Card Keep Beating

The turnover margin went south. Stanford lost its two hottest offensive players, plus a critical blocker and runner in the backfield. The running game was spinning its wheels, while the passing game faded. The Cardiac Cardinal willed its way to a big win in Corvallis, however, on its heart. Reminscient of its old winning ways, Stanford made the big plays at big times to pick up big win number five.

Throughout the off-season, a swell of Stanford supporters were heard to say that they wanted to rediscover a winning football team.  In this rebuilding year, they would take a team who could battle their way to victories in adverse conditions, regardless of the style points.  Saturday in Corvallis was precisely that test, and the Cardinal came through.  Stanford's 20-17 win over Oregon State leaves a bittersweet taste, but a fifth victory and winning record in mid-November - two things not seen on The Farm since 2001.

Both Stanford and Oregon State started fast, scoring touchdowns impressively on their respective opening offensive drives.  The Beavers behind quarterback Matt Moore went 80 yards in six plays, scorching the Stanford secondary for two big passes of 41 and 24 yards.  The home team ran the ball just once on the drive, which was stopped for a gain of two yards.  Stanford's weakness against the pass looked like it would be exploited, and Beaver senior wideout Mike Hass looked the part of a Cardinal killer once again.

When Stanford first touched the ball on offense, there was already the feeling that they must move down the field.  Seven days earlier, the Card were caught in a tempest when the Trojans put up fast and facile points on the scoreboard.  Trent Edwards and the Stanford offense answered on this day, with their own impressive touchdown drive of 79 yards on seven plays.  Edwards was a perfect 4-of-4 passing, which carried the Cardinal - the running game managed three meager yards on three carries.  His go-to target was fifth-year senior Justin McCullum, who hauled in catches 12 and 49 yards before a three-yard touchdown.  The long bomb was a fade pattern down the right sideline which mirrored the grab by McCullum that ignited Stanford's first signs of offense at USC a week earlier.  It also confirmed that the fifth-year senior was not a one-game wonder in 2005, and he would continue to produce... while he still physically was able.

Less than five minutes into the game, two teams desperate for a win toward bowl eligibility were impressive offensively, even if one-dimensional.  Neither team showed that they could run the ball, which was perhaps little surprise.  The Cardinal had struggled to run the ball most of the season, while the Beavers brought a nationally ranked Top 10 rushing defense into the game.  By the end of this Corvallis contest, Stanford would muster 68 yards rushing on 40 carries - par for the course.  The fact that Stanford, which has been stout in stuffing the middle of the line behind big Babatunde Oshinowo, held Oregon State to 62 yards on 30 carries reflected the Stanford defense's determination, which ultimately won the ballgame.

Running deficiencies aside, these two teams were passing with ease, and nobody could have expected that only two more total touchdowns would be scored in the final 55 minutes of the game.  Both defenses made adjustments, but injuries also played a role.  Oregon State would lose Moore, their quarterback, while also seeing their nationally ranked running back Yvenson Bernard dinged up.  Moore may be one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the conference, as he showed after his first drive.  Before he was knocked out, the former UCLA transfer was 2-of-9 passing for 16 yards and one interception while taking three sacks.  It is honestly debatable whether the Beavers may have benefited from his being injured.  Their sole remaining touchdown in the game came off a Stanford interception, which Oregon State defensive end Jeff Van Orsow ran back untouched 24 yards into the endzone.

Stanford would lose McCullum late in the second quarter to a shoulder injury, while Edwards was knocked out of the game with an injury to his left (non-throwing) hand in the third quarter.  The Cardinal also went without starting fullback Nick Frank down the stretch after a stinger held him on the sideline.  Stanford managed to put 13 more points on the board before Edwards was knocked out, but it was a struggle throughout the game after the impressive opening drive.  The Card could not run the ball to save their lives, picking up 18 total yards on 15 carries by running backs in the first half.  Fifth-year senior J.R. Lemon received the starting nod once again, but it did not take long for him to be replaced by both redshirt sophomore Jason Evans and redshirt freshman Anthony Kimble in the backfield.  Walt Harris had five different backs touch the ball in the first half, with nary a sniff of success.

Meanwhile, Trent Edwards has difficulties prior to his game-ending injury.  He threw two interceptions in the first half, the one of which was run back for a big Beaver score.  The other allowed Oregon State to smell the goalline, but a T.J. Rushing interception of Matt Moore in the endzone saved the day.  Big plays at big times by the Stanford defense would be needed at numerous times.

