COMMENTARY: Beavs should be thanking Stanford

CORVALLIS – There is no time for a team to mourn a defeat in college football. The Beavers will need to focus on the positives of their loss to Stanford, especially with the thundering footfalls of a Trojan defense waiting in the wings and salivating over the OSU vs. Stanford game film. And that could mean the Beavers have the Trojans right where they want them...

OSU was not the underdog many believed them to be headed into the Stanford game. And I suppose that is the biggest takeaway here. Oregon State fought a Top 10 team not as a lesser program looking to grab an upset, but rather as an equal. Not once did I find myself thinking Saturday that Stanford was too good for the Beavers to rally against – I instead found myself counting the myriad ways in which the Beavers were throwing the game away.

They lost in the end because OSU was overwhelmed by what at that point was unfamiliar territory – a brilliant pass rush.

"We realistically were always in striking distance, all we needed was to make some plays," said Mike Riley. "We had a pretty good mixture of stuff that was going okay, then we hit the run, we had a couple screens in there. I always thought, if we could just get something going that we were way in striking distance, easily, it's like we didn't give ourselves a chance at the end to win."

That "something going" could have been just one or two plays. One or two completions could have made all the difference in the world.

What surprised me was where the bulk of the Beaver's positive offensive production came from in response to the bruising front seven of the Cardinal. Screens and runs. If OSU would have had time to incorporate the big play into that, it would have been a different outcome. So will that happen against USC? I don't know, but running back Terron Ward's 34-yard sprint in the third quarter? More please.

"Our rushing stats still aren't very good, but a little misleading in the total because of all the sack yardage that we lost," Riley said. "But there were some good runs in there and I think that despite the fact that the totals aren't great, we are getting a little bit better."

Stanford forced Oregon State's offense to play according to a tone set by the Cardinal defense. They forced Sean Mannion, Brandin Cooks and others to settle for what Stanford defenders would allow them to take and play hardball. The Beavs cannot allow the same against USC.

The last six games they've played, Oregon State's chain-movers took on defenses that were malleable - teams they could twist and mold within the scope of their game plan. Stanford was much different. USC feels they're cut from the same cloth. Oregon State has to prove them wrong.

Perhaps it took a bullish defense like Stanford's to force the implementation of the short game, but better late than never isn't a terrible motto right now. OSU starts preparations Monday for a USC team that will likely punish them if they are one dimensional.

Riley believes that what the Cardinal did to Mannion and Co over the weekend provides an opportunity for the Beavs against ‘SC.

"They're going to get to see if they can do it better the next time around against top notch grade athletes up front," Riley said in reference to USC. "That's a challenge that's ahead of us."

Wait, There's More
The Beaver defense kept the ball in Sean Mannion's hands for 38:26, compared to Stanford's 21:47. The OSU stop corps held the Cardinal to just 273 net yards (185 rushing , 88 passing) and forced changes of possession frequently, the strongest testament yet to the unit's progression since the start of the regular season.

"We did a ton of good stuff defensively," Riley said. "Certainly made a bunch of plays, made a lot of third down stops. The two hardest third downs that we gave them they converted, and those ones that where normally right up their wheelhouse - we stopped them.

"Even though the totals they had running the ball were impressive for (Tyler) Gaffney, I still thought that overall there was a lot of good run defense too and a lot of physical play. We've come a long way from where we once were defensively at the beginning of the season to the team that played last night."

The defense kept Kevin Hogan at just 10 net yards rushing. OSU eliminated two of Stanford's biggest weapons in the dual-threat QB and all-purpose weapon Ty Montgomery, coercing the Cardinal into remaining one dimensional and putting strain on the run game and Gaffney to make things happen.

Riley used the words "smart" and "sound" to describe his defense's performance Saturday when just six or seven weeks ago, people had doubts as to whether or not the Beaver D could put a halt to a plastic bag blowing in the win, let alone Pac-12 talent.

OSU is at long last rounding into a complete team. In addition, there is the prospect of something other than pass, pass and more passing earning the hashes and the points over the final stretch of the regular season.

And USC on offense is not Stanford. They have struggled mightily this season, with the coaching change allowing them to go from awful to not-so-awful.

From this chair, I'd say the Beavers are in damn good shape for USC and beyond, and it's thanks to Stanford.

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