Grading the Keys: Oregon State

DL Josh Mauro

Stanford jumped to a 14-0 lead Saturday. Then Oregon State scored 23 straight. But the Cardinal responded with the game's final two touchdowns to eke out a 27-23 win and keep its Pac-12 title hopes alive. Now, we review our keys to the game as we look back on the Cardinal's 2012 home finale.

Kevin Hogan: Play Within Yourself
Oh, did he ever. No. 8's first career start was an exhibition of efficiency, culminating with a 22-of-29, 254-yard stat line that was sullied only by two interceptions -- one tipped and a bomb that was, in effect, a third down punt. Although Hogan did miss open men Kelsey Young and Zach Ertz on consecutive deep throws in the first half, he exhibited pinpoint accuracy on the short-to-medium range throws that mean the most in the context of the Stanford offense.

This translated to nine catches and the winning touchdown for birthday boy Ertz, four and a score for Ryan Hewitt (welcome back to the passing attack), and two grabs for Stepfan Taylor -- including the game's most electrifying 40-yard score to end the third quarter. Hogan also racked up 60 rushing yards, keeping Oregon State's vaunted defense off-balance. After the Beavers adjusted to Stanford's early offensive success, Hogan made the proper counter-adjustments with his feet and accuracy: Riley's squad would pay for trying to stack the box.

Stanford averaged a solid 8.8 yards per passing attempt, while Hogan's physical, athletic presence also brought back memories of a young Andrew Luck -- albeit with a more explosive running burst.

"He's a gamer," Taylor said. "He let people know that this is his huddle."

Grade: A (Area of possible improvement: deep balls)


Stop the Run Without Cheating
Though this writer predicted the Beavers' balance would threaten the Cardinal, Oregon State's offense surprised with its depth and versatility. Receivers Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks (14 combined catches, 173 combined yards) evoked memories of USC's Marqise Lee and Robert Woods in their ability to occasionally made Stanford defenders appear stuck in quicksand. Running back Storm Woods provided an excellent complement, gashing the Cardinal for 95 yards on only 15 carrries.

Stanford did not shut down Oregon State's passing, nor did they suffocate the run in the same way that they had against the three previous weaker opponents. But the Cardinal did manage to reasonably contain Riley's playmakers, allowing them to eventually rupture the Beaver dam at its weakness: pass protection.

In the end, Oregon State gained only 312 offensive yards, a figure that seemed low after watching the Beavers successfully move the ball for a good portion of the contest. Maybe Stanford's dominance of the previous three weeks just made Oregon State's offensive effort look more explosive in comparison.

Grade: B- (Not stout, but effective when needed)


Expose a Beavers' Weakness: Pass Protection
For most of the game, Oregon State did a fine job neutralizing a Stanford pass rush that had accrued 17 sacks over the its past two contests. Woods' effective running complemented screens and quick passes to Wheaton and Cooks that neutralized Cardinal blitzes. An offensive line that surrendered five sacks at home the week prior to Arizona State benefited from Riley's ingenious gameplan, one that made adjustments following an early deficit and primed Oregon State to rattle off 23 unanswered points to take a nine-point lead.

Then left tackle Michael Phillipp went down in the second half, and the Beavers' thin front began to show cracks. Super-sub Derek Nielsen, the primary back-up at every single Oregon State offensive line position, came into the game. Josh Mauro began a drive with a monster sack. Two plays later, Cody Vaz committed his critical fumble, and Mauro was there to fall on the ball -- and momentum. The Stanford pass rush, which had delivered a bevy of sack-less hits, was reinvigorated by this turn of events.

As momentum swung the Cardinal's way, blitzers crept closer to Vaz. Perhaps the Farm Boys' strenuous off-season conditioning program, highlighted by muscle-searing slow-motion pull-ups, began to assert itself. Whatever the reason, Stanford punished the Beavers late at Oregon State's most vulnerable spot: the line of scrimmage. Fifth-year man Alex Debniak registered the defining blow on his Senior Day, registering the Cardinal's third and final sack of Vaz to push Riley's club into a last-gasp fourth down. That hit also knocked the Beavers' starter out of the game, forcing back-up Sean Mannion to make Oregon State's final desperate heave.

Grade: A (It was a game-long push, but the Cardinal finally broke the Beaver dam in crunch time.)


David Lombardi covers Stanford sports for The Bootleg and FOX Sports NEXT. He can also be heard on San Francisco's 95.7 The Game. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com. Follow him on Twitter: @davidmlombardi.


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