Side by side: Stanford (3-4) at OSU (4-3)

Both teams head into Saturday's matchup riding two game winning streaks. The Cardinal have won two in a row on the road and hope to make it three to keep their postseason hopes alive. Oregon State has won five of the last six meetings in the series, but the last time Stanford traveled to Corvallis they left the Mid Valley with a 20-17 victory keeping OSU from the postseason.

LAST WEEK: The Beavers had their first of two bye weeks last week after coming off a 31-28 victory over No. 2 California the week before.

LAST WEEK:  Stanford kept its modest, but realistic postseason hopes alive with a gritty road win against Arizona last Saturday, overcoming turnovers on three straight third-quarter possessions and coming from behind in the closing minutes of a tight 21-20 game in Tucson.

KEY INJURIES:
  • SS Daniel Drayton (groin) - will play
  • CB Keenan Lewis (knee) - out
  • WR Casey Kjos (hip) - out for the season
  • LG Jeremy Perry (ankle) - questionable
  • RT Roy Schuening (pneumonia) - probable
  • WR Sammie Stroughter (bruised kidney) - out for the season
  • LT Tavita Thompson (paperwork) - out for the season
KEY INJURIES:
  • LB Pat Maynor – probable (concussion)
  • RB Anthony Kimble– questionable (shoulder)
  • RB Jeremy Stewart – questionable (shoulder)
  • RB Toby Gerhart – questionable (PCL)
  • OT Allen Smith (out for season - ACL)
  • TE James Dray (out for season - ACL)
  • RB Jason Evans (out for season – ACL)

WHEN OREGON STATE IS ON OFFENSE: The bye week was supposed to be a time for players to heal, both mentally and physically, as they head into the second half of the year. Unfortunately, the offense is in a whole lot worse shape coming out of the bye week then heading into it as injuries, illness and paperwork devastated the starting lineup.

For starters left guard Jeremy Perry, who has been out since the season opener with an ankle injury, was supposed to be ready for this week's game, but he is recovering slower than expected and is questionable. Right guard Roy Schuening, who has a team high 44 straight starts, has missed several practices after picking up walking pneumonia and is questionable as well.

To make matters worse left tackle Tavita Thompson, who has started all seven games, was ruled ineligible by the NCAA and will miss the rest of the season. On top of that right tackle Andy Levitre suffered a knee injury during Monday's practice and was helped off of the field although he is expected to play.

An offensive line that was once stacked with experience and that has allowed just six sacks this season, tied for second in the conference, will be starting at least one if not two new players.

One of those new players will be redshirt freshman Ryan Pohl at left tackle. Pohl is one of the smaller lineman on the team checking in at just a shade over 275. If Schuening can't play sophomore Gregg Peat will step in.

So, this week's starting lineup will most assuredly have Kyle DeVan at center, Adam Speer at left guard and Pohl at left tackle. All signs point to Levitre starting at right tackle with Schuening or Peat at right guard.

A major concern will be continuing to protect quarterback Sean Canfield. Although Canfield has 13 interceptions, the fourth highest total in the FBS, he made significant strides against California and a large part of his success can be attributed to great protection by the offensive line.

He completed just 18 of 33 for 186 yards and no touchdowns but for just the second time this year he didn't throw an interception. Another encouraging fact is that in his post-game interview he said he realized that he didn't have to make big plays for his team to win, he just needs to take care of the ball.

On the year Canfield has completed 132 of 226 (58.4%) for 1,366 yards and seven touchdowns, with a long of 48. The lefty has a good, strong arm and is mobile enough to allude defenders and pick up extra yards as he has been on the positive side of rushing in the Beavers last two games.

Canfield is throwing to a mix of veterans and first year players led by senior flanker Anthony Brown who has the most experience under his belt with 36 career starts. He is the team's leading receiver in terms of yards with 387 along with two touchdowns on 29 catches. He is also a tenacious blocker.

Lining up in the slot is senior Brandon Powers who is the team's third leading receiver with 20 catches for 181 yards although he is primarily used for blocking.

