Stanford squeaks past Oregon State, 15-14, in low-wattage Thursday night game

October 31, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 31, 2017

The Stanford football squad overcame plentiful mistakes by its offense, defense and coaching staff to secure a 15-14 victory in a nationally televised game at Oregon State on Oct. 26.

Stanford, now 6-2 overall and 5-1 in the Pac-12, likely would have lost if not for a last-minute touchdown drive. With superstar tailback Bryce Love sidelined after tweaking his ankle against Oregon, the No. 20–ranked Cardinal managed just 81 rushing yards and converted only five of 16 third downs against a 1-7 Beavers team that respectively ranks 12th and 11th in the league in those categories.

The first quarter was scoreless thanks to a sequence of punts and a missed 34-yard field goal attempt by Stanford sophomore kicker Jet Toner. The Cardinal offense began to find a rhythm late in the period as quarterback Keller Chryst completed five passes, including a 25-yarder to junior wideout J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. Toner capped the drive with a 40-yard kick to give the Cardinal a 3-0 lead early in the second period.

The Beavers responded with a Stanfordesque series that covered 75 yards and spanned 12 plays and seven minutes and five seconds. Beavers quarterback Darrell Garretson ran for a three-yard touchdown to finish the drive, which included a 14-yard pass from Garretson to Isaiah Hodgins. Ryan Nall, who ended the evening with 87 yards on 19 carries, also contributed runs of 15 and 20 yards.

A display of offensive futility consumed most of the rest of the half until Garretson fumbled the ball at his own 16-yard line with 51 seconds left. Cardinal senior defensive tackle Harrison Phillips recovered, giving his team a shot at retaking the lead.

The offense couldn’t advance beyond the 16, however: Three Chryst pass attempts yielded one five-yard completion, which served only to offset a delay-of-game penalty. Toner came back out for a successful 33-yard kick to shave the Beavers’ margin to 7-6. Mind you, Stanford entered the locker room trailing a squad that had yet to beat a Football Bowl Subdivision this season and was playing its second game following the surprise resignation of its head coach.

Things would soon get uglier for the white-clad Cardinal. Oregon State, which received the ball to start the second half, might have had to punt but for an unsportsmanlike conduct flag on Cardinal junior free safety Ben Edwards on fourth down. Two plays later, Garretson threw to tight end Noah Togiai for 23 yards, a gain that was extended by 15 yards thanks to a roughing-the-passer penalty on linebacker Joey Alfieri. Immediately following a replay review that led to Alfieri being ejected for targeting, OSU running back Thomas Tyner rushed for an 18-yard touchdown to give the hosts a 14-6 lead.

Stanford seemed poised to respond when the offense came back onto the field. Scarlett had his two longest carries of the night, for 12 and 11 yards, to start the ensuing possession, after which Chryst threw to sophomore receiver Donald Stewart for 12 yards. Three snaps later, however, safety Omar Hicks-Onu read Chryst’s intentions and picked off a pass at the Beavers’ 33-yard line.

A pair of field goal attempts followed. After the Beavers’ Jordan Choukair missed a 52-yard try, Toner was good from 40 yards out to cut the Cardinal deficit to 14-9 with 24 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

Each of the next four possessions ended in punts, although not before a roughing-the-kicker penalty on junior strong safety Justin Reid gave OSU the chance to extend one of their drives. Stanford netted minus-two yards on six plays, with Chryst being sacked once and failing to complete all three of his attempted passes.

Oregon State got the ball back with 3:31 left in the final period and quickly gained a first down, forcing the Cardinal to call timeout. But on the next snap, Phillips — who finished the night with a team-high 10 tackles and 2.5 tackles-for-loss — forced the ball out of Nall’s hands and made his second fumble recovery of the evening.

Two and a half minutes remained to play, and Stanford suddenly had life… but only if the offense could score.

The start of this do-or-die drive didn’t exactly inspire confidence, as Chryst threw three straight errant passes before connecting with sophomore tight end Kaden Smith for 25 yards. Four short Scarlett carries and a four-yard reception by senior tight end Dalton Schultz later, the Cardinal faced second and goal at the 3-yard line. Chryst then threw an arcing ball that Arcega-Whiteside caught in the near-right corner of the end zone for a much-needed touchdown. The two-point conversion failed, leaving the score 15-14 in favor of the visitors.

Cardinal fans perched on the edges of their seats as Oregon State regained possession with 20 seconds to go. The Beavers advanced to the Stanford 44-yard line on two Garretson completions, but with three seconds left, senior free safety Brandon Simmons intercepted a throw to secure a very shaky Stanford victory.

The Cardinal garnered just 222 yards of offense against a unit that ranks 11th or 12th in the league in total defense, pass defense and scoring defense. Stanford held the ball for 27 minutes and 14 seconds, a paltry sum given that the Beavers entered the game ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in time of possession (27:29).

Chryst, who played extremely well at home against Oregon, was a paltry 16 for 32 with 141 yards, a touchdown and an interception. (The Cardinal had averaged 198 passing yards per game, 11th in the Pac-12.) Chryst indulged in an old habit of staring down receivers and was fortunate only to toss one pick.

K.J. Costello sparked the offense against UCLA when he came in to relieve the injured starter; he’d also had a fine game the following week, when Chryst was out, and was moderately effective when playing a few series against Utah and Oregon. Given Chryst’s long stretches of enervated play, observers were baffled that coach David Shaw stuck with him the entire way.

The defense and special teams were a bit sharper than the offense, but their penchant for unfortunate penalties at critical moments was a major help in nearly allowing Oregon State to notch a major upset. With another road date looming this Saturday, against 7-2 Washington State, Stanford has a lot of corrections to make if it wants to realize its dream of playing in the conference championship game.


Helpful links

Stanford-Oregon State box score — ESPN
Stanford-Oregon State team statistics
Stanford-Oregon State play-by-play
Stanford-Oregon State interactive box score —
Stanford-Oregon State static box score
Stanford 2017–18 football roster
Oregon State 2017–18 football roster
Game (and some other) tweets — @memomoment

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