Stanford runs over the Beavers in Corvallis

October 3, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 3, 2015

Oregon State is one of the bottom dwellers in the Pac-12 conference. And yet, Stanford’s 42-24 thrashing of the Beavers in Corvallis was a powerful statement.

That’s because the Cardinal offense announced that its power-rushing game is back in full effect after the team ran for 325 yards and four touchdowns. That’s tied for the 10th-most Stanford rushing yards ever, with four of the top performances (446 vs. Washington, 2011; 344 vs. Washington State, 2008; 325 yards at USC, 2009; and the OSU game) having come since former head coach Jim Harbaugh arrived on the Farm in 2007.

What’s more, the prolific production against OSU came on a night when Stanford starting quarterback Kevin Hogan’s status was questionable. Hogan ended up playing the entire game but his mobility appeared to be limited thanks to an ankle that was twisted during the USC game; Hogan only carried the ball one time against the Beavers, for 2 yards.

Even so, Stanford scored three touchdowns in each half. Had it not been for the team kneeling out the first half with 17 seconds left and Conrad Ukropina missing a 28-yard field goal try early in the third period — his first whiff on six attempts in 2015 — the Cardinal might have scored on more than half of its 13 total possessions.

On a night when Remound Wright spun his way around goal-line pile-ups to score a pair of touchdowns, and when Barry Sanders had 97 yards and a matching pair of touchdowns — both career highs for the senior — and when Michael Rector made adjustments while double-covered to reel in a slightly underthrown Hogan deep ball for a spectacular touchdown, the undisputed offensive star was Christian McCaffrey.

The sophomore ran 30 times for 206 yards and hauled in a 38-yard reception. The Coloradan’s ground performance was the fifth-biggest in school history. (Toby Gerhart, the 2009 Heisman runner-up, has three of the school’s top 10 single-game rushing tallies.)

Add in a short punt return and two kick returns for 56 yards and McCaffrey compiled 303 all-purpose yards. McCaffrey is leading the Pac-12 and ranks third nationally with 222.2 all-purpose yards per game. If he keeps up that pace, McCaffrey will destroy the school-record all-purpose yardage marks set by Glyn Milburn, his father’s teammate, in the 1992 and 1990 seasons.

Two other observations about the Cardinal offense — well, three more, actually:

• Stanford may have the deepest receiving corps in school history. Devon Cajuste, Francis Owusu, Bryce Love and tight end Greg Taboada either had no receptions or weren’t particularly productive against the Beavers. (Cajuste led the group with two catches for 18 yards.) But when they’re on the field, defenses have to account for each of those players. The same is true of Rector, tight end Austin Hooper and the running backs, all of whom are a threat out of the backfield. If Andrew Luck had had a unit with this depth and ability, Stanford might have been unstoppable.

• Speaking of running backs, the Cardinal has itself an impressive three-pronged attack. On first blush, Wright, who has 14 (!) rushing touchdowns over the team’s last seven games, is something of a bowling ball, while Sanders and McCaffrey are more shake-and-bake types. But I have to confess that McCaffrey has proven to be far more rugged than I ever suspected. As @GoMightyCard tweeted rhetorically, “Remember when people said McCaffrey couldn’t run between the tackles?” That does seem like quite a long time ago.

• The most impressive thing about Stanford’s offensive performance in the OSU game is this: One senses that the unit has yet to play at peak efficiency. If and when that time comes, it doesn’t matter who the opponent is — they’d better watch out.

There’s some bad news coming out of last Saturday night, however: The already badly battered defensive line sustained yet more injuries. But that was balanced, at least partially, by senior inside linebacker and team co-captain Blake Martinez continuing his monstrous tear: He’s led the Cardinal in tackles each game this season and is ranked third nationally with 12.5 stops per contest. With 50 total tackles through four games, Martinez has amassed nearly half the 102 tackles he had in his standout 2014 season.

Even with its defensive handicaps, Stanford limited the Beavers to six possessions of three plays or fewer; OSU was 7 of 16 on third down. (Stanford was 7 of 12, by contrast.) And two of Oregon State’s three touchdowns followed Stanford turnovers.

The Cardinal return home tonight to face an Arizona team coming off a 56-30 home loss to UCLA. The wounded Wildcats will fall to 0-2 in league if they lose to Stanford. It should be an interesting game.

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