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Football looks to stay on track against unpredictable Oregon State
Between sophomore Bryce Love (above) and junior Christian McCaffrey, Stanford looks poised to have a strong run game against Oregon State this weekend. The Cardinal rely heavily on the run, and against a weaker Beaver defense, the fully healthy Love and McCaffrey will likely lead the charge toward the end zone. (SAM GIRVIN/The Stanford Daily)

Football looks to stay on track against unpredictable Oregon State

Stanford football (5-3, 3-3 Pac-12) will try to grab its first home win since Sept. 17 when the struggling Oregon State Beavers (2-6, 1-4 Pac-12) enter Stanford Stadium on Saturday. The contest provides an opportunity for Shaw and co. to clinch their sixth consecutive bowl berth and Stanford’s eighth, if the Cardinal successfully defeat the Beavers.

Coming into this year’s matchup, the Cardinal have dominated the Beavers in recent history, defeating OSU six consecutive times. The Beavers’ chances aren’t helped by their performance on the road this season, where Oregon State remains winless, losing by an average margin of 24 points.

The Cardinal appear to have many reasons to think Saturday’s game will be a walk-over win, especially after a signature game from Christian McCaffrey and yet another dominant defensive performance last week. But, as always, Stanford is taking a one-game-at-a-time approach against a team that has also shown glimpses of explosiveness, such as starting last week’s game against Washington State by going up 21-0.

“All we can do is play our best football,” head coach David Shaw said. “For us to look any further than past the horizon is unnecessary.”

Despite the win-now mentality from Shaw, Oregon State’s failures this season are far from secret around the Pac-12, as the stumbling Beavers have had a total of three conference wins in their last three seasons. This year has been marred by injury yet again, with starting quarterback Darell Garretson suffering a season-ending ankle injury against Utah in October.

The last-place Beavers didn’t seem to care about the injuries when they took on a top-25 Washington State team last week, however, and their fighting mentality will definitely carry into Stanford Stadium on Saturday. Also, while their record is unimpressive, Oregon State has made large strides since an 0-9 Pac-12 effort in 2015, head coach Gary Andersen’s first season at the helm.

“What you’re seeing is Year 2 of a coaching staff. Year 1 there’s a lot of thinking on the field,” Shaw said. “You’ve got guys who played in one system for a while and they’re switching systems. Now, in Year 2, you see them playing better, making fewer mistakes, giving up fewer big plays and making more plays offensively. They’ve been playing better and better as the season’s progressed.”

The Cardinal will look to continue making progress as well defensively, with the return of starting cornerback Quenton Meeks bolstering a defense that has held three powerful offenses to 10 points in consecutive weeks and limited the Wildcats to 286 total yards on offense.

“[Early in the year] we were not old, we were talented, and I think what you see now is the ability of that talent to show itself with a little bit of experience,” Shaw said. “The 10-points-a-game is phenomenal, but if you really look at what those offenses had done before they played us, that’s the real stat we look at.”

Offensively, Stanford showed significant improvement last week by scoring over 30 points for the first time since last year’s Rose Bowl, and new starter Keller Chryst and the offense will look to build on some success and confidence found in the Arizona desert.

“This past game, we ran the ball like we’re capable of. I think we played well up front. I think we’re getting healthy. Having two healthy backs for the first time all season — it was exciting to see that,” Shaw said.

On paper, Saturday’s game looks like another great opportunity to gain confidence for the offense. Oregon State ranks 103rd nationally in points allowed per game, giving up 32.6 points a contest. They’ve also proven especially poor against the run, giving up an average of 219.4 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 107th nationally.

Oregon State’s offense is not statistically impressive either, ranking 90th nationally with an average of 24.9 points per game.

But there have been frightening outliers for the Beaver offense, including a 47-point, 559-total-yard effort in a win against California and the aforementioned impressive offensive showing against Washington State that ultimately ended in a narrow loss.

The Cardinal will undoubtedly watch sophomore running back Ryan Nall, Oregon State’s leading rusher, closely on Saturday afternoon. Nall has demonstrated spectacular shiftiness and speed for his sturdy 234-pound build, such as on an 80-yard touchdown run against Cal. Nall would finish that game with a career-high 221 yards and three touchdowns.

“He’s explosive, he’s fast. He runs decisively when he gets the ball in his hands. He’s one of those guys you have to make sure is going east and west so he doesn’t have a chance to go north and south on you,” Shaw said. “We’ve got to make sure we know where our help is and try to funnel him towards our help.”

Although a Pac-12 Championship is out of the question, the Cardinal still have plenty at stake Saturday, including bowl eligibility. A win would make Stanford bowl-eligible for the eighth consecutive season. Pride, as always, will also be on the line for both teams.

“We still have an opportunity to come together as a team and show what we can be. I don’t feel like we’ve hit our full potential as a team yet,” sophomore safety Justin Reid said. “We’ve just got to take things one game at a time, get better every day and see what we can accomplish and not let the season go to waste by having a negative mentality.”

The Cardinal kick off against Oregon State at Stanford Stadium at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday. The game will air on Fox Sports 1.

 

Contact Samuel Curry at currys ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Samuel Curry

Sam Curry '20 is a sophomore desk editor for The Daily. Most of the time, people can find him cheering for all of the teams they probably hate, like the New England Patriots and the New York Yankees. Sam is a proud native of Big Timber, Montana, where he enjoys the great outdoors with his family and friends.