Saturday, 26 October 2013

The 2013 Pac-12 Journey Game 65: Stanford righted the ship but Oregon State can spring a leak

What teams are playing?

The Stanford Cardinal and the Oregon State Beavers.

Where is this game being played?

Reser Stadium in Corvallis, Oregon.

What time does the game start and where can I find it on my television?

7:30 PM (PT) on Pac-12 Network.

What is the point spread?

Stanford is favored by four points (-4).

What should I watch for when Stanford has the ball?

Stanford needs to grind this game out with its offense. The Cardinal have struggled to throw the ball anyway but Devin Cajuste their best possession receiver will miss this game with a knee injury. That means Oregon State can put their best corner on Ty Montgomery and provide safety help over the top on every play. Can another play maker step up on third downs? Stanford probably hopes that it won't need to discover an answer to that question. The Cardinal want to run the ball for a few reasons, mostly because the Cardinal want to run because their pass game is hurting without Cajuste and running the ball is their identity anyway.

The other main reason is because Stanford needs to keep the clock moving and limit the number of times Oregon State can touch the ball. This will put a lot of pressure on Stanford's budding young star at left tackle, Andrus Peat. Tonight, Peat will draw the match up of two time (and soon to be three time) All-Pac-12 defensive end Scott Crichton, a devastating defensive player who has made his fame not by sacking the quarterback but by shedding blockers and stopping the run. It is imperative for Peat to use his athleticism to prevent Crichton from crossing him and getting to the middle of the field. Stanford loves to run to the middle of the field and pull their backside guard on trap plays to serve as a lead blocker. That pulling action leaves a brief window when a defender can get into the hole and blow up the play and Crichton has the athleticism and movement skills to disrupt those trap plays. Peat needs to win his match up against Crichton to not only keep Stanford's famed trap play viable but also to prevent a need for double teams on the edge.

Stanford loves to double team blockers in the middle. They like to have one of the guards help the center block a defensive tackle off the ball before moving up to the second level to get to a linebacker. If Peat needs help handling Crichton, that changes the complexion of Stanford's run scheme.

What should I watch for when Oregon State has the ball?

Tonight we will finally find out for certain if Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks are for real. Mannion and Cooks have been great all year and it has led to Mannion leading the nation in passing yards and passing touchdowns and Cooks being the national leader in every relevant receiving statistic. But, the Beavers haven't faced a good pass defense all season. The stingiest pass defense that Oregon State has faced all year was Utah, a team that currently ranks 76th in the nation pass efficiency defense. Stanford represents is a significant step up in competition for the Beavers. The Cardinal currently ranked 37th in the nation in pass defense but are capable of playing a lot better than that.

Stanford has not displayed the same trademark dominance we are used to seeing from its defense this season but last week they finally showed what makes them so special. The Cardinal ate up UCLA's offensive line and were able to do it without blitzing and that is the key to stopping Oregon State. Mannion thrives against the blitz, he is very good at identifying opposing blitz packages and finding his hot receiver. Blitzing also plays into Oregon State's favorite play, the tunnel screen to Cooks. The few times Mannion has struggled this season has been when teams have been able to get pressure with a four man rush. It hasn't happened often but when Mannion doesn't get time to stand and observe the field without a hot receiver against the blitz, he struggles. Mannion has not had those struggles often because most of the defensive lines he has faced haven't been very adept at rushing the pass but that changes today against Stanford.

The Cardinal need to copy what they did against UCLA last week. They stopped the run and harassed Brett Hundley into bad throws without blitzing. This is where Oregon State has serious problems because the Beavers have not run the ball well at all this year and Stanford is always at its best against one-dimensional teams. Look at Stanford's defensive performances this season against one dimensional passing offenses like Washington State and UCLA juxtaposed to how they played against balanced offenses like Washington and Utah. The Cardinal's defensive performance has been night and day based on how well their opponent can move the ball both by land and by air. Oregon State needs to develop some semblance of running attack tonight because there is nothing the Cardinal love more than predictable offenses.

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