At split end is true freshman Darrell Catchings who replaced Sammie Stroughter in the lineup. Catchings has 18 catches for 210 yards and one touchdown. He is the Beavers best downfield weapon, but is still working his way into the starting role.

The fourth receiver and first off of the bench is the electric true freshman James Rodgers who has six catches for 90 yards, good for a team high 15.0 yards per catch. He is mainly used on end arounds and reverses though where he can use his speed rushing 13 times for 204 yards, good for second on the team, and a team high 15.7 yards per carry.

Lining up at tight end is a trio of underclassmen in Howard Croom, Brady Camp and Gabe Miller. Normally the tight end in a Riley system has a lot of catches, but each player is still learning their position. Croom has 10 catches for 101 yards and one touchdown while Camp has four catches for 34 yards, although his primary role is blocking. Miller, the most versatile of the tight ends, has six catches for 80 yards and one touchdown.

The star of the offense and one of the best in the conference is running back Yvenson Bernard who is the Pac-10's active career rushing leader and needs just 225 more yards to crack the top 10 for career rushing in the conference.

On the year he has 503 yards, third in the conference, and six touchdowns on 116 carries, both good for first in the conference. He is averaging 4.3 yards per carry and 125.8 yards per game.

Bernard, who has at least one rushing touchdown in 15 of the last 21 games, is the total package as he does an excellent job of finding a hole and keeping his legs moving. He almost always falls forward and loves contact.

He is also excellent in the backfield with great hands and superb blocking skills. Bernard has a team high 32 catches for 153 yards and one touchdown.

When Bernard tops the 100-yard mark it is almost a guaranteed Beaver win as they have won nine of the last 11 when he tops the century mark.

Backing up Bernard is the tough running Matt Sieverson with 20 carries for 65 yards. Last year's backup Clinton Polk missed the beginning of the year due to academics and has seen limited playing time with just four carries for 45 yards and one touchdown.

The fullback has made its way back to Corvallis with Andy Stewart handling the duties. He has nine carries for 14 yards and two touchdowns.

On the year the Beaver offense is averaging 391.3 yards per game, seventh in the conference, 154.9 on the ground, seventh in the conference, and 236.4 through the air, sixth in the conference.

They have scored seven touchdowns via the pass, last in the conference, and 14 via the run while averaging 28.0 points per game, sixth in the conference.

Through seven games OSU has converted 38% on third downs, sixth in the conference, and 80% on fourth downs, tops in the conference and third best in the nation.

Another couple of interesting statistics: Oregon State has outscored its opponents 85-6 in the first quarter this year while being outscored 69-38 in the fourth quarter.

On average OSU holds the ball for 31:12 a game and have converted on 24 of 30 (80%) opportunities in the redzone, seventh in the conference.

One glaring statistic that pretty much tells the football team's story this year is turnovers. Oregon State is dead last in the Pac-10 at -7 and co-leads the nation with 24 total turnovers.

WHEN STANFORD IS ON OFFENSE:  Overall, the Cardinal has been playing with confidence under inspirational first-year head coach Jim Harbaugh, more than doubling its average point production so far this season (24.14 in 2007 vs. an anemic 10.6 in 2006), but the offense been completely decimated at running back.

Fourth-string running back Jason Evans made his first start against Arizona and was Stanford's offensive player of the game, running for a career-high 78 yards on 21 carries with a TD, but he sustained a season-ending ACL tear late in the contest. There is some hope that sensational sophomore running back Toby Gerhart could finally be ready to return to action, recovering from a knee injury suffered against San Jose St. in the second game of the year.

Tyrone McGraw, a 5'8", 180-pound redshirt freshman, is expected to make his first career start in the backfield and who knows, we could see the introduction of an "Xx factor" in this game - third-year back Xxavier Carter, who has never taken a single snap at running back.

Harbaugh and his offensive coordinator David Shaw, a former Stanford wide receiver, have done an impressive job of calling games that take advantages of opposing defensive schemes. The offensive philosophy is about efficiency, moving the chains, with occasional strikes to keep the secondary from squatting on routes.

Sophomore QB Tavita Pritchard will be starting only his fourth game of his career and is completing just 50% of his attempts, but his mobility and clutch play have him 2-1 as a starter for a team that won only one game last year. Calculated risk-taking in an effort to win rather than trying to "avoid losing" has endeared the new staff to the Stanford fan base.

