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Four-Down Territory: Stanford at Oregon State

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Stanford and Oregon State's offenses will look opposite this week as the Cardinal look to run the ball and play keep-away from the pass-obsessed Beavers. Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images.
Stanford and Oregon State's offenses will look opposite this week as the Cardinal look to run the ball and play keep-away from the pass-obsessed Beavers. Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images.

First Down: Is There Any Way To Limit The Passing Attack?

Brandin Cooks and Sean Mannion have lead the nation's best passing attack this season (442.1 yards per game), gaining more yards through the air than the Cardinal in combined offensive yardage. While Mannion has been getting much of the credit, Cook is the best player on the Beavers. He does it all over the field and in every facet. He catches the long ball and dominates the open field with screens. If he’s not getting enough touches in the air, the Beavers just hand him the football on jet sweeps.

To put things into perspective, the best team Oregon State has beaten is Utah. Unfortunately, the transitive property does not apply to college football (as Utah beat Stanford two weeks ago). The Beavers' lackluster schedule likely has inflated the Beavers yardage. Stanford’s cornerbacks have had trouble limiting top wide receivers. ASU’s Jaelen Strong, for example, had 12 catches, 168 yards and a touchdown against the Cardinal.

One reason Oregon State throws the ball so often: Its rushing attack is ineffective. If Stanford can somehow shut down Cooks, it effectively shuts down the offense. The Beavers backs average 2.6 yards per carry. Stanford could reduce that figure Saturday night.

Second Down: Can Stanford Keep The Score Low?

The Cardinal are not a come-from-behind team. It showed that against Utah. It likes to get out ahead and coast to the lead on Tyler Gaffney’s legs — which Gaffney seems to have borrowed from He-Man. Stanford needs to limit the vaunted Beavers offense I just spent first down praising. However, Stanford has stunned more proven offenses like UCLA last week and the Ducks last season.

The UCLA win was almost uncharacteristic of Stanford. The defense gave up just 10 points in that game against a proven offense, but allows 20.4 points this season. They can make yet another statement this week by shutting down a high-octane passing attack. With defensive end Henry Anderson, wide receiver Devon Cajuste and kicker Jordan Williamson still out, Stanford cannot afford to give up points.

Tyler Gaffney will get a large number of carries to keep the ball from Oregon State. If he is tired from last week, keep an eye out for who gets carries, as Anthony Wilkerson had a particularly bad go last week (a key drop and a fumble).

Third Down: Finding Consistency

Stanford scored only 24 points last week and won against No. 9 UCLA. Stanford allowed 27 points to Utah and lost.

Stanford allowed 284 rushing yards to Army in week 2, then 50 yards to ASU in week 3.

Kevin Hogan threw for 286 yards against Washington State, then 100 yards against Washington.

Tyler Gaffney ran for 54 yards against Washington State, then 171 against UCLA.

While the numbers against Washington State are a bit skewed because David Shaw sat some of the starters early, the point is clear. Stanford has not proven a single thing about itself. Sometimes the team likes to air it out and get big plays. Sometimes they hand the ball off to Gaffney. While it helps to do everything well, it’s better to be a master of a few things.

Statement games are great, but when was the last time anyone said that Alabama had a statement game? Stanford needs to move past making statements on a weekly basis. They need consistency.

Fourth Down: Pac-12 Parity

Five teams in the Pac-12 have five wins. Only one of the 12 teams has a losing record (Cal). As teams begin to go head to head in the coming weeks, the division will start to shake out.

If Oregon State can beat Stanford, it leapfrogs the Cardinal in the Pac-12 North standings. Conversely, the Cardinal can solidify themselves as the Pac-12 North best by winning against Oregon State this week and Oregon next week.

As Stanford has beaten UCLA and ASU — the two best Pac-12 South teams — the Pac-12 North seems like the stronger half of the conference. The next two weeks could provide a rebirth of their national championship hopes, particularly if the SEC is filled with one- and two-loss teams.