiris St. Brown, and that effectively put the Cardinal in position for what would be the game winning field goal by Toner, from 39 yards out, and needled through the arms of Beaver would be blockers, which crossed the cross bar with 1 second left.
The situation couldn’t have been set up better for Oregon State, who were coming into the game off both a win, and a bye. Stanford had lost 3 straight for the first time in over a decade, and in Coach David Shaw’s career. The Cardinal were playing their 3rd road game in 4 weeks, with a backup quarterback.
Oregon State out-passed Stanford 337 yards to 253, as Luton, above, completed more passes, 27, than Mills attempted, 25.
Hodgins had a game high 10 catches, twice what Weddington hauled in to lead Stanford, for a game high 162 yards, almost twice the 87 yards Wilson had for the Cardinal. Parkinson was held to just 3 catches, though they all came at critical times.
Luton even managed to find a way to contribute as a runner.
The run of Stanford running backs has had a lot to do with the Cardinal’s strong decade, and not just against Oregon State. And though Cameron Scarlett, above, isn’t quite on the level of recent Cardinal history, the Oregon native (a recruiting escapee), he’s still a solid back.
But Artavis Pierce is better. Pierce, above, ran for 141 yards and 2 touchdowns on 16 carries, and had 4 catches for another 46 yards. Scarlett managed just 92 yards rushing on 24 carries, and Stanford was held to an even 100 yards on the ground, this by the oft abused Oregon State run defense.
The Beavers also played a clean game turnover wise. This has been one of the clear areas of improvement all season long.
But though the Beavers had the upper hand overall in both the passing and rushing games, and had one of their better statistical days defensively, at least against non-FCS opponents, the Cardinal made key plays when they had to. And they made plays in special teams, while that was a problem for the Beavers. Stanford was out-played, but made better decisions.
The relative discrepancies in the coaching staffs, both in recruiting and on game day, were apparent. Again. It’s been an issue in the 10 year run of futility for Oregon State under now 4 head coaches. During the decade, the Beavers have done better against every other member of the conference. Boise State, BYU, San Jose State, Hawaii, and San Diego State in the west as well. Wisconsin and Louisville too.
It’s not a Jonathan Smith issue, its what he’s got around him. Smith has willed an overmatched roster to perform at times at the level necessary to win at least some of the time. But below standard facilities, and the lowest investment in assistant coaches and quality administrative support in the conference has produced results in line with that investment.
Stanford is now 2-3 on the season, and has a conference win. Oregon State is now 1-3, and missed out on a good chance for a conference win, before beginning an October (thru Nov. 2) run that will see 3 of the next 4 games on the road, starting next Saturday night at UCLA.
At least Oregon State had the better band. (Especially since the notorious Stanford band didn’t show, apparently not allowed off the Farm again.)
(Photos by Andy Wooldridge)