"Week Six": Stanford @ Oregon State

The Bootleg's Scott Cooley was present for Tuesday's weekly press conference at the Arrillaga Center and provides us with comments from coaches and players as the fast-rising, rank-seeking Cardinal team gets ready to gnaw on the tenacious Oregon State Beavers and get out of Corvallis with a big "W" this Saturday.

"Week Six":  Stanford @ Oregon State

The Pac-10's first place incumbent travels to what is certain to be a hostile environment in Corvallis Saturday as the Stanford Cardinal (4-1, 3-0) and Oregon State Beavers (2-2, 1-1) collide in a pivotal conference matchup.


Kickoff is set for 4:00 p.m. (PT) and the game will be broadcast live on Fox Sports Net and Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. Dave Fleming, Todd Husak and Mike McLaughlin will once again bring us all the action over the airwaves on XTRA Sports 860 AM. (unpaid plug for our pals!)


The Cardinal's lethal ground attack is no secret. In fact, it's bursting out of the membrane-like shell that attempted to contain it for the first few weeks of the season. Led by bulldozing tailback Toby Gerhart, who ranks No. 4 nationally with a 130.0 yards per game average, the Stanford offense (31.2 ppg) is the second-most prolific unit in the Pac-10 behind Oregon (34.2 ppg).


For the second-straight week, Stanford finds itself treading against a top-tier rush defense. The Beavers have been stingy giving up yards in the trenches this season, not having allowed a run longer than 19 yards and holding opponents to 87.4 yards per game – a mark good for the No. 12 spot in the country.


"They have a lot of team speed – a tough aggressive defense with tight coverage," said head coach Jim Harbaugh. "They've always done a great job [atOregon State] and I have a lot of respect for what they do. They are going to be a tough opponent to run the ball against."


But we all know what happened when UCLA's "run-stuffing defense" came into Palo Alto and attempted to stop Stanford's stable of studs. It got manhandled by the "Tunnel Workers Union" and witnessed Gerhart compile 134 rushing yards and three touchdowns.


And Oregon State's rush defense ranking might be a little skewed. They are no doubt talented with their front seven, but when teams are finding so much success through the air against the Beavers, why run the ball?


Oregon State replaced four starters in its secondary this offseason. That unit ranks No. 114 in the country, allowing 285.2 yards per outing. Couple that with the fact that the Beavers uncharacteristically get to the quarterback the fourth-fewest times of any team in the nation (0.6 sacks per game); this game could benefit QB Andrew Luck and his receiving corps immensely.


But you can't sleep on this Beavers team because it has perennially been a slow-starter. Last season, the team lost three of its first five games and then rattled off six consecutive victories. This year Oregon State struggled to defeat UNLV, lost two straight home games to Cincinnati and Arizona, but then went to Tempe as sizeable underdogs and beat a solid Arizona State squad.


"History says that Oregon State is one of, if not the toughest team in October and November, that's just a fact," said Harbaugh. "Going down to Arizona and winning that game, you can kind of see it coming together for them."


The Cardinal offense should be able to execute its gameplan and find success advancing the ball down the field. The defense on the other hand, which has been a brick wall the last three games, has to contend with the Super Rodgers Bros.


James and Jacquizz Rodgers are the straws that stir the offensive concoction for the Beavers. James is coming off a spectacular performance against ASU where he totaled 209 all-purpose yards, earning him Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Week honors. His younger brother, Jacquizz, was named the Pac-10's Offensive Player of the Year in 2008…as a freshman. This Barry Sanders-esque tailback is one of the most explosive and elusive runners in college football.


"They are both great athletes," confirmed linebacker Clinton Snyder. "They have speed and power on both sides so they are going to be tough to deal with. The biggest thing we've been talking about on defense since the start of the season is that if you have 11 guys on defense and each one of them is doing their job then you should be able to contain whatever the offense is going to throw at you."


While one sibling plays wide receiver and the other lines up at running back, Mike Riley's offensive gameplan utilizes the Rodgers brothers in nearly every facet of the game. James returns kickoffs while Jacquizz averages nearly seven receptions per game out of the backfield.


"When you talk about those two players specifically, you have to account for every gap," Harbaugh stated. "Jacquizz [Rodgers] because he has the ability to be in any of those gaps. And then James Rodgers with his ability to catch the ball on the perimeter, fly-sweep, screen – pretty much the 53 1/3 (yards in width) of the field you have to account for."


Stanford defeated Oregon State in the 2008 season opener, 36-28, but has struggled when traversing north to Corvallis. Since 1996, the Cardinal is just 2-4 when playing at Reser Stadium and has only been able to muster 8.8 points per game at that venue this decade.


"There is always talk about last year, two years ago, this decade or whatever," Harbaugh said. "All that is irrelevant to this team, this is a different team."


This year's Stanford team is beginning to create a vibration. You can sense it locally and the national attention is starting to come around as well. The Cardinal coaches and players definitely feel the buzz.


"I think we thought this is where we were going to be when we started the season," Luck stated. "So we expected ourselves to have a good record, I don't think anything has changed from the team's outlook."


"It feeds confidence and that is something that we have lacked in the past," emphasized Gerhart. "At this point we want to go out and play to those expectations. And when you have that confidence, you play with a chip on your shoulder, but we have to stay humble. Our blue-collar mentality is to work and go out each day and get better."

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