The O-line is vastly improved this year under coach and former Cardinal offensive lineman Chris Dalman despite losing future NFL tackle Allen Smith to a season-ending knee injury in the third game. Junior guard Alex Fletcher may be the team's emotional conduit, a very passionate player who gets downfield better than just about any other lineman you will ever see.

When healthy, the Cardinal has a solid backfield of redshirt junior Anthony Kimble, sophomore Toby Gerhart, and true freshman Jeremy Stewart. The "when healthy" is the problem though. Kimble and Gerhart form a terrific thunder & lightning combo, but injuries have allowed them to be on the same field just once this year.

While Gerhart may be available and Stewart can go in a pinch as he did for a TD from a yard out on his only carry last week against Arizona, the position is disarmingly thin. True freshman fullback Owen Marecic is becoming a stud. A product of Jesuit High in Tigard, Ore., he has started every game and has been used primarily as a blocking back.

When healthy, Stanford's top three WR's are above-average even in a talented Pac-10. Fifth-year senior Mark Bradford (24-271), he of "The Catch That Roared" to upset #1-ranked USC 23-20 on October 6, is the sure-handed possession guy who manages to draw flags on a surprisingly frequent basis.

Fifth-year senior Evan Moore (22-277) presents a freakishly tall target at 6'7" with superb hands, but sometimes has trouble getting separation (which I am writing here so that he gets miffed and toasts you Beavers deep!). So obvious as a red zone target, Moore frequently attracts extra attention and double-teams near the goal line.

True sophomore Richard "The Phenom" Sherman (33-565) is the most dangerous weapon, currently on pace for a 1,000-yard season. As Arizona learned, he should never be left in single coverage. The fiery young wide out has accounted for four TDs and he brings speed and considerable swagger, qualities sometimes observed to be lacking in Stanford's players. When Stanford has been unable to run the ball effectively, the receivers have had trouble getting open since as a group they don't possess spectacular speed.

Long-haired TE Ben Ladner is an intriguing player - a bit of a "tweener," more of a slot back or "U" tight end than a traditional tight end. With Jim Dray going down for the season with an ACL tear against TCU, Stanford has been using converted defensive linemen in blocking situations.

The Cardinal won't usually beat themselves. The QBs have thrown less than one pick per game and ball security has been excellent with only one fumble lost from a non-quarterback.

Stanford is once again one of the least-penalized teams in the conference. The offense tends to start slowly each half and finish the second and fourth quarters well.

Oregon State clearly has weapons, but there is nothing the Card defense hasn't already seen, having had to contend with explosive conference powers like UCLA, Oregon, USC, and ASU.
 

WHEN STANFORD HAS THE BALL: In the past the Beaver defense has almost exclusively used a 4-3 set, but have increasingly used a 3-4 with the many experienced players on the team. The defense has great depth routinely playing 10 defensive linemen, eight linebackers and nine defensive backs.

The defense give up an average of 25.6 points per game with the largely being inflated due to turnovers and the defense having to defend a short field. In fact opponents have scored 46-percent of the total 179 points when starting at midfield or in OSU territory.

The strength of the Beaver defense is stopping the run and getting to the quarterback as they are first in the conference and third in the nation at stopping the run giving up just 63.4 yards per game. They are also first in the conference and third in the nation in sacks harnessing 28 this year for 215 yards lost.

A large part of the Men in Black's success against the run can be directly attributed to the defensive line where seniors Curtis Coker and Gerard Lee along with William 'Akau'ola Vea and Pernell Booth do a great job of clogging up the middle.

Coker is your classic, tough nose run stopper with one sack and 12 tackles, tops among the big boys in the middle. Lee and 'Akau'ola Vea are quick step guys with 'Akau'ola Vea grabbing three sacks, good for second on the team. Booth is another classic run stopper with one sack and eight tackles.

