Stanford vs. Oregon State Match-Up

For the second straight week, it's a Pacific Northwest conference foe heavily favored against the Cardinal. Stanford (1-9) hopes to again dash bowl hopes in a spoiler game on Saturday, this time at home against a much stronger Oregon State (6-4) squad. The tables have been turned on both teams' seasons, with the Beavers bounced badly last week and the Card collecting their first win.

LAST WEEK:  The unthinkable - nay, the impossible happened.  Stanford won a football game in Husky Stadium.  The worst Cardinal team in modern history managed a 20-3 victory in the house where no Stanford team had won since 1975.  Two pieces of history were erased in one afternoon, with the Cardinal dodging a certain 0-12 finish and at the same time ending a 31-year drought in Seattle.

It started with the defense, which had given up more ground yards per game than any other team in Division I-A football (239.1 ypg).  Stanford held the Huskies to 39 yards rushing on the afternoon and just one net rushing yard in the second half.

The offense looked little better than Washington's until the sixth and final drive of the first half (six net yards of offense), when quarterback T.C. Ostrander connected with freshman wide receiver Richard Sherman for 34- and 41-yard passes - two of Stanford's biggest plays all year.  The Cardinal went to the locker room tied 3-3, a feat not known since September 9.

Stanford scored two touchdowns in the second half, the second coming on a 74-yard bubble screen from Ostrander to Sherman.  The first was a 49-yard interception return by redshirt freshman safety Bo McNally, who was starting his first collegiate game.  Stanford intercepted two more passes, including a second by McNally and another that setup a final field goal.  At game's end, the Cardinal were +3 on turnovers.

LAST WEEK:  What happened in Pasadena, stays in Pasadena.  Four fumbles spelled the demise of Oregon State's four-game winning streak, as the UCLA Bruins defeated the Beavers 25-7 in the Rose Bowl.  The Blue and Gold limited the OSU offense to just seven points and 260 total yards.

Running back Yvenson Bernard had the team's only touchdown, as he rushed for a season-low 54 yards on 16 carries with a bum ankle.  Quarterback Matt Moore completed 17-of-29 passing for 175 yards but fumbled the ball three times, killing scoring drives while giving the Bruins a short field.

Kicker Alexis Serna had one field goal blocked from 51 yards out while pushing a 31-yard attempt wide left.  Tight end Joe Newton did not have a catch for the first time this season.  Wide receiver Sammie Stroughter was held to four catches for 51 yards.

Linebacker Alan Darlin led the Beavs with nine stops, including one sack, while linebacker Bryant Cornell snagged an interception, the Beavers' only forced turnover of the game.

KEY INJURIES: OT Chris Marinelli (ankle - questionable), OG Josiah Vinson (shoulder - probable), OG Ismail Simpson (questionable), C Alex Fletcher (back - doubtful), C Tim Mattran (leg - out), WR Mark Bradford (foot - out), FB Nick Frank (spine - out), TE Matt Traverso (out), QB Trent Edwards (foot - out), QB T.C. Ostrander (knee - will play), ILB Fred Campbell (questionable), CB Wopamo Osaisai (shoulder, leg - probable), CB Tim Sims (questionable), S David Lofton (foot - out) KEY INJURIES: OT Josh Linehan (knee - out), OG Jeremy Perry (ankle, knee - will play), C Kyle Devan (knee - will start), WR Ruben Jackson (ankle - probable), RB Yvensen Bernard (ankle, will play)
WHEN STANFORD IS ON OFFENSE:  If you haven't heard the sob story by now, the offense was expected to be the (lone) strength for Stanford this year.  Loads of starters and talent returned, plus the addition of 6'7" wide receiver Evan Moore after a medical redshirt year.  Injuries plucked every one of the offense's best players, including four starters who if healthy could have been headed for first-day NFL Draft selections next April:  Edwards, Bradford, Moore and Frank.

The struggle has been most felt at wide receiver, where Stanford quickly lost all three of its returning scholarship players.  The Cardinal have started either walk-ons or true freshman at wideout 15 of 20 times this year, and two of those five starts by Moore/Bradford ended with injuries in the first series of the game.

