Stanford emerges — scared, scarred but victorious — with a 20-12 win at Oregon State

October 28, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 28, 2013

After Stanford’s 24-10 win over UCLA on Oct. 19, perhaps your reaction was something like, “Yay! That was fun!”

If so, then your response to Saturday night’s 20-12 victory against Oregon State was likely closer to, “Yikes! That was scary!”

The Cardinal defense stifled the Beavers, holding a team that came in averaging 28 points and 397 yards a game to two field goals and a touchdown and 288 yards. This was very much comparable to what happened in Stanford Stadium against the Bruins.

What was different? Unlike the Kevin Hogan who led the attack on homecoming day, the Cardinal quarterback who showed up in Reser Stadium in Corvallis, Ore., was mostly awful. Hogan tied his season low for throwing attempts (18, the same number he had vs. Army) and set career lows for completions and passing yards as a starter — eight and 88, respective.

Four of those passes went for first downs; just three netted more than seven yards. Almost half of Hogan’s aerial gains came on a nice long heave that his receiver turned around to catch just before veering out of bounds by the left sideline. “Look at that throw to Ty Montgomery,” an ESPN anchor said admiringly while replaying the video highlight. “Better catch. Thirty-seven yard gain.”

Hogan was sacked twice for a pair of seven-yard losses and ran the ball on three occasions: Once for just a yard, once for no gain and once for 23 yards. That scramble came in the second quarter, two plays after the long ball to Montgomery.

Right after Hogan’s run, Tyler Gaffney tried to rush up the middle but was met by the Beavers’ line; T. Gaff responded by bouncing outside to his left and cutting across the goal line. That was the first of what would be a career-high three scoring runs for Gaffney, and it gave the Cardinal a 7-3 lead.

But although the Cardinal never again trailed in the game, there were plenty of moments, both before and after that touchdown, when OSU seemed about to hand Stanford its lunch. And all of them, it seemed, came courtesy of a misfiring Cardinal offense.

The game opened with each team turning in a three-and-out; Oregon State actually lost 16 yards on its possession thanks to two penalties and a Josh Mauro sack of Sean Mannion. Then Stanford mounted a seven-play drive that came to an end at the Oregon State 17 when backup quarterback Dallas Lloyd couldn’t execute a handoff to Ricky Seale. Defender Scott Crichton leveled Lloyd, pounced on the ball and then ran it all the way back to the Stanford 42, where Lloyd managed to track him down.

Mannion completed three throws, giving the Beavers a first down at the Cardinal 16-yard line. Then Ben Gardner sacked Mannion for a six-yard loss, a Mannion completion to Caleb Smith resulted in a four-yard loss, and Trent Murphy and Kevin Anderson combined for an 11-yard sack of Mannion. Facing fourth and 31 from the Cardinal 39, Oregon State punted.

On the ensuing drive, Stanford went three-and-out again, and OSU superstar wideout Brandin Cooks returned Ben Rhyne’s punt 41 yards, to the Cardinal 31. The defense had to step up again — and it did. After the Beavers converted fourth and 2 and the Cardinal 31-yard line, OSU lost seven yards when Cooks ran backwards in a futile attempt to gain ground after catching a short Mannion throw. Trevor Romaine came on to boot a 50-yard field goal with 12:48 remaining in the second quarter.

To that point, OSU had three drives for minus-11 yards. The fact that it held a 3-0 lead was directly attributable to miscues on Stanford’s offense and (to a lesser extent) special teams. The fact that OSU had only a three-point lead was directly attributable to the dominance of the Cardinal defense.

Stanford started the next possession at its 25-yard line following Romaine’s touchback on the kickoff, but for the third time in four drives, the offense had to punt on fourth down. The Beavers marched 48 yards, but they once again stalled in Stanford territory as Mannion’s throw fell incomplete on fourth down at the Cardinal 18-yard line.

The Cardinal used six plays to advance to the Oregon State 39-yard line. Then Hogan was sacked on third down, and the team punted for the fourth time in five drives. The Beavers followed up by driving 49 yards, to the Cardinal 34-yard line, but Mannion’s carry was stymied on fourth and 1.

That led to the only touchdown of the first half, Gaffney’s run with 39 seconds left before intermission, capping a drive that (as previously documented) included Hogan’s best throw of the game.

