OSU v. Stanford: Position breakdown

CODY VAZ to start, but how far can he go against one of the best pass rushing attacks in the nation? Terron Ward, Storm Woods or Malcolm Agnew? Where's Jordan Poyer? The questions abound heading into this weekend's matchup that pits No.11 OSU against No.14 Stanford. So will the Beavs march off the field victorious Saturday?

Ehhh… Maybe?

Quarterback – Minus six sacks at the hands of ASU, Cody Vaz had a strong outing with three TD's and one pick. While Vaz is currently "it" in a game of quarterback tag with Sean Mannion, Stanford looks to be going with sophomore Kevin Hogan over senior Josh Nunes. It's a move that seems to be benefiting head honcho David Shaw and this Cardinal offense. Nunes has been inconsistent throughout the season, posting 10 TD's and seven interceptions for 1,643 yards. Nunes' worst moments of "did that really just happen" have come on key third down situations. Hogan on the other hand, has done well in that department and every other – although his sample size is small given that he's only thrown 24 passes all season. But the sophomore is an adept dual threat QB – light on his feet and accurate with his throws – he gives Stanford the ability to run more option. OSU's defense has struggled against speedy passers this season -- will that vulnerability be exposed Saturday?
Edge is tied

Running Back - Storm Woods, Malcolm Agnew or Terron Ward. Yet another instance where questions loom over the OSU offense late into the season. Woods absence during the ASU matchup flung the door wide open for Ward to show his moxy to a raucous OSU crowd. Ward proved more consistent (19 carries for 146 yards and a TD on the day) than Woods or Agnew have this season – but it was only one game. Woods' injuries prevented him from making an impact against ASU, and it remains questionable whether or not he will be cleared to play st Stanford. The Cardinal on the other hand has a steady arsenal of rushers headed by senior Stepfan Taylor with 947 yards and eight TD's. If anything, the teams are equal in terms of depth, but Taylor's experience favors Stanford's chances. But Stanford has virtually no tape on Ward, and it gives OSU an advantage.
Edge is tied

Tight End - Stanford likes to use their tight ends in the passing game. Seniors Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz have dominated the airways for the Cardinal, racking up 913 yards and eight touchdowns collectively. A whopping 566 of those yards belong to Ertz, making him the top receiver on the team. Toilolo, at 6-8, 265 is a massive target who has shown skill in run blocking as well – combined the two could be destructive to a hot and cold OSU secondary. Meanwhile, Colby Prince and Connor Hamlett continue to improve in many ways, but they still have yet to step up and be a force to be recognized. The duo struggled with pass protection and Hamlett had some drops against ASU, and to date have collected a respectable 286 yards and three touchdowns – just over half of what Ertz has accomplished on his own.
Edge goes to Stanford

Offensive Line – Confidence in the Oregon State front five was all but diminished in the early going of the ASU contest. They crumbled, Vaz fumbled and the Sun Devils capitalized on it. The second half told a different story, as the big guys found a groove, allowing Ward to take it to the house and Vaz to relax in the pocket. The offensive line is a much unheralded asset to this Beaver football team - but they have proven thus far that they are a second half squad. Bear in mind too that this offensive line has become increasingly accustomed to the in-game tendencies of Mannion over the course of nearly two seasons – naturally a bit tough to adapt to another QB's style midway through conference play. Stanford is comfortably stacked on their offensive line, with redshirt senior C Sam Schwartzstein leading a starting front five consisting solely of juniors and seniors. Offensive guards Kevin Danser and Khalil Wilkes have played some good ball, and have been particularly effective in red zone blocking scenarios. Stanford has run the ball past the pylons 14 times this season, and much of that success can be accredited to the guys up front.
Edge goes to Stanford

Wide ReceiverMarkus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks continue to shine – the pair represent ideal targets no matter which QB takes the snaps. Cooks leads the team in terms of both receiving and yards/game, with 906 yards, four TD's and a 113.2 YPG average. Then there is Wheaton, who has been the OSU scoring machine with eight TD's, 787 yards and a 98.4 YPG average. Together, they can easily be considered one of the top two receiving duos in the Pac-12. Cooks and Wheaton combine for 1693 yards – 50 yards more than Nunes has thrown for all season long. Nunes' top three wideouts (Drew Terrell, Ty Montgomery and Jamal-Rashad Patterson) have been less than remarkable in 2012. Terrell and Patterson, seniors both, have accumulated a mere 509 yards receiving and four touchdowns as a collective. The Stanford passing game is heavily dependent on tight ends and versatile running backs to make things happen – OSU is the exact opposite. The Beavs boast an aggressive and influential set of wideouts – Cooks and Wheaton should rip through the No.99 ranked Cardinal secondary, averaging an allowance of 266 yards/game through the air – if Vaz has time.
Edge goes to OSU

Defensive Line –The OSU D-line was Jekyll in the first half against ASU, Hyde in the second. Once ASU's front five started to wilt, they capitalized. There was no such fatigue for OSU, who have performed particularly well in the second half this season. The endurance and flexibility of the OSU front four will factor heavily in the outcome of this tilt - but Dylan Wynn (32 tackles, 1.5 TFL and one sack), Scott Crichton (33 tackles, 14 TFL and nine sacks), Andrew Seumalo (22 tackles, three TFL and two sacks) and Castro Masaniai (15 tackles, 3.5 TFL and two sacks) cannot afford to be a second half team on Saturday. This may well be the biggest challenge they face all season long in the trenches, and they will need to savage the lines all day without mercy.

