Two years ago, the last time Stanford went into Corvallis, a senior quarterback named Keller Chryst ’17 led the offense to a narrow 15-14 win. The game was Chryst’s last action in a Stanford uniform because the sophomore quarterback who replaced him during injury in a win over Arizona State was ready to take the reins — K.J. Costello.
Costello, now a senior, guided Stanford to the Pac-12 championship game that year. Now, however, after early season struggles, Stanford (1-3, 0-2 Pac-12) has its back against the wall heading to Oregon State (1-2, 0-0 Pac-12).
“As widely reported the entire offseason, we opened the season with the toughest four-game stretch in America,” said Stanford head coach David Shaw. “We haven’t been up to our standards. It was difficult.”
Those struggles are leaving many fearful that the first contest on the schedule that seemed very winnable preseason, a date with the Beavers, may have become competitive. And many now think that Costello ought to pass the torch down to his backup, junior Davis Mills.
Although there is a chance Mills starts on Saturday, it would only be because of an injury Costello sustained on his throwing thumb against Oregon. Shaw does not know how much the collision affected Costello throughout the remainder of the game, and with minimal throwing this week, Costello’s status is “questionable” for Saturday.
“Honestly, I think there were only two errant throws the entire game, which happens to every quarterback regardless of level and how you’re playing as a team,” Shaw said. “He put the ball on the money a couple times and with guys in his face they were tough throws. It wasn’t like he couldn’t do the job.”
That game against Oregon State was important for another reason, with Bryce Love ’19 on the sidelines with an injury, now-fifth-year senior running back Cameron Scarlett scampered for 72 yards. So far this season, Scarlett, a team captain, has carried the load on offense for the Cardinal. On Saturday, returning to his native Oregon, Scarlett will look to eclipse the century mark in rushing yards for the first time after falling three short for the second time this season last game.
“I think we’re running the ball well,” Shaw said. “I think we’re blocking well up front. Cam Scarlett, I thought, this past game was outstanding. He broke tackles, got yards after contact.”
As has become expected for Stanford, the offensive line that will work in front of Scarlett is a patchwork. The outlook is positive for junior right tackle Foster Sarell, but less so for senior left guard Devery Hamilton.
Last year’s game against the Beavers looked a lot different. Costello found then-sophomore tight end Colby Parkinson for four first half touchdowns, as JJ Arcega-Whiteside ’19 was out with an injury, and Stanford rolled to a 48-17 victory.
“It’s just kind of how it evolved,” Parkinson said. “We always put in different plans for different people in certain games, and we have matchups that we like. The ball was coming my way.”
Although Parkinson had caught six touchdowns already that season, Oregon State did not game plan for the 6’7” tight end, and paid for it to the tune of six receptions for 166 yards. On the other hand, this season, Parkinson has been the focus of opponent’s preparation, and has yet to catch a touchdown pass despite ranking second on the team with 17 receptions and 178 yards.
“If they want to try to take [Parkinson] away, then other guys have to make plays,” Shaw said. “That’s the only way we can get him open sometimes if he’s going to be the focus.”
“You’ve seen it in the first four games — I’m not getting the same looks I was getting last year,” Parkinson said. “It seems like they’re game-planning for me, which is definitely a compliment.”
Oregon State is built on the ground, and leans heavily on running back Jermar Jefferson. In the two games he was active, Jefferson has put up 270 rushing yards. Although he was held out of the Cal Poly game with an injury, coming off a bye, Jefferson is a full go against Stanford.
The Beavers also take care of the ball and are one of just four teams to commit just one turnover this season. A lot of that is due to sixth-year signal caller Jake Luton, who was granted an additional year of eligibility and is now in his third season in Corvallis.
Luton also has a favorite target in Isaiah Hodgins, and the pair have connected for ten touchdowns since 2017, including a pair last game. Luton has more than three times as many receptions as the next closest Oregon State pass catcher.
In the last three halves of football, Stanford’s defense has allowed just 28 points. Although that number is not remarkable, it is certainly superior to the 83 points surrendered in the prior three halves. The defense is increasingly relying upon freshmen to make plays, and Shaw emphasized strong safety Jonathan McGill and cornerback Kyu Kelly.
Two other players that Shaw praised were senior inside linebackers Curtis Robinson and Andrew Pryts. At that position, however, numerous Cardinal have succumbed to injury, leaving fifth year senior Ryan Beecher as the only backup.
“It very quickly went from possibly the deepest position on the team to the shallowest position on the team,” Shaw said. “We have two first-time starters in there that have played well.”
For the third time in four weeks, Stanford will be on the road in front of a hostile crowd.
“The noise, a feeling of the stadium,” Shaw said. “It feels really close and down tight on you. And when they play well it gets loud down there.”
Saturday’s kickoff is at 4 p.m. PST.
Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.