Stanford football is no stranger to letdowns. After the Cardinal beat Washington in a top-15 matchup in 2013, they dropped their next game on the road at unranked Utah. Later that season, they lost to unranked USC on the road a week after beating Oregon in a top-5 clash.
Such a letdown is exactly what Stanford will hope to avoid today when the No. 21 Cardinal (2-1, 1-0 Pac-12) take on the Oregon State Beavers (2-1, 0-0) in Corvallis, Oregon fresh off the heels of a huge victory over No. 6 USC on Saturday.
“We haven’t earned the right to be overconfident,” said head coach David Shaw. “We’ve played one really good game from start to finish. One out of three. We’re trying to build some momentum. We’re trying to be the team that we want to be. The team that we want to be doesn’t worry about what happened in the last game.”
The Cardinal are just hoping that they can consistently show up more as the team that beat USC last week than the team that lost to Northwestern in Week 1, although Shaw was clear that the team didn’t exactly accomplish all of its goals against USC, either.
“We won a football game and played well,” Shaw said. “We have to back that up with another good football game.”
There are a lot of obstacles standing between Stanford and the consistency it seeks. For one, the team had to condense its normal practice routine and will be playing on short rest, since the Oregon State game has been scheduled for a Friday. And more importantly, Stanford will potentially be without two of its biggest leaders in Corvallis as well.
Fifth-year senior outside linebacker Kevin Anderson has already been ruled out for the Oregon State game after getting banged up against USC, and fifth-year senior quarterback Kevin Hogan will officially be a game-time decision after spraining his ankle while falling to the ground on a sack.
While Anderson’s loss is less significant because his immediate backup, sophomore Joey Alfieri, has seen lots of playing time this season, the potential loss of Hogan could be problematic for the Cardinal due to the relative inexperience of his backups, junior Ryan Burns and sophomore Keller Chryst.
“Both guys are so much better than they were last spring,” Shaw said. “If they get out and play, yes, we’ll protect them to a certain degree, but at the same time, there’s a reason why you recruit these guys. They’re both physical, athletic and strong-armed guys. We’ll let them go out there and play.”
If Hogan can’t play, the Cardinal will likely have to rely a lot more heavily on their running game than they have so far this season to keep pressure off of their new quarterbacks.
The running backs have momentum on their side: Sophomore Christian McCaffrey is coming off of the first 100-yard game of his career (and the Cardinal’s first since 2013), and fifth-year senior Remound Wright scored three times at USC.
However, the Oregon State defense, which has traditionally been stout and has recently revamped itself under the leadership of new head coach Gary Andersen and defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake, could provide a stiff test for the Cardinal attack — Hogan or no Hogan.
“They blitz a lot, and they do it a lot of different ways,” McCaffrey said. “They’re a physical team that plays hard and plays fast… We know they’re going to be very tough to play against.”
The Beavers are led on defense by junior middle linebacker Rommel Mageo, whose 30 tackles through just three games lead the team by a wide margin for an Oregon State squad that enters conference play third in the Pac-12 in rushing defense and second in the Pac-12 in passing defense.
Oregon State will need to play well on defense to give its offense a chance at outscoring Stanford: The Beavers are breaking in a true freshman, Seth Collins, at quarterback under a new, dual-threat system that stands in stark contrast to the pro-style, pocket-passing offense that former head coach Mike Riley took with him to Nebraska.
Although Collins hasn’t put up great numbers through non-conference play (294 rushing yards and 306 passing yards in three games), the novelty of Oregon State’s system, combined with its ability to shift between different styles of offense, means that Stanford doesn’t have much film to work off of; consequently Stanford will essentially need to prepare for anything and everything.
“Put [Collins] on the list of all of the guys in our conference that are tough to prepare for,” Shaw said. “He’s more athletic than I thought going into it… They give you variety. It’s his skill set combined with the variety of schemes they use — they keep you on your toes.
“They’ve made a pretty good adaptation to their new scheme,” he added. “I’m sure they’ll have some wrinkles that we haven’t seen. It makes you really prepare and be as sound as you can, because play by play, both sides of the ball, you’re not really sure what you’ll get.”
It also helps the Beavers that they’re loaded with talent at the skill positions, with running back Storm Barrs-Woods having rushed for 76 yards per game this season to complement Collins’ 98 yards per game, and a deep receiving corps to balance out the offense.
Wide receiver Jordan Villamin, standing at 6-foot-5 and 231 pounds, is a walking mismatch and provides an elite combination of speed and physicality for the Beavers, while Victor Bolden’s versatility can be utilized out wide and in the backfield.
With all those factors coming into play, it’s not wise to sleep on the Beavers, who come into the game as 16-point underdogs. In fact, Oregon State stunned the country with an upset win over Arizona State last season, and two of the last three meetings between the Beavers and Cardinal have been decided by one score.
“On the road, conference opponent, raucous, loud environment,” Shaw said. “I remind a lot of the older guys, every game that we’ve had at Oregon State over the last few years has been tough. It’s been a game won at the end of the game. It’s been tight. Our guys understand that. They’d better understand that. It’s not going to be a cakewalk in there.”
Stanford and Oregon State will kick off in Corvallis at 7 p.m., with the game being carried by Fox Sports One.
Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dhpark ‘at’ stanford.edu.