Richard Sherman was one of the two true frosh who has logged a number of starts and snaps.  He flashed onto the scene the day Bradford went down with a season-ending injury, catching a touchdown and 71 yards on six receptions at San Jose State.  Sherman is 6'3" and has track speed true to his Long Beach heritage, but he sunk in the middle of the season as he struggled with maturity and the demands of the Stanford offense.  He caught one deep pass at the end of the USC game from Ostrander and then broke out big at Washington, with 177 yards on six receptions.  Sherman leads Stanford in catches (23) and receiving yards (410).  If this raw athlete has turned the corner, then Stanford's offense may also be on the upswing.

Opposite Sherman at the "Z" position is the supersized Moore at the "X".  He may or may not start, but he should see most of the time on the field on the short side.  Moore is a fourth-year player who again this season endured a major injury, this time a stress reaction with which he is playing in some pain (and orthotics).  It is surprising that Stanford rediscovered the big play in the passing offense last week, yet Moore caught zero passes.  The Huskies schemed to take him away, which left Sherman in single coverage.  Moore has the size, hands and ability to run that could break out for a 100-yard game if OSU's safeties cheat toward Sherman this weekend.  The 6'7" target is more dangerous than his 11-179 and two touchdowns indicate, especially in the red zone.

Stanford has favored three-wideout and two-tight end formations in recent weeks, so look for additional threats in the receiving game.  Fifth-year senior wide receiver Marcus McCutcheon recently returned from a MCL tear and appears innocent with his one catch last week in Seattle, but he was the blocker that made the 74-yard bubble screen work.  Tight ends James Dray and Erik Lorig are both redshirt freshmen with loads of talent though uneven production in their debut season.  Dray has started the last nine games and is an accomplished receiving tight end, with 17 catches and 179 yards.  Lorig is the complement, a freak athlete who dominate as a run blocker but is learning the receiving game.

The passing offense dipped to historic lows when Trent Edwards was injured and ended his season, giving way to redshirt junior T.C. Ostrander.  Stanford threw for two of its four all-time lowest passing totals in back-to-back games, but Ostrander has taken modest steps forward the last two weeks.  His comfort in the offense is allowing him to make better pre-snap calls and better decisions on the run.  His yardage was greatly boosted by the wide receiver screen to Sherman, which was 74 yards of YAC, but he succeeded in throwing no interceptions.  The turnover margin finally worked in Stanford's favor last week.  Ostrander has a knee at less than 100%, and he has a tendency to take big sacks, but he can be an elusive and sometimes dangerous scrambler.

The offensive line has been much maligned in recent years, and the combined running and quarterback sack stats in 2006 do not make much of an improved case.  However, the pass protection has been significantly improved.  Other breakdowns and frailties of the offense have combined with the offensive line toward sack totals.  Injuries have also been painful in this unit, including the loss of fifth-year senior center Tim Mattran before the season and his backup for numerous weeks.  Stanford lost three more starters going into the Washington game.  The status of those three players is somewhat unclear for the battle with the Beavers.

Fifth-year senior Jon Cochran at right guard and redshirt sophomore Allen Smith at left tackle are the two we think will safely start.  Cochran moved to tackle mid-season after four-plus unremarkable years at tackle, and his new position has helped him to his best season at Stanford.  Smith started most of last year as a redshirt frosh and was expected to be a strength protecting the blind side this, but he is coming on in recent weeks.  If redshirt sophomore Alex Fletcher is out again with a back ailment this week, then redshirt junior Mikal Brewer should start again at center.  He is the one lineman to watch most closely on Saturday - a physical talent but inexperienced and inconsistent thus far in his career.

The running game has struggled to get off the ground, with no team total of 100 yards since early September.  Redshirt sophomore Anthony Kimble is the starting tailback and has the quickness as well as size.  True freshman Toby Gerhart rotates in regularly and is the power back.  They each average less than four yards per carry and have a combined one touchdown.  The newer injuries on the offensive line and change at the center position (who makes calls at the line) make matters more difficult for the Stanford running game.

WHEN OREGON STATE IS ON OFFENSE:  The big play offense that averaged over 30 points per game during their four-game winning disappeared last week amid a slew of turnovers.

Quarterback Matt Moore regressed to his play earlier in the year when he was locking onto receivers.  But credit the UCLA defense for scouting the Beavers and Moore well, as they confused the California native with their coverages and pinpointed a weakness when Moore runs with the ball.

