Can OSU stop vaunted Stanford offense?

OREGON STATE BEGINS an imposing slate of games in November with what might be the most difficult task of all for the Beavers -- Saturday's matchup with unbeaten and No. 4 ranked Stanford.

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Beavers need to regain some semblance of a running game to keep the pressure away from freshman QB Sean Mannion, who was sacked six times by Utah. There might be a temptation to attempt to take full advantage of what appears to be the one area where OSU might have an edge, its receivers against the Stanford secondary, but if that physical Stanford line knows all it has to worry about is the passing game, it's going to be a long day for Mannion. Riley implied the Beavs will need to throw a good amount, but is he giving Stanford a gameweek head fake?

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The OSU rush defense that has been pounded by lesser and less physical opponents now has to face up to Stanford, which ranks second in the Pac-12 and 19th in the nation, averaging 215.3 yards on the ground.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Stanford at Oregon State, Nov. 5 -- To build some confidence and make a game of it, the Beavers have to stay close for as long as possible. That's not easy, with Stanford having allowed only 10 points in first quarter this season and the Cardinal not trailing in a game at halftime since 2009. Still, the Cardinal has had a number of close games at the half, after which they've generally put teams away in the third quarter, save for USC last week.

KEYS TO THE GAME: The OSU defense isn't likely to stop Stanford, so it will be a matter of outscoring the Cardinal. The longer the OSU offense can be on the field, the better chance there is of holding the Cardinal down from its average of 49.5 points.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:
WR James Rodgers -- The senior receiver is down to the final two home games of his career, and making a bid to leave as the school's career receptions leader, needing 14 in the final four games. He's a veteran of matchups with top opponents and needs to set an example for the younger teammates that there are ways to have success.

S Anthony Watkins -- With a sore shoulder that has hampered him the last month, Watkins will nonetheless draw the assignment of dealing with Stanford's big and bruising tight ends. That's difficult for any safety, much less one with a sore shoulder.

P Johnny Hekker -- The Beavers may not want to punt often, but it's likely against Stanford's defense. Hekker will need to control with directional punts and height, as Stanford's Drew Terrell ranks second in the Pac-12 and 10th nationally with his average of 13.9 yards on punt returns.

ROSTER REPORT
--With Feti Unga not playing at Utah due to a calf injury and backup Tony Wilson struggling at times against the Utes, the Beavers turned to moving Rueben Robinson back to middle linebacker from his outside position. That leaves the depth chart this week with all three as possible starters at the middle linebacker position.

--With former starter Josh Andrews now healthy, the Beavers are considering a rotation at the two guard positions among Burke Ellis, Grant Enger and Andrews. They were forced to do that against Utah when Ellis suffered an injury, prompting the move of Enger from left guard to the right side with Andrews back in at right guard.

--Sophomore Geoff Garner could be in line for the first start of his career if regular C Grant Johnson is hobbled by his sprained ankle suffered Oct. 22 against Washington State. Johnson started at Utah but couldn't last, and Garner saw the most extensive action of his career.

The Beavers were left at 2-6 overall (2-3 in the Pac-12) after a 27-8 loss at Utah, meaning OSU has to win its final four games to be minimally eligible for a bowl. Beyond Stanford (8-0, 6-0), the remaining games are at California, UW in Corvallis and No. 7 Oregon in a road finale to the season.

How do the Beavs reach .500 out of that gauntlet? How do they even beat Stanford, to avoid clinching a losing record on the earliest date since the 1997 season?

"We'll look at our plan and get our guys ready to go," Riley said. "We're going to give it everything we've got."

Which still might not be nearly enough. The OSU defense ranks 10th in the conference in rush defense, and has been vulnerable to power running teams, such as Stanford. Against that challenge, the Beavers were run over by UCLA, BYU and Utah, teams that don't have quarterback play that approaches Stanford's Andrew Luck.

"(To say) We're going to have to do a great job would be understating it," Riley said of the task.

NOTES
--James Rodgers raised his career reception total to 206. The only OSU receivers who have more career catches are Mike Hass (220) and James Newson (213).

--OSU ranks eighth in the nation in both pass attempts (352) and completions (223). The Beavers are on pace to better the school record for completed passes (319 in 2009).

--OSU's 14 interceptions are the most in the nation, and the 21 turnovers by the Beavers are the most in the Pac-12.

SERIES HISTORY: Stanford leads the series 49-25-3.


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