For the final time, Stanford football’s (5-4, 3-3 Pac-12) seniors will suit up in Stanford Stadium to take on Oregon State (2-7, 1-5) Saturday night. Stanford has won the last eight meetings against the Beavers.
While this is undoubtedly a game the Cardinal ought to win, head coach David Shaw noted that his team will have to contend with the same Oregon State intensity that held Stanford to 15 points and scored 14 of its own just last year. “They’ve got kids that play hard and with heart,” said Shaw. “We saw that last year. We won on the scoreboard and they kicked our butts all over the field in all three phases.”
In overtime two weeks ago, the Beavers beat a Colorado squad that was once the conference’s sole unbeaten team before their current four-game skid. In that game, Jake Luton replaced Conor Blount as quarterback at halftime to earn Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week Honors completing 28 of 39 pass attempts for 310 yards and three touchdowns. The Beavers are averaging nearly 30 points per game, in part due to the Pac-12’s leader in rushing touchdowns Jermar Jefferson and the conference’s fourth most productive receiver, Isaiah Hodgins.
If the Cardinal defense is troubled by the Oregon State attack, they can do what they have done all year and make halftime adjustments. Stanford has allowed only one touchdown, to Washington State, and never more than seven points in a third quarter all season. The Cardinal have dominated third quarters, outscoring opponents 90-25. “You can’t really prepare for everything,” said senior linebacker Sean Barton. “We make a lot of changes on the fly. But at halftime, when everybody comes together, and [defensive coordinator Lance] Anderson can come down from the box and tells us what he’s seeing, it really helps.”
Offensively, Stanford will look to exploit an awful Oregon State defense that has surrendered 274.6 rushing yards and 262.3 passing yards per game. That ranks the Beavers 128 out of 129 teams nationally in total defense. The only team in the conference giving up more passing yards per game than the Beavers is the Cardinal.
Junior quarterback KJ Costello is certain his team is up for the task. “Stanford football never loses games back to back, let alone three or four times in a five-game stretch,” he said. “We have had this feeling a lot in the last month and it’s a feeling that no one wants. Our guys have so much passion and response to adversity, and that is what is keeping us up.”
However, Stanford will have to overcome a significant number of injuries. Senior wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Junior kicker Jet Toner are out; senior linebacker Mustafa Branch and junior offensive guard Nate Herbig are questionable; senior running back Bryce Love, junior running back Trevor Speights and junior offensive lineman Devery Hamilton are all day-to-day.
Before his final game in Stanford Stadium, Shaw attested to Love’s will to play through injuries. “He’s in pain, but the guy is one of the best running backs in America,” he said. “He loves this football team and he wants to play his best for this team.”
Without Arcega-Whiteside, the nation’s number-two receiver in touchdowns, the Cardinal will need other pass catchers to step up. Their tight ends, sophomore Colby Parkinson and junior Kaden Smith, are obvious candidates. Smith is second on the team in receiving yards with 601, behind only Arcega-Whiteside, while Parkinson is second in touchdown receptions behind the star senior.
Shaw predicts a bright future for Parkinson. “He’s going to be a superstar in college football,” he said. “He stepped up and made some big-time plays.”
Of course, Costello will turn to the veteran Trenton Irwin, coming off his first touchdown of the year, on his senior night. “It’s going to be a feeling I probably can’t describe,” said Irwin. “One last time to just go out on that field and express yourself and play for each other. It’s going to be surreal.”
During the four years these seniors have been on the farm, Stanford has won 36 games, two Pac-12 North titles, a conference championship, and has played in the Rose Bowl, Sun Bowl and Alamo Bowl. “I’m just hoping to send the seniors out the right way,” said Barton. The send-off starts with kickoff at 6 p.m.