The ends are manned by seniors Jeff Van Orsow and Dorian Smith, who have both had quiet years thus far. Van Orsow doesn't get to the quarterback much, but is always around the ball. He has 23 tackles, including six for loss, good for second on the team, along with two sacks. Smith has a good blend of speed and brawn and seems to play better in conference play as he has tallied over half of his 20 tackles and three sacks in conference action.

Juniors Slade Norris and Victor Butler are pass rushing specialists who have been very effective this year. Norris and Butler are co-sack leaders with 5.5 sacks a piece. Butler, who leds the team with 7.5 tackles for loss, also has one interception which he deftly returned 30 yards against California.

The senior linebacking trio of Joey LaRocque, Alan Darlin and Derrick Doggett roam the middle of the field. LaRocque is always around the ball and is first on the team in tackles with 45, including six for loss. He also has one interception that he returned for at touchdown against UCLA.

Darlin is a load in the middle at 250 plus pounds and does a great job of stopping the run. He has 39 tackles, three pass break-ups and two fumble recoveries. Doggett is the fastest and most athletic of the bunch with great range. He has 39 tackles, including six for loss and one safety.

Spelling those three are Bryant Cornell at middle linebacker and Keaton Kristick, a native Arizonian and future standout. Cornell has six tackles, Kristick has seven.

In the secondary is free safety Al Afalava, who is the co-team leader with 45 tackles along with three pass breakups and two fumble recoveries, one he returned for six. Senior Daniel Drayton started out the season at strong safety but injured his groin against UCLA and has missed the last two games. Drayton is expected to play, although not start this week. He has 22 tackles, including three for loss.

In Drayton's place is former walk-on Greg Laybourn who has reached double digit tackles in both of his career starts. He is a heady player, but doesn't have the speed that Drayton has. Laybourn will start Saturday, although he will be spelled by Drayton.

Afalava, Drayton and Laybourn are all solid tacklers. Afalava and Drayton can really deliver punishing blows and have done a great job of coming up and stopping the run.

Spelling Afalava is Bryan Payton, who has 15 tackles and two pass breakups.

The right corner is manned by longtime starter Brandon Hughes, who has a team high six pass breakups and two interceptions, good for second on the team. Hughes is extremely physical, does a great job of fighting through blocks and has become a lockdown corner.

On the left side of the field is Tim Clark who will be making his second career start in place of the injured Keenan Lewis, who leads the team with three interceptions.

In his first career start Clark played a disciplined game as he kept DeSean Jackson in check and prevented the big play.

If Hughes or Clark are injured Patrick Henderson and Gerard Lawson are the first off of the bench, but Beavers fans hope it doesn't come to that.

The Beaver defense gives up an average of 316.9 yards per game, third in the conference, 63.4 on the ground and 253.4 through the air. Offense have converted 17 of 21 redzone opportunities, fifth in the conference, which includes nine touchdowns, the second lowest total in the league.

Opponents are converting 33.6-percent of the time on third down and 33.3 percent on fourth down, both good for fourth in the conference.

WHEN OREGON STATE HAS THE BALL: It is no secret – the Cardinal's defensive philosophy is to try and contain the opponent's running game and pressure the opposing QB into making mistakes that can be jumped on by a fairly opportunistic secondary.

Stanford will do its best to try and at least contain Yvenson Bernard, who ran rampant last year, going for 168 yards on 36 punishing, morale-sapping carries. The Card defense is well aware that even slowing him down will be quite the formidable challenge.

On statistics alone, Bernard will be licking his chops, thinking 200+, but he will have to work a lot harder this year as the improved Stanford defense has shown stretches of stinginess. If the Card offense can sustain drives and keep the defense well-rested, Oregon State shouldn't be able to duplicate the field day of 2006.

Stanford runs what it refers to as an "Attack 4-3", pressuring the quarterback with blitzing linebackers and safeties who frequently cheat up and often leave the cornerbacks to fend for themselves. This has led to occasional big plays for Cardinal opponents (eight plays have been allowed of 47-yards or more!)

However…start tossing it around too much and Stanford's defensive backfield could generate some turnovers as they did against USC (when each of the four starters in the secondary recorded an INT) and in crunch time against Arizona last week.