Previous to the game in Pasadena, Moore had been downright deadly with his feet, picking up positive yardage and running for one touchdown in each of the past two games.  The Bruins saw that Moore did not cover the ball when he ran and they took full advantage of his error by popping the pigskin loose three times.

Moore must put the UCLA game behind him.  He must regain his confidence both passing and running the ball.  The thing that set him apart during the Beavers' four-game winning streak was his command decisions.  He ran when it was right and threw the ball when it was right, and he did it decisively.  When Moore is on his game, he can make almost any throw.

Assisting Moore in the passing game is Sammie Stroughter who is second in the Pac-10 in receiving yards per game at 91.6 ypg.  Stroughter is dangerous in the open field and has the speed to stretch it, as he averages a 18 yards per catch.  Lining up in the slot is Brandon Powers, who has been one of the most consistent players on the team.  He rarely drops a pass and is looked to when the Beavers need to convert in short-yardage passing situations.  He has 28 catches for 291 yards.  Anthony Wheat-Brown, who has started 21 consecutive games at the flanker position, will not make the trip to Stanford after violating team rules.  He has 21 catches for 319 yards and is one of the better blockers on the team.  Senior Ruben Jackson, who has not played in three games due to an ankle sprain, will start in Wheat-Brown's place, with the speedy Chris Johnson servring as the backup at the flanker and slot positions.  Jackson has five catches for 139 yards and one touchdown in seven games and leads the team with a 27.8 average per reception.  Johnson has played sparingly in seven games with two catches for 29 yards.

Tight end Joe Newton has had an up-and-down year, partly due to his getting back into the rhythm of football after missing last year and partly due to his being held into block.  Before the start of the year, the coaches wanted to throw his way 8-10 times a game, but that hasn't happened.  Through 10 games he has 28 catches for 348 yards and a team-high four touchdowns, but just one in Pac-10 play.  Coach Mike Riley says every week that they want to get him the ball more, but oftentimes the opposing team stacks too many defenders in the box, requiring Newton to stay on the line to block.  That brings us to a beat up offensive line...

Right tackle Josh Linehan has been out since September with a knee injury; center Kyle DeVan is playing through a nagging knee injury; and right guard Jeremy Perry is playing with a bruised knee and sore ankle.  The good news from all of this is that the backups have filled the holes nicely.  The versatile Andy Levitre has not skipped a beat filling in for Linehan, while Adam Speer has played well at both right guard and at center.

The unit prides itself on its aggressive play and excels at pass protecting.  Left tackle Adam Koets is one of the most athletic lineman on the team and is responsible for protecting Moore's backside.  DeVan is having his best year as a Beaver, while left guard Roy Schuening will be an All-Pac-10 selection.  Many of the running plays go over the right side with the aggressive Perry leading the way.  The Beavers also take advantage of the athleticism of the group, as they run many plays requiring the lineman to pull and get out in front.

Running back Yvenson Bernard was beat up last year and played through it.  This year is more of the same, with Bernard twisting his ankle against Arizona in early October and struggling to get healthy ever since.  Despite his struggles, he is second in the conference in rushing at 96.2 ypg.  The shifty player does not have breakaway speed and prefers to stay between the tackles.  He is the team's second leading receiver with 31 catches for 172 yards and needs 134 yards to reach 1,000 rushing yards for the year.  Bernard is also a superb blocker.

Helping out with Bernard in the offensive backfield is junior Clinton Polk, who has 63 carries for 256 yards and one touchdown.  Polk has long strides and the speed to beat a defender to the outside.  Occasionally true freshman Micah Strickland lines up at fullback, where he serves as a lead blocker for Bernard in short yardage situations.  He has not carried the ball once but has five catches for 44 yards and has been just inches away from hauling in a few touchdowns.

Ball security is always preached, but this week the topic is at the forefront of everyone's mind.  Against USC and ASU, the Beavers did not turn the ball over once and came away with victories.  Against UCLA, they had four turnovers that resulted in a disaster.  The offense leads the Pac-10 in time of possession at 31:42 a game.

WHEN OREGON STATE HAS THE BALL:  Typically, teams have moved the ball at will against the Cardinal defense this year.  From the opener up until last week, Stanford stood dead last in rushing defense in the nation.  Surprisingly, that unit held USC to under 100 yards through 59-plus minutes and stymied the Huskies for 39 yards the following game.  Stanford can now celebrate its surge in the national standings - currently #117 out of 119 teams, with a bullet!