Stanford put together two more scoring drives on offense in the first half after their opening touchdown.  The first came giftwrapped by the hospitable home team, with Oregon State punting out of bounds at their own 41-yard line.  A pass interference penalty on the Beavers moved Stanford to the OSU 26 the next play, and a personal foul a few minutes later pushed the ball inside the 10-yard line.  Stanford stalled, and fifth-year senior Michael Sgroi kicked a chip-shot 25-yard field goal.

The next scoring drive was longer, though also aided by the penalty-prone Beavers.  Stanford drove 71 yards in 10 plays, though a pair of personal fouls handed the Card 30 of those yards.  One came on a roughing-the-punter penalty, when redshirt sophomore Jay Ottovegio was upended on a dangerous play.  Ottovegio took more than one shot after a punt on Saturday, which made his 40.4-yard average all the more impressive.  When both offenses struggled in the second half, the field possession game became critical.

The touchdown came on a 20-yard strike from Edwards to McCullum, the second time for that scoring connection.  McCullum also came through on a big 16-yard reception on 3rd & 10 at midfield.  The fifth-year senior totaled 119 yards on seven receptions, but all that came in the first half while McCullum was healthy.

The final three points for Stanford, which proved the difference in this critical contest, came on the opening drive of the second half.  The Cardinal could muster barely over one yard per carry running the ball in the opening 30 minutes of play, but Walt Harris was determined to find some semblance of a ground game in the final half.  Stanford ran the ball six times on the first drive of the third quarter, with Lemon picking up 28 yards including a game-high 17-yarder to move across midfield.  Edwards scrambled twice more, picking up one first down and nearly another.  With McCullum out of action, the receiving burden fell to fellow fifth-year senior Gerren Crochet, who collected a 19-yard grab that moved the ball to the Oregon State 18-yard line.  Sgroi finished the drive with a 31-yard field goal after Stanford took an intentional delay-of-game penalty to give him a better angle while kicking from the hash mark.

Crochet came up big again in the second half, finishing his day with his fifth catch (77 yards) for a 20-yard pickup in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.  Stanford had its back against the wall with a mere three-point lead and the inability to move the ball, the chains or the clock.  Redshirt sophomore quarterback T.C. Ostrander came into the game in relief of the injured Edwards, and he had some trouble.  But the Stanford signal caller made a couple key scrambles and hit Crochet for that 20-yarder when it counted.  Stanford moved from its own 18-yard line to the 38, kept the clock moving and garnered a new set of downs.  By the end of the drive, Oregon State had to burn a time out, and a 40-yard Ottovegio punt (no return) put the Beavers back on their own 26-yard line with less than three minutes in the game.

Stanford's defense finished the game, though one fluke play nearly broke their backs.  On 3rd & 16, Stanford successfully deflected a pass in the middle of the field, but it happened to fall into the hands of tight end Dan Haines for a 37-yard catch and run.  Oregon State was suddenly in Stanford territory, despite a long yardage situation and long odds after an Oshinowo sack started the drive.  The Beavers then picked up 10 yards and another first down to the Stanford 33-yard line, within field goal range and a chance to go deeper.  At that moment, for the second time on the drive, Stanford's defense penetrated into the backfield for a big loss.  This time is was redshirt sophomore outside linebacker Udeme Udofia detonating a running play for a six-yard drop.

The Beavers ultimately were forced into a 52-yard field goal attempt on fourth down.  For the third time in the game, Oregon State kicker Alexis Serna missed.  Serna came into the game on a streak of 15 straight made field goals, making his 1-of-4 afternoon improbable.  But at this distance, the Stanford defense deserved the credit for the miss.  They answered the call throughout the game, making big pass breakups and recording timely tackles behind the line of scrimmage.  It was a gut check for the defense, as well as the offense and special teams.  Stanford made the plays they needed to pull out a win, despite an injury body count that could have buried them.

The statistics and game flow were not pretty, but it was a program-building win.  Stanford grabbed number five in 2005 and now have chances in the next two weeks to secure a winning regular season and their first bowl game in four years.  Shoulders, hands and necks may have been wounded, but the heart of the Cardinal kept beating.  That does not show up in the box score, but it is the reason this team has a winning record today and hold of fourth place in the Pac-10.

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