Fortunately for the Cardinal, the 2007 Beavers have been turning it over more than anybody else in the country, which bodes well. The far more aggressive approach from its defense has revolutionized Stanford's competitiveness this year.

One of the least imposing defenses in NCAA history during the past several years, the unit is now ranked second in the Pac-10 (behind only OSU) and 15th-nationally in sacks and is currently third in the conference and 16th nationally in tackles-for-loss.

The most active playmakers have been safety Bo McNally (a team-leading 70 tackles), outside linebacker Clint Snyder (team-leading 6.0 sacks and 8.0 tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries), small, but scrappy linebacker Pat Maynor (#3 in tackles at 47 despite missing the Arizona game), and ball-hawking, hip-hopping senior cornerback Nick "Muck Boy" Sanchez.

Pressuring OSU QB Sean Canfield won't be enough, rattling him might. Stanford's aggressive defense got in the face of ASU's Rudy Carpenter, sacking him repeatedly, but the veteran hung tough and shredded us anyway.
 

 

SPECIAL TEAMS: Senior Alexis Serna handles all of the team's kicking duties and has struggled at times, primarily with punting.

He is averaging a conference worst 34 yards per kick, but did a standout job against California as he got plenty of air under his kicks and didn't shank any out of bounds. It was his best performance of the year.

As for field goals he has connected on 7 of 10 with all three of his misses coming from 40 plus yards out. His longest of the year is a 52 yarder that he booted against California. He has made 123 consecutive extra points and needs to make 17 more to take over the league record from ASU's Jesse Ainsworth (139).

On kickoffs he is averaging 61.4 yards per boot, with no touchbacks.

Returning kickoffs is special team's standout Gerard Lawson who is averaging 22.5 yards per return. He does a nice job of running straight up the field and has the ability to take it to the house. His longest of the year is a 56-yard return. Lawson is also an excellent cover guy who is in almost every tackle on punt and kickoff coverage. Definitely a fun guy to keep your eyes on.

In Stroughter's absence Taylor Kavanaugh is handling punt returns with 12 returns for a 6.7 average. Kavanaugh doesn't have blazing speed and won't break one for a touchdown, but he is fearless and almost never fumbles.

SPECIAL TEAMS: He may not as automatic as Alexis Serna, but senior walk-on kicker Derek Belch should at least be on a full-ride scholarship! 20-20 on PATs and 9 of 12 on FGs. How many walk-ons have booted not one, but two 50-yard field goals in a single half as he did earlier in the season against San Jose St., a feat for which he was named Pac-10 Special Teams POTW. PR Chris Hobbs is reliable and has broken off a couple of decent returns in recent weeks, but he is no Sammie Stroughter, not really a credible threat to take it to the house.

Senior punter Jay Ottovegio has been a flat-out stud, one of the finest punters in the country (42.1). His performance against Arizona (averaging 45.7 net yards on seven punts with five of those inside the 20) was extraordinary and one of the main reasons Stanford came away from Tucson with a win.

Through seven games, Stanford hasn't blocked a punt or field goal attempt, nor have they had one blocked, which reflects the team's marked improvement this year.

During the debacle that was the 2006 season, Stanford had three kicks blocked and returned for TDs in the first nine games alone (vs. Oregon, UCLA, USC).

OREGON STATE CAN WIN IF: With a depleted offensive line it will once again be up to the defense to set the tone.

Get to the quarterback often, smother the Cardinal offense and don't give them any hope.

An early turnover would help take some pressure off of the offense and get the hometown crowd into the game.

STANFORD CAN WIN IF:
  • They can keep it close. For Stanford to come home with a "W", they just need to make a few big plays and capitalize on OSU mistakes. The Cardinal managed to pull out a win last week in Tucson while being out-gained on the ground and in the air and while committing three turnovers, Stanford won't always beat a more athletically-talented opponent straight-up, but has shown the ability to cause other teams to self-destruct under pressure. The days of teams being able to pencil in an automatic win against Stanford appear to be over. And let's not forget- Stanford actually won the game two years ago in Corvallis, 20-17, so there should hardly be an intimidation factor.

     
  • Scott Shafer's attacking defense can bring pressure without getting burned, at least not too frequently. The Cardinal needs to react well to post-sudden change situations and bounce back from big plays, a few of which will probably happen.