That turnaround is miraculous for a team that was yielding more than 250 rushing yards per game.  It will be tested Saturday by an offensive line, tight ends and running back that are all better than what Washington brought to the table.  To the Cardinal's credit, their exceedingly young front seven have endured growing pains and only in November are starting to put the defense together.  Stanford starts or regularly plays nine freshmen (true or redshirt) among their linebackers and defensive linemen.

In Stanford's 3-4 defense, the responsibility lies up front in a three-man line that carries heavy loading though not always the defensive stats.  Defensive ends Chris Horn and Pannel Egboh had strong games in Seattle, albeit against weaker Washington offensive tackles.  They led the way in pressuring the two Husky quarterbacks for the three interceptions, and slanted against the offensive line to engender 1.4 yards per carry allowed.  The best talent is nose tackle and redshirt freshman Ekom Udofia, who has quietly had a solid year in his first playing college football.

The linebackers are highlighted by senior Michael Okwo, who plays inside and is whirling, blinding playmaker.  He ranks first in the Pac-10 and #15 in the nation in tackles at 9.63 per game, though he did not start last Saturday in Seattle.  Okwo had left the team just three days earlier before an air-clearing sit-down with Walt Harris that brought him back the next day.  Watch #55 on Saturday.  He is explosive and one of the best in many years at Stanford.

The youngest everyday starter in the linebacking corps is redshirt freshman Clinton Snyder, who plays in the novel "rush" outside linebacker position in this 3-4 defense.  He is fast and plays with a motor that is unmatched on the Cardinal defense.  Snyder and Okwo were flying around the field last Saturday, causing all sorts of problems for the woeful Washington offense.

The Stanford secondary is as uncertain as the offensive line in who will start this weekend.  Count on fifth-year senior Trevor Hooper at strong safety - the most experienced, healthy and solid player in the defensive backfield.  Senior Brandon Harrison is improving off an early-season shoulder injury and bounces between cornerback and free safety, depending upon other injuries.  Stanford's starting corners, Wopamo Osaisai and Tim Sims, were both out last week in practice and forced Harrison to the outside.  Osaisai played in nickel situations and may be healthy enough to start this week.  Sims is a question.  This unit may not put anybody on the all-conference team, but they have been surprisingly sound this year.  Stanford ranks a stunning second in the Pac-10 in pass defense.  No team has yet reached 250 yards through the air.

WHEN STANFORD HAS THE BALL:  Statistically the Beaver defense is one of the top units in the conference and, in some instances, in the nation.  OSU leads the Pac-10 and is second in the nation in third down conversions allowed at 26.4 percent per game.  The unit leads the Pac-10 in sacks with 33 and is averaging 8.2 tackles for loss per game, good for fourth in the nation.  14 players have at least one sack while six players have three or more.

The linebackers fuel the Orange and Black defense as middle linebacker Alan Darlin, weakside linebacker Joey LaRocque and strongside linebacker Derrick Doggett are one-two-three in tackles.  Darlin is a tough, physical player who excels at stopping the run.  He has a team-high 11.5 tackles for loss and often lines up on the line of scrimmage when OSU is in their nickel package.  LaRocque is a junior college transfer who continues to get better every week.  He has 60 tackles, one interception and has recorded at least seven tackles in the last six games.  Doggett is the most athletic of the bunch with his long legs and arms.  He has 59 tackles, including three sacks, with 11 tackles for loss.

Bryant Cornell, Eric Moala Liava'a and Isaiah Cook all receive plenty of time as well, as the coaches like to keep fresh bodies in the lineup.  It is not uncommon to see three new linebackers in during a series.

The defensive line is anchored in the middle by the fiery Curtis Coker who demands a double team and does a wonderful job of clogging the middle.  Senior Ben Siegert has been playing well of late at the other tackle position with 16 tackles and one sack, almost all of them coming in the last month.  Pernell Booth, William Akau'ola Vea and quick step Gerard Lee all see lots of time at the tackle positions as well.

Senior Joe Lemma, who has 32 career starts, mans the left end while Jeff Van Orsow mans the right side.  Lemma struggles getting past the bigger tackles and has just nine stops.  Van Orsow has 40 tackles, tops for a defensive line man.  Junior Dorian Smith leads the team with six sacks, splits time with Lemma at left end and brings a lot of energy off of the edge.  Victor Butler is a pass rushing specialist with edge speed.  He has 3.5 sacks.

