Though it might seem like the Beavers are the ideal team to face in a classic "letdown game" situation, Mike Riley's squad has a knack for turning it on once the calendar turns to November. Add in the fact that Stanford has traditionally had some difficulties in Reser Stadium in Corvallis, and Saturday's contest could be closer than you might think.
The Bootleg has you covered from every angle for this weekend's matchup. Read on for the biggest storylines heading into Saturday's matchup, and come back for our live coverage on Saturday, with The Bootleg's own Andy Drukarev covering the game from Corvallis.
Last time out: Stanford is 8-0 and 6-0 in the Pac-12, barely escaping the Coliseum in L.A. last weekend with a 56-48 victory in triple overtime over USC. The Cardinal owns the nation's longest active winning streak at 16 games and remains very much in the national title discussion. On the other side, Oregon State has regressed significantly from two seasons ago, when it was one win away from a Rose Bowl berth. The Beavers are 2-6 and 2-3 in the conference, but have gone 2-2 in their last four games after losing four straight (including its opener to FCS Sacramento State) to start the season. The team fell to Utah, 27-8, in Salt Lake City last weekend.
Letdown possibilities: Forget the noise you've heard out of Stanford's practices this week: a letdown game is a very real possibility, and there are a few reasons why that's the case. Naturally, Stanford will struggle after the epic battle with USC; we've seen it before, when the Card had a tough time putting away Washington State last season after beating USC on a last second field goal (and that was at home after a bye week). The specter of the Card's highly anticipated showdown with Oregon on Nov. 12 is sure to loom large as well, though the coaching staff seems to be doing a good job at keeping the players focused on the task at hand. Oregon State could be a better team than its record indicates, and the Beavers are sure to be motivated for this matchup given the implications of an upset.
Questions back for Cardinal D: Before last weekend, the Stanford defense looked like the type of elite unit necessary to mount a run at the national title. After the injury to Shayne Skov, Jarek Lancaster and A.J. Tarpley stepped in and played better than most had dared to hope, and the absence of Delano Howell didn't seem to be much of an issue against Washington. However, last weekend's abysmal performance against USC brought back all of those doubts and then some. The Cardinal secondary got consistently beat by Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, Curtis McNeal broke some huge runs and Matt Barkley didn't take a single sack. The Beaver offense doesn't have the same level of talent as the Trojans, but if the defense can't contain Sean Mannion and James Rodgers, it will be hard pressed to contain Oregon in two weeks.
Injury toll mounts: The grind of the season has begun to take its toll on Stanford, and it will have to replace a few key playmakers this weekend and possibly beyond. The defense has been hard hit by the losses of Skov and Howell, and though Howell will travel with the team to Corvallis, he is doubtful to play in the game. On the offensive side, tight end Zach Ertz and tackle Cameron Fleming are both out and will not travel with the team; kicker Jordan Williamson will also stay in Palo Alto, and Eric Whitaker will handle the kicking duties for the second straight week. The full extent of Fleming's injury is unknown, but Ertz will most likely remain on the sidelines through the Oregon game, and could be out until Stanford's bowl game.
Montgomery emerges as playmaker: The depth chart at receiver is pitiably thin behind Griff Whalen and the oft-injured Chris Owusu, so the fact Ty Montgomery is getting more playing time on offense should be welcome news for Stanford fans. Montgomery had five catches for 87 yards against USC, including a 62-yard bomb from Andrew Luck on a trick play. Montgomery may be able to offset the loss of Ertz and provide Luck with another reliable deep threat, though without Ertz the Cardinal cannot utilize the significant chunk of its playbook that consists of three tight end sets.
OSU brings offensive firepower: Though their record might not be that great, the Beavers have some playmakers on offense that will provide a good test for the Cardinal. All eyes will be on the matchup between quarterback Sean Mannion and the Stanford secondary. Mannion, a redshirt freshman who beat out incumbent Ryan Katz for the starting job, has played pretty well of late, and Oregon State's passing attack is ranked 22nd in the nation in terms of yards per game. Of course, it helps that Mannion has a couple of highly talented receivers to throw to, namely Markus Wheaton and James Rodgers. Wheaton is third in the Pac-12 in receptions per game and fourth in the conference in yards per game. Though Rodgers has been off his usual form since an early knee injury, he appears to be getting back to full health—he had seven catches for 83 yards in last weekend's loss to Utah.
Prediction: Reser Stadium is always a tough place to play, and it doesn't help
that this game is sandwiched in between USC and Oregon. The Beavers will get up to play the
Cardinal, and Mannion has enough weapons to make life miserable for Stanford's defensive
coaches. However, I don't think Oregon State can pull the upset. Stanford is just too talented on
both sides of the ball, and I doubt Andrew Luck will let the Beavers hang around late into the
Final score: Stanford 41, Oregon State 31.
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