     
  • The team can stay "energized". Attitude is everything. Stanford is well below the conference average in depth of talent, but has shown it can make up for it when the team's attitude mirrors the toughness and enthusiasm of their first-year coach. The Cardinal has tended to play quite well away from home when opposing crowds are loud and hostile, as evidenced by a surprising and impressive 2-0 road record in conference. To date, the team has yet to string together a full four quarters of sustained intensity.

OREGON STATE CAN LOSE IF: They lose the turnover battle. Canfield must once again take care of the ball and not throw any interceptions.

Three and outs are okay as long as the Beaver offense doesn't give the Cardinal offense a short field.

STANFORD CAN LOSE IF:
  • They stall on offense and force their thin defense to stay on the field too long. Stanford's third-down conversion rate is by far the worst in the Pac-10. OSU absolutely dominated time of possession (39:16 to 20:44) in last year's 30-7 win at Stanford, but again, this is a very different Stanford team. The Cardinal has struggled to score consistently, ranking dead last in the conference in that category, but the offense has generated much better productivity since the switch to a more mobile QB in Tavita Pritchard, particularly when needing to capitalize in a post-sudden change situations.

     
  • They can't find a way to keep the Beaver defense honest by establishing at least a token running game. Tavita Pritchard has never thrown for more than 181 yards in a game. Without a career-best passing effort from him on Saturday, Stanford will be unlikely to score enough points to win, given the low probability of a significant contribution from the injury-riddled running game.
     
OREGON STATE 2-DEEPS:
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STANFORD 2-DEEPS:
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COMMON OPPONENTS:  Oregon State lost a heartbreaker at home against UCLA (40-14) in the Pac-10 home opener when Gerard Lawson fumbled three straight kickoffs in the fourth quarter.  The game was much closer than the final score indicated.

Beavers also lost a tough one on the road against Arizona State as they were up 19-0 in the first quarter before five interceptions by Canfield led to a 44-32 victory by ASU.

Beavers dominated Arizona (31-16) for their eighth win in the last nine tries in the series against the Wildcats.

COMMON OPPONENTS: Stanford got drilled in its home opener by UCLA (45-17), quite similar to the Beavers' experience with the Bruins, and was abused by ASU (41-3) in a disappointingly lackluster performance, but those games seem years away now as the team is playing with much more confidence.

Each team beat Arizona, OSU much more decisively.

POST THAT MADE BE LAUGH ON THE BOOTLEG:  Posted 10/23 7:08 AM by "topcamera:" - "There are more Stanford fans who think they will win than Stanford people who would want to live in Corvallis."

(My note: A real shame though because Corvallis is a lovely town.)

FAVORITE DISRESPECTFUL OSU FAN POST: Posted: 10/17/2007 3:31 PM by "Beaver 1400" - "The only gimme I see on the schedule is Stanford - everybody else is capable of handing Oregon State a loss."
NERD ALERT:  Jim out did me on this one, but I highly recommend reading "The Beaver Beat" when it is published later this week.

It touches on some of the Pac-10, mostly the Beavers, but his commentary makes me laugh out loud at least a couple of times each week - top notch!

NERD ALERT: One of our frequent posters, a very bright gentleman by the name of Steve Durrett is a serious math enthusiast and does regular projections of upcoming games. These are NOT "predictions" of what will happen, but are instead straight algebraic extrapolations of what would happen if both teams were to play as they have, on average, in earlier games.

That "IF" is crucial, because teams never play exactly as they have before. These projections make no attempt to evaluate morale, injuries or the teams' game-to-game improvement. No adjustment has been made for home field advantage.

For what it is worth, Steve's mathematical projection is Oregon State 35.5, Stanford 24.1 This will probably cause you to wonder out loud about the nerd alert factor at Stanford, but Steve's work is actually sort of fascinating and helps perpetuate some stereotypes about Stanford.

Dan Norz is the publisher of BeaverFootball.com.  BLEED Black and Orange! Jim Rutter is the Co-Founder and Editor of TheBootleg.com, Scout.com's Stanford affiliate.

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