Beavs win turnover battle, but lose the war

OREGON STATE suffered a bitter loss to the Stanford Cardinal on Saturday, losing by the score of 27-23. Two evenly matched teams went head to head in one of the most exciting matchups of the Pac-12 season. The deciding factor in this one though? Oregon State won the turnover battle, they committed only one. But that one turnover left the Beavers high and dry in the end.

The Cody Vaz fumble came midway through the fourth quarter. That one hurt.

It came with under six minutes left in the fourth quarter. Vaz tried to move out of the pocket away from the electric rush of Cardinal red pursuing him – Vaz pumps, his right hand appeared to hit his knee and the ball pops out, rolling right into the eager hands of Stanford defender Josh Mauro. And though OSU had chances after that, their fate was sealed.

Oregon State's trip to Palo Alto started off on the wrong foot – shabby beginnings for OSU on both sides of the ball left Stanford sitting pretty over OSU by a score of 14-0 as the final whistle blew on the first quarter. A dismal start to the run game and sluggish defense hurt the Beavs early on.

However, the orange and black reeled it in for a bit as the game transpired. In what has become typical OSU fashion, Vaz and the Beaver offense commanded the second and third quarters – 23 unanswered points in those two quarters and some brilliant defense from Scott Crichton and the OSU defensive front four gave Riley and Co. the edge for 30-plus minutes.

The tipped pass by Rudolf Fifita in the third quarter did more than just lead to Ryan Murphy's second pick on the season. It tilted Ol' Mo in OSU's favor for the remainder of the third quarter after trailing 14-10 at the half.

Prior to the fumble by Vaz, OSU's Rashaad Reynolds picked off an underthrown ball in Cardinal territory to swing the momentum back to OSU in the latter stages of the game. Hogan's poor throw seemed like gift from the heavens' – until the Vaz fumble. Prior to that play, OSU led by a score of 23-21.

After that fumble, Oregon State lost the game. Shortly following the drop, Kevin Hogan threw a zinger to Zack Ertz for six, and the lead. A lead Vaz and Oregon State were unable to reclaim within the final minutes of the last quarter.

This is not to imply that they didn't have a shot. Riley called a rollout on third and two that will be second guessed – Vaz threw a hasty ball to Markus Wheaton on the outside edge that went incomplete and forced a punt by Keith Kostol with less than five minutes on the clock.

The Beaver defense held strong and forced a three and out. Even that good fortune couldn't kick start OSU on their final drive – the Cardinal's No.1 rush defense proved tenacious forcing a false start from senior tackle Colin Kelly on second down, then on third and three Vaz got sacked by Alex Debniak for a loss of 12.

The big hit hobbled Vaz, who was helped off the field by the OSU training staff and unable to put any weight on his leg. Sophomore Sean Mannion trotted out to try and revive the Beavers hopes on fourth and 15 – the pass would mark Mannion's first and only touch of the game.

And it went incomplete, just barely caressing the outstretched fingertips of Connor Hamlett in the center of the field. The thud of pigskin on turf likely mimicked the thud orange and black clad supporters felt in their stomachs upon watching the Beaver's final drive in Palo Alto.

If you think that was dramatic, look at the rest of the game. Stanford turned the ball over to Beaver defenders four times. Fumbles by both Stepfan Taylor (his first of the season) and Ertz ended up Oregon State's hands, as did two interceptions courtesy of Hogan, who was making his first official start for the Cardinal.

But no volume of turnovers could account for the magnitude of the one Oregon State fumble. And not all the blame will fall on Vaz's shoulders for this loss. If it does, people are failing to see the big picture. The offensive line struggled in the first and fourth quarters against arguably the best pass rush in the nation.

Vaz's general inconsistency in this matchup resulted from the play calling of Riley, who took over the duties this season, as well. OSU ran strong in the second and third quarter – Storm Woods and Terron Ward combined for 86 yards and a touchdown on the day.

But Riley and Co. failed to stick to what works – OSU's bread and butter "run first, throw later" mentality was not present in the final quarter, and OSU's obvious focus on short slants and zingers to the middle of the field did little to fool the Cardinal defense as the game wound down.

It resulted in Vaz being under too much pressure, an overworked offensive front five and tired receivers.

I talked earlier in the week about how this game had too many variables working in it to call a victor. The variable that ended playing the largest role in this tilt was not something that could be taught, coached or accounted for in any way…

Vaz's small hands - if he had a wider grip on the ball, that fumble may not have happened.

In the end, this game is a loss, and a painful one at that. Stanford now holds the tiebreaker over the Beavs so that even if they lose to Oregon and the Beavs win against Cal and both teams have two conference losses, Stanford holds the edge having won head-to-head. But there's still much to play for.

All the various scenarios will be talked about and debated in the coming days. Right now, it's hard to do much else besides lament what might have been, and the damage a single turnover can do.

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