What if I told you that Saturday’s game between Oregon State and Stanford will be the most important game played at Reser Stadium since 2008? Let’s forget for a moment about the horrendous loss to Eastern Washington and try to gain some perspective. Entering the season, optimistic fans had the Beavers starting the year at 7-0. More realistic fans (such as myself) figured the Beavs’ could easily slip up once entering the Stanford game on October 26th. Regardless of the preseason predictions, everyone in the country knew that Oregon State’s identity would not be revealed until this game. This game is crucial to the Beavers success for the rest of the season. A loss would not be the end of the world; they could still easily win 8 or 9 games, as they have frequently done for the last 10 years. But that’s not good enough for many fans anymore; they want to reach the next threshold. An upset on Saturday would not only bring Sean Mannion and Brandon Cooks legitimate national attention, it could easily decide who the 2nd best team in the Pac-12 North is.
Granted, this is no simple task. Stanford is number six in the BCS, following an impressive victory over UCLA last Saturday. Stanford is commonly known for being tight and fundamentally sound. They rely primarily on their two main strengths: the offensive and defensive line. This was the difference in their game against UCLA. Stanford was able to neutralize UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley by dominating the line of scrimmage. Same goes on the offensive side, The Cardinal simply ran the ball down UCLA’s throat throughout the entire game.
If OSU is to pull out a victory, there are two keys to the game that must be executed.
1. As I hinted at above, Stanford isn’t going to surprise anyone at the stadium with their game plan. On offense, they will establish the run by pounding the ball up the middle with their big men up front. It will not be uncommon to see a 3 tight end set, with two men in the backfield. Oregon State knows this and it is imperative that the front 7 holds their own and forces Stanford’s quarterback Kevin Hogan to throw the ball. While Hogan is competent, he is vulnerable to turning the ball over when Stanford is forced out of their element and forced to pass more often than they would like. The Beavs’ are 5th in the nation in turnover margin and their secondary can cause havoc in the right situation.
2. It’s no secret that Oregon State’s traditional run game is nonexistent. Normally for a pro style team, this would be a disaster. However Oregon State has gotten by primarily on the play of two players on offense (Mannion and Cooks). While the traditional run game has gone by the way side, there are other schemes that can take its place while producing the same result. With Stanford’s fearsome defensive line, it will be nearly impossible to establish a running game. What needs to take the place of traditional running plays are the numerous screen plays and fly sweeps in the offensive playbook. It is an imperfect solution but it can still be effective and keep the Cardinal off balance and honest.
Success for these keys is easier said than done. There is no question the offensive and defensive line for the Beavers have their work cut out for them.
One of Mike Riley’s go-to phrases that he preaches constantly is “Seize the Day.” This is exactly what OSU must do this Saturday. Reser Stadium will be sold out and the student section will be as rabid as it has been in a long time. This is a monstrous task for a team that has not proven itself in the slightest, but after winning 6 straight games, the Beavers have ample amounts of momentum heading into this battle.
In a sense, the stars have aligned for Saturday. After the loss to Eastern Washington, there were many pundits across the country that questioned if Oregon State would even make a bowl game. That question has been answered, while another one emerges: Will the Beavers take the next step and show the college football world that they belong in top company?
This is their chance to answer that question.
See you on Saturday.