2006 Look Ahead: Oregon State

One of Stanford's narrow and important wins in 2005 came in Corvallis, and this year Oregon State plays at Stanford in the home and November finale. The Beavers were a bear against the run last year, one of the best in the nation, but how does that defense look in '06 after key graduation losses? On offense, OSU has a quietly lethal running back, but can they rectify their turnover woes?

Oregon State Beavers

First Down: Quick Hitters

Oregon State @ Stanford – November 18

Last Meeting: Stanford 20, Oregon State 17 ('05)

Side-by-Side Stats: (Oregon State/Stanford)
Returning Offensive Starters: 9/10
2005 Yards Per Point: 15.7/12.9
2005 Rushing Yards Per Game: 123/92
2005 Yards Per Carry: 3.2/2.6
2005 Passing Yards Per Game: 296/224
2005 Pass Completion Rate: 58.2/61.4
Returning Defensive Starters: 7/6
2005 Yards Per Point Allowed: 12.3/14.4
2005 Rushing Yards Per Game Allowed: 108/156
2005 Yards Per Carry Allowed: 3.1/4.0
2005 Passing Yards Per Game Allowed: 299/286
2005 Pass Completion Percentage Allowed: 52.7/60.8
2005 Record: 8-4/5-6

Second Down: Offense

A resurgent line will pave the way for an offense that should be effective on the ground, but may struggle in the air.

Tailback Yvenson Bernard gained the quietest 1,321 yards in the country last year, and for good reason.  He does not bring exceptional size, strength or speed to the table, but he was consistent, popping out nearly 4.5 yards per carry en route to Honorable Mention All-Pac-10 Honors.  And with all five starters on the offensive line returning to Corvallis for the first season since 1977, Bernard's average only figures to improve this season.  (Opening with Eastern Washington and Idaho as your first two home games of the season also cannot help but boost those stats.)

The aerial attack is more of an open question after the loss of Mike Hass, whose 17 yards per catch were the most in the NCAA, and whose 1,532 receiving yards led the Pac-10.  Considering Haas' incredible yards per catch, the fact that no one else caught for over 400 yards and the quarterbacks' combined 23 interceptions on the season, perhaps it is no surprise OSU's strategy appeared to be throw it deep to Haas and hope for the best.  (Of course, the same might be said for Trent Edwards to Mark Bradford at times last season.)  So with the one-man show gone in the sixth round to New Orleans, and not a lot of highly-recruited talent left at Mike Riley's disposal, approaching last year's nearly 300 passing yards per game and 58% completion rate looks unlikely.

Even if the passing yardage declines, this team can still be successful with a more disciplined, West-Coast style (though I shudder as I type one of the most overused phrases in all football) low-risk attack.  The Beavers coughed it up 14 more times than they forced turnovers over the course of last season, and the turnover per game deficit cost them a virtually certain victory against Arizona (where the Beavers were minus-six in turnovers and lost by just two) and resultant bowl bid.  I had always thought old quarterback Derek Anderson (2004 graduate, all-time passing leader at OSU) was just an interception machine, but with the struggles continuing with senior Matt Moore and junior Ryan Gunderson at the helm, I think the problems are systemic.

Third Down: Defense

Last season saw Oregon State relatively stronger against the run than the pass, bucking years of tradition.  But the Beavers should revert back to form this year with heavy losses in the front seven but all the secondary returning.

Up front, gone is Second Team All-Pac-10 tackle Sir Henry Anderson (4.5 sacks) and fellow starter (and Honorable Mention All-Pac-10) Alvin Smith.  Strongside linebacker Keith Ellison and middle linebacker Trent Bray, both First Team All-Pac-10, have also departed Corvallis for greener pastures, Ellison to the Buffalo Bills in the sixth round.  So that makes four All-Pac-10 departures in the front-seven: that is a USC-level of attrition.  And without the USC-level talent waiting in the wings (though some highly junior college players such as weakside linebacker Joey LaRocque will help plug the holes), stopping the run may be a tough task for the Beavers this season.

The secondary, however, looks in much better shape.  After allowing over a 50% completion rate for the first time since 1998, a unit that returns all its starters figures to be hungry to return to their 2004 numbers: less than a 44% completion rate and fewer than 200 aerial yards per game.  Strong safety Sabby Piscitelli is the leader of the defense, and cornerback Keenan Lewis, fresh off Honorable Mention Frosh All-American Honors, looks to be the top corner.

Fourth Down: Extra Points

- Last time Stanford won a home finale, Tyrone Willingham was the head coach.  The year was 2001; no one on the current roster was on the squad; and Stanford finished 9-3.  Perhaps the new stadium will bring better luck.  (Or perhaps with Harris at the helm, the team will not fade down the stretch as in the Teevens era.)

- With all the seniors on the roster, the plethora of returning offensive talent, an extra game on the schedule and the new stadium, many Cardinal fans will refuse to consider anything less than six wins and a bowl berth a success.  If you count yourself in this camp, circle this date on the schedule because it may well be for a bowl berth.

- On that note, let us undertake some crude math here as we try to analytically project Stanford's record.  I think the Cardinal will be double-digit favorites at San Jose State and double-digit dogs at Oregon, Notre Dame, versus USC and at Cal.  Assume those hold up for a 1-4 record – now the Cardinal must win five of seven out of: Navy, Washington State, at UCLA, Arizona, at Arizona State, at Washington and Oregon State.  With the simplifying assumption that each of these are 50-50 coin flips, the odds of Stanford winning at least five of the seven and making a bowl are (drumroll…) too hard for a Stanford undergraduate to calculate.  Umm, I mean 22.7%.

- Put at UCLA in the auto-loss column, and even if we throw Navy into the auto-win column, the odds grow taller.  Now Stanford needs at least four of five of Washington State, Arizona, at Arizona State, at Washington and Oregon State.  If those are all 50-50, that produces a 3/16, or 18.75% chance of a bowl berth.

- Do not look too deeply into my mathematical scratch work, but the point I am trying to convey is that there is virtually no margin for error on this schedule.  If the Cardinal hope to christen the new stadium with a bowl berth, they will need to win virtually every game they can – and this tilt looks very even on paper.

- If Oregon State is better at running the ball and defending the pass, and Stanford is strongest at passing the ball and defending the run, will the first one to 20 win (like last year)?  14?

- Off a 5-6 season, Oregon State likely will be scrapping for a bowl berth themselves this year.  Given that they must face Oregon and visit Hawaii after Stanford, the Cardinal might be their best remaining shot at victory.  This could be a make-or-break game for both teams.

2006 Regular Season Prediction:

6-7, 3-6 Pac-10 (the 13th game at Hawaii costs them a bowl berth)

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