Last week, redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan lit up a porous Colorado defense and wrestled the starting job away from senior Josh Nunes. On Saturday, Hogan left Stanford fans wondering what might have been without two losses to Washington and Notre Dame as the Cardinal (8-2, 6-1 Pac-12) weathered a 23-point run by the Beavers (7-2, 5-2) and Hogan rallied the offense with two second-half touchdowns as the No. 14 Cardinal knocked off No. 11 Oregon State to set up a very important showdown with No. 3 Oregon next weekend in Eugene.
In front of a packed Stanford Stadium, Stanford’s seniors came out firing early on Senior Day. Despite an early fumble from the Cardinal on the opening possession, senior running back Stepfan Taylor kicked things off with a touchdown on a one-yard plunge midway through the first quarter, and senior fullback Ryan Hewitt took a short pass from Hogan and rumbled 12-yards into the end zone to give the Cardinal a 14-0 lead.
Stanford’s defense lived up to its billing early as one of the nation’s elite groups, as Oregon State’s wide receivers were largely bottled up and quarterback Cody Vaz didn’t have much time to throw.
The second quarter was all Beavers, however, as coach Mike Riley’s squad was disciplined and steadily made adjustments to allow the receivers to make plays in space.
Hogan went on to throw two interceptions — one on a ball that was tipped and another on a good, second-half play by Oregon State star defensive back Rashaad Reynolds — and the Beavers scored a touchdown and a field goal to go into halftime trailing by just four.
But the halftime break did little to stem the orange and black tide.
Vaz threw a 22-yard touchdown and the Beavers added another two field goals in the third quarter to put Stanford in a hole and suck the life out of the home crowd.
Hogan and his band of heroes rose to the occasion.
On one of the plays of the season, Hogan escaped the pocket and, falling to his knees, dumped a pass off to Taylor, who broke several tackles on a 40-yard scamper to the end zone that brought the Cardinal within two and the crowd back to life.
After both teams stalled on offense, senior defensive end Josh Mauro recovered a Vaz fumble at the Oregon State 29. It didn’t take long for Stanford to make the Beavers pay.
Hogan continued to be accurate — he finished 22-for-29 for 254 yards passing — and Taylor was methodical in his running as the Cardinal moved toward the end zone.
With the ball on the 13-yard line, Hogan checked off and fired a strike to senior tight end Zach Ertz in the back of the end zone for the lead. Stanford head coach David Shaw was very pleased with what he saw from the redshirt freshman in his first career start.
“Without the turnovers I thought he played great,” Shaw said. “He doesn’t flinch, he doesn’t back off.”
After a two-point conversion failed, Stanford’s defense held Oregon State and while the offense had to punt back to the Beavers, a huge sack on third down by senior linebacker Alex Debniak knocked Vaz out of the game. When Sean Mannion’s pass fell incomplete on fourth-and-15, Stanford could breathe once more.
Shaw said he was proud of his senior leadership, a group that did not lose at home this season and escaped with five single-digit victories at home.
“That’s what you always say about our guys, they fight hard and they fight to the end,” he said.
Stanford controls its own destiny in the race for the Pac-12 North, with a showdown against division leader Oregon next weekend from Autzen Stadium. A win against the Ducks would put the Cardinal on the inside track for a berth in the Pac-12 Championship game and potentially a Rose Bowl invitation.