OSU CONTINUES ITS quest to become bowl eligible, but the degree of difficulty only increases Saturday with the Beavers playing at No. 7 Stanford (4:30 p.m., VERSUS). Coming