Stanford has been doing just that this season.. The Cardinal has the No.1 ranked rushing defense in the nation. Defensive coordinator Derek Mason's implementation of the 3-4 defense has been fantastic. Stanford's line is stout, spearheaded by defensive ends Ben Gardener and Henry Anderson. Gardener (33 tackles on the season) boasts a hefty 11 tackles for loss and five and a half sacks – Anderson (30 tackles) has 3.5 sacks and 6.5 TFL. However, Stanford does have a slight weakness – the Cardinal D have shown that they are susceptible to well executed play-action fakes (an OSU offensive staple).
Edge is tied

Linebackers – All in all, Oregon State's linebacker corps has continued to come into their own, making significant stops against both the run and the pass. Junior weak side linebacker Michael Doctor has lead the charge, and has been an antagonist of opposing air attacks, with five pass deflections and an interception on the year. Doctor is also the second leading tackler for the Beavs, with 51 takedowns. That being said, Stanford has some seriously good linebackers. A.J. Tarpley, Chase Thomas, Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy could teach a class on how to be tenacious defenders. The last three alone account for a whopping 135 tackles, 28.5 TFL, and 13.5 sacks as a unit, and are the three leading tacklers for the Cardinal. Thomas and Murphy have displayed insane bursts off the line and quick penetration into the backfield all season long, with Skov holding down opposition quests through the middle with ease. Stanford is just on a different level here. That type of speed and precision only develops when you slate three seniors (Thomas, Murphy, Skov) and a junior (Tarpley) at such an important position.
Edge goes to Stanford

Secondary – OSU is talented here, even with Jordan Poyer still a bit on the questionable side for this weekend (Poyer practiced on Monday). Rashaad Reynolds leads the team in tackles with 52, and has a pair of picks to add to the equation. Junior cornerback Sean Martin looked solid in Poyer's stead against ASU and Stanford doesn't necessarily have the talent at wide receiver to put up much of a fuss for Reynolds/Poyer/Martin. Ryan Murphy has quietly effective this season, racking up 45 tackles and a pick, while still falling short on many teams' respective offensive radars. One note on Murphy that won't show in the stat pack is his ability to disrupt routes and force errant throws – he is an aggressive safety who likes to play his man close, and is an effective weapon for combating receiving tight ends. Stanford's top corner Terrence Brown (senior) and safety Jordan Richards (sophomore) are a helluva duo, but then you look at who will be standing across from them come Saturday (ahem – Wheaton and Cooks).
Edge goes to OSU

Coaching – Both Mike Riley and David Shaw run a tight ship. But OSU Offensive line Coach Mike Cavanaugh will need to rally his troops – the Beavs cannot afford another first quarter like they had against ASU. Really what it comes down to here is individual strategy going into the contest – who is the better prepared coaching unit? Studying individual player tendencies will net a team little in this one, as both Shaw and Riley have tricks up their sleeves for when a defense gets to comfortable. Look for this game to turn into a grudge match between OSU's Joe Seumalo and his Cardinal counterparts Mike Bloomgren and Ron Cook. Whoever wins the battle in the trenches, will win the game.
Edge is tied

Intangibles: OSU has only allowed 28 points this season in the third quarter – 21 of those points were scored by ‘Zona. Now the fourth quarter may not look as pretty – OSU has let go 47 points in the final quarter this season. However, worth mentioning is the fact that not-a-one of those games has seen an opposing team score more than ten points in the fourth quarter while facing the Beaver D. This will be the key for a successful trip to Stanford. The Cardinal really does have the upper hand in size and speed on defense, and they have an electric running game. But I see this game coming down to the final minutes of the fourth quarter, where OSU's endurance will pay dividends. The 5.5 betting line is mostly attributed to home field advantage, and OSU can negate that, all things equal, with a strong second half performance.

Final Thoughts – This game has BCS and Pac-12 implications aplenty. It's a really, really big game. If the OSU front five can keep Vaz protected in the early stages of the contest, if they can give him a chance to settle in, he might tear apart the Stanford secondary. But is "settling in" really an option when it comes to facing this Stanford defensive front seven? No, it's not. Frankly, there are just too many variables embedded deep within this game to make an accurate call one way or another as to who will win. A true toss-up.


BeaverBlitz Top Stories