Seniors Drop Final Home Game in Heartbreak

It was all so rosy, with Stanford leading 21-6 at the half and clicking on both sides of the ball. But Oregon State thumped the Card 25-0 in the second half to win 31-21 in a game that showed the best and worst of Stanford's 2002 football. The Beavs racked up 518 yards, but that only tells a fraction of this story. For a complete recap and analysis, read on...

To be honest, the first half of this game was everything you could ask of this Stanford team, and then some.  On offense, Stanford was finally throwing the ball further down the field, with six completed passes of 10 or more yards by Kyle Matter, including two scoring passes longer than 30 yards.  Heck, on the first scoring drive, Stanford threw the ball on three straight first downs for 13, 14 and 49 yards (a great touchdown catch and run by Luke Powell that was the offensive highlight of the day).  The return game on special teams was working its ass off, and even though punter Eric Johnson was struggling to find the right length on his boots, he landed one beautifully on the Oregon State three-yardline.  Stanford did not turn the ball over, while T.J. Rushing grabbed a Derek Anderson pass and scrambled 63 yards to the Beaver seven-yardline, setting up a two-play scoring drive.  The defense was keeping the conference's best running back in check, and putting a lot of pressure on quarterback Anderson.  The offensive line gave Kyle Matter good time, and he stepped into the pocket to hit his receivers.

Stanford never trailed in the half, led by as much as 21-3 and finished the half with a big defensive stop on 3rd and goal to force a field goal, holding a 21-6 lead into the locker room.

But the second half was the polar opposite on almost all fronts, and the collapse started without delay.  Oregon State took the opening kickoff back 37 yards, and on the first play from scrimmage Steven Jackson rumbled for 58 yards for a score.  Stanford looked like they might answer in kind when Ryan Wells ran back the next kickoff to Stanford's 40-yardline, and then marched down the field on a 13-play drive that contained two successful fourth down conversions.  The final play of the drive saw Stanford with 3rd and goal on the Oregon State two-yardline, which proved to be the play that gave the game away.  Stanford led 21-13 and had an outstanding chance to bring the lead back to two touchdowns, but the offensive playcall put Kyle Matter in the shotgun with receivers spread to either side.  The Beavers stayed back, and Matter made an inexplicable throw right into the numbers of a Beaver linebacker at the goalline.  That was Stanford's best drive of the second half and their best scoring opportunity.

The Beavs suddenly had all the momentum in all phases of the game and put it to Stanford.  As has been the case with many opponents this year, Dennis Erickson made the defensive adjustment at the half to load up his players in the box.  That stuffed the running game for much of the half, and put more of a pass rush in Kyle Matter's face.  Matter was forced to roll out many times in the half, but he could not get the ball down the field anything like the first half.  His longest completion of the half was just 10 yards to Ryan Wells.  Frankly, Matter just had a bad second half with worse and worse decisions and throws, 6-for-19 with two backbreaking interceptions.  For the game, he was just 13-for35.

The defense was an interesting study in the game.  They made a lot of big stops, including two triumphant stuffs on Oregon State 4th down attempts.  They contained Steven Jackson to just 65 yards on 19 carries in the first half.  They put a lot of pressure on Derek Anderson, and though they didn't record a sack they did knock him all around and force several hurries.  Throughout the game, it felt like they made enough stops, tackles for losses and big plays to win.  But like the UCLA game, the offense sputtered so miserably in the second half that Oregon State was bound to strike.  The unfortunate result was that two weaknesses of the defense were exploited in the second half for very crucial Beaver plays: 1) inability to cover the tight end when released off the LOS; 2) Leigh Torrence's coverage woes deep downfield.  The former was just a matter of the OSU coaches seeing it and choosing to throw there, which they did three times for 72 yards.  Those three passes were all killers, with two coming on third downs and one coming on a 2nd and 27.  It was enough to make you tear your hair out.  On the Torrence foibles, he was beaten deep throughout the game, but Anderson missed time after time when he threw at the Stanford redshirt sophomore.  Still, the Beavs kept throwing deep on him, which tells me that they saw a weakness on film they wanted to exploit.  Anderson finally completed one of those long attempts, and the result was a 46-yard touchdown to James Newson that put Oregon State ahead for the first time in the game... a lead they did not give up.

Deep though this linebacking corps may seem deep, both Jake Covault and Michael Craven are hurting pretty badly right now.  Covault has two bad shoulders and Craven is still stinging from a neck stinger.  Brian Gaffney was called into more action in this game than he has seen at any other time this season, and he responded magnificently.  He made big plays up the middle all game long, both at the line of scrimmage and behind the line of scrimmage.  Gaffney gets my nod for defensive player of the game.  A close second might be Oshiomogho Atogwe, who set the tone for the defense with big stuffs and heady play in the first half.  Louis Hobson also deserves special mention for some big plays up front.  He plays his best in open space (not yet having developed the size and strength to win the close-quarter battles), and he came up big including the highlight stuff of the game when he sniffed out a reverse and planted the runner for a 12-yard loss.

The player who most literally left it all on the field today would be Amon Gordon, who came out at one point to puke his guts out on the sidelines, only to return the next play.

The one thing that leaves your bleeding Cardinal heart still warm would be the play of today's seniors on the occasion of their final home game.  A lot of them stepped up with some big plays, and win or lose, they played like the heroes that Stanford fans hold them to be.  Ryan Wells had a handful of really spectacular plays, including one kickoff return that gave him to place to run.  He cleanly hurdled one tackler and then from a standstill darted up the field.  Had he not lost his footing around the 40 yardline, h


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