To say it has been an interesting season for Stanford is an understatement. The preseason pick to win the Pac-12 championship, the Cardinal started off strong and moved into the top-10. But a rash of injuries and streaky quarterbacking derailed the team, leading it to drop three out of four games, including blowout losses to the Washington schools and a baseball score (10-5) defeat to Colorado.
However, those injured players have healed and there has been a change at QB. And last weekend, the Cardinal routed Arizona, 34-10, a game during which stud running back Christian McCaffrey broke out of a slump (well, for him) with 169 rushing yards and two scores. He also added a receiving TD. Now, they get to take on a 2-6 OSU squad at home.
So, yes, the Beavers have their work cut out for them. One thing that could play in their favor is that Stanford QB Keller Chryst will be making just his second start. He should be a welcome departure from Luke Falk. That said, no game comes easy for OSU this season. Here are five key things the Beavers need to do to come away victorious down on the farm.
Start Strong Both Halves. It seems like the reoccurring theme this season for the Beavers is “A Tale of Two Halves.” For example, last Saturday against WSU, they jumped out to a 24-6 halftime lead, before losing. Against Stanford, the Beavs need to come out firing on all cylinders at the start of the game, and then the start of the second half. Slow starts in either half likely spell doom for them, especially on the road, and when offensive points have been a struggle at times.
Establish the Run. It won’t be easy against Stanford’s defense (3rd overall in the Pac-12), but the Beavers need to continue their success running the ball. Against the run, the Cardinal give up about 143 yards per game, fifth in the conference. The good news is that OSU has eclipsed some good team’s run D averages this season (Utah, Washington), and Ryan Nall will be a tough foe, even for Stanford’s physical defense.
Pressure Chryst. Keller Chryst has supplanted Ryan Burns as Stanford’s QB and will be making his second start against OSU. He completed less than 50 percent of his passes last week against Arizona, for just 105 yards. He also was sacked four times. So, the Beavers need to bring the pressure and force him to make plays. I like their odds of disrupting Chryst, but the key will be to make their presence felt during the first two drives of the game.
Don’t Give up a Special Teams Score. A lot of attention is paid to Christian McCaffrey as a running and receiving threat, and rightfully so. After all, he leads the Pac-12 with 111 yards rushing per game. But he’s also a threat on special teams. Basically, he’s a threat to score anytime he touches the dang ball. So, the Beavers need to limit the damage he does, and not let him return a punt for a touchdown. That would just be the nail in the coffin, if he goes wild.
Set McMaryion Free. There were at least three times against Washington State that Marcus McMaryion could’ve tucked the ball and ran for nice gains. Well, you can be sure that Stanford will be bringing a lot of pressure Saturday, so if the pocket collapses or there’s an open seam, I hope McMaryion takes off. He’s no tortoise back there. Plus, he seems to make some of his best throws while rolling out, so I hope he has the freedom to try to make plays with his feet.
Honestly, it’s little surprising to me that the line on this game favors Stanford by more than two touchdowns, considering Stanford’s anemic QB play. But what can keep this game close is the fact that Stanford’s offense isn’t that explosive, it’s more of a grind-it-out offense. So, the Beavers shouldn’t find themselves in a high-scoring affair, during which they have to play keep up. If they can protect McMaryion just enough, and rattle Chryst, it could be a pretty close game…