Hard hitting strong safety Sabby Piscitelli patrols the backfield, where he has a team-high eight pass deflections and three interceptions.  Bryan Payton mans the free safety spot, where he has 34 tackles and two picks in five straight starts.  Al Afalava and Daniel Drayton also see time as they help out in the nickel package.

Cornerbacks Keenan Lewis and Brandon Hughes start at the corners.  Lewis is the more athletic of the two and has good range with six pass deflections.  Hughes is physical on the line, but sometimes loses his man on fly patterns.  He has 24 tackles and four pass deflections.  Junior Coye Francies is the first off of the bench and has a reputation as a hard hitter, forcing three fumbles.

SPECIAL TEAMS:  This group does not have the points of optimism and improvement that we can find on offense and defense.  Kicker Aaron Zagory is a walk-on who is dramatically improved but still somewhere between middling and a liability.  He has not made a field goal over 37 yards this season and has not attempted anything over 40 yards.  Zagory is 7-of-11 on the year, and to his credit he hit both attempts last week.  He is 10-of-12 on PATs, last in the conference.  Zagory does have one tool of wizardry, however, with a perfect 3-of-3 on on-side kicks this year.

Stanford is ninth in the Pac-10 in kickoff coverage and 10th in kickoff returns, strangling the field position battle all year long.  Punt returns have totaled 48 yards in 2006.  Punting by redshirt junior Jay Ottovegio was thought to be the Cardinal's clear strength this year; he started slowly and then came on for a few weeks before several costly miscues at Washington.  The team punting net would be at the bottom of the conference if not for (in)famous quick kicks.  Edwards and Ostrander each punted twice before fourth down this year for a combined average of 49.5 yards.

Stanford has had several kicks blocked this year and fumbled several kickoff returns.  The best they can hope to do on a given Saturday is not turn the ball over.

SPECIAL TEAMS:  Kicker Alexis Serna is having a decent year, making 15-of-22 with a long of 58 (ties a school record).  Two kicks have been blocked, while four of his seven misses have been from 40 yards out.

Some of Serna's misses can be partially blamed on snapper Joel Cohen, who has been bouncing snaps off of the turf.  Luckily Jon Stowbridge has done a fantastic job fielding the bad snaps and getting the ball placed.

Sammie Stroughter has been electric returning three punts for touchdowns while averaging 16 yards per return, good for fifth in the nation.  Stroughter's success is directly related to special teams coach Bruce Read getting all of his players to buy into the system.  Coye Francies and Gerard Lawson return kicks.  Francies is a north-south type of runner and does a nice job with a 22.6 average.  Gunners Sabby Piscitelli and Gerard Lawson usually do a incredible job covering punts and are not afraid to deliver the big hit.

True freshman Kyle Loomis is averaging a respectable 39.4 yards per punt.  He has a strong leg, but is not consistent.

STANFORD CAN WIN IF:  The defense continues its marked trend of improvement, and Oregon State lends a helping hand.  The win in Corvallis last year was predicated upon turnovers and winning the field goal battle.  Neither have been strengths for Stanford this year.  Also, the offense must play cleanly and find a few big plays like last week - they cannot grind down the field and hope to convert third downs. OREGON STATE CAN WIN IF:  They take care of the ball.  Nothing more, nothing less.  If the offense doesn't turn the ball over, the Men in Black leave Palo Alto with a victory.
STANFORD WILL LOSE IF:  The match-ups play to form.  Oregon State has a much better defense and offense than what Stanford defeated in Seattle.  The battle between the Cardinal defense and Matt Moore looks to be flipped relative to 2005.  Look for Moore to have one of the best passing days this year against Stanford, with the tight ends making a few big plays.  +3 is a pipe dream for Stanford in the turnover column, and even a neutral tally would spell doom on Saturday. OREGON STATE WILL LOSE IF:  The Beavers come out emotionally flat.  The energy and passion that characterized the team during the four-game winning streak was missing against UCLA.  The Stanford players will be fired up for senior day, and OSU must match and exceed the Cardinal excitement level.
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Mike Eubanks is the publisher for and has been covering Cardinal sports since 1998. Dan Norz is the publisher of And that's another... O ... S ... U ... first down!

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