Gaffney found the end zone yet again seven seconds into the third quarter. Victor Bolden took the kickoff out of the end zone, but Wayne Lyons forced a fumble, which Joe Hemschoot recovered at the 12-yard line. On the second play from scrimmage, Gaffney again ran up the middle, and again encountered resistance. But he kept on churning, and he ended up finishing a nine-yard touchdown run despite four black-clad Beavers physically handling him. Conrad Ukropina missed the extra point, but still, the Cardinal had gone from trailing 3-0 to leading 13-3 in less than one minute of game time.

Still, it was not time for Stanford fans to relax. The Beavers once again moved deep into Cardinal territory, only to once again surrender the ball on downs with an incompletion on fourth and 5 at the 35-yard line. Following yet one more — say it together now, everybody! — Stanford three-and-out, Oregon State mounted another long drive.

Only this time, the Beavers finished the series with a touchdown. Following a 34-yard Terron Ward run to the Stanford 32, Mannion used short passes to advance the ball into the end zone. Cooks capped the drive with an eight-yard reception. But Romaine’s extra point was blocked, crucially, leaving Stanford with a 13-9 lead.

The white-clad visitors answered with what was probably their best, and certainly their longest, drive of the day. After Montgomery returned Romaine’s kickoff to the 27-yard line, Stanford got first downs off of Gaffney’s 10-yard run and Hogan’s nifty 18-yard throw to Kodi Whitfield. A few plays later, Stanford deployed its blockers to the left side of the line, clearing a huge hole. Gaffney made a 32-yard scoring run that encountered so little resistance from Oregon State that he slowed around the eight-yard line and swiveled his head as if to verify that the referees hadn’t whistled the play dead with a penalty. They had not, and the Cardinal had itself a 20-9 lead with 12:01 left to play in the game.

But that three-minute, 45-second possession was not only Stanford’s longest of the evening — it was, alas, the team’s only one to cover more than nine yards in the fourth quarter. After OSU punted, the Cardinal’s next possession spanned a measly three plays and two yards.

Then, after the Cardinal defense forced another Beavers punt, Gaffney made his only serious gaffe (sorry) of the game. Lineman Mana Rosa shed his blocker and forced a Gaffney fumble, which Dylan Wynn recovered at the Cardinal 20-yard line.

Disaster seemed to loom, but the defense stepped up yet again. Murphy sacked Mannion, and Romaine hit a 39-yard field goal.

Now the score was 20-12, and the Cardinal needed a long drive and at least a field goal to salt away the game. As it had the previous weekend, the Stanford offense turned to Gaffney in its time of need. This time, however, he came up short on third and 1. Rhyne punted for the seventh time.

Cooks returned the kick 28 yards, allowing Oregon State to start at the Cardinal 43-yard line with 1:43 to play. Farm fans around the world made sure they were sitting down and put their cardiologists on speed dial. 

Blake Lueders bagged Mannion to start the drive. That gave the Cardinal D its eighth sack of the day — this against a team that had let up only nine sacks in its first seven games. On the next play, Alex Carter was flagged for a dubious-at-best pass interference penalty. That put the ball on the Stanford 32. Then Mannion and Cooks worked their magic, making consecutive connections of 11 and 14 yards. OSU was just seven yards and a two-point conversion away from tying the game.

To that point, Mannion had thrown 53 pass attempts and 41 completions for 271 yards and a touchdown. He threw four more times, but none of the balls were caught. On fourth down and goal to go, Mannion targeted Kevin Cummings, but Ed Reynolds was there to prevent the catch in the end zone. Despite the ineffectiveness of its offense, Stanford would hang on for a dramatic 20-12 win.

It was the Beavers’ fifth attempt to convert on fourth down; for the game, they only succeeded once. The Stanford defense held OSU to 6 of 17 on third-down conversions. They also limited the Beavers to just 24 yards on the ground.

Now the Cardinal will gird itself for a Nov. 7 home showdown against Oregon, the top-ranked team in the Pac-12. The Cardinal defense that has shown up the past two weeks is fully capable of giving Stanford a chance to take down the Ducks. The Cardinal offense that we just saw, however, is not.

Hogan does not need to be spectacular for Stanford to win — but he will need to avoid turnovers and hit more than half of his throws. Coach David Shaw and offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren will also need to find a way to get Stanford consistent running out of someone other than Gaffney, who finished Saturday with 145 yards. 

This won’t be the marquee matchup that some college football fans dreamed of before the season began; although Oregon is undefeated, Stanford’s record features that one loss inflicted upon it by Utah. Still, these are unquestionably the two best teams in the conference, and whatever the outcome, it will have an effect on the national championship race.

I’m nervous about this contest — but I’m also excited for it. This is the game Stanford and Oregon fans have had circled all year. It’s almost time. Bring on the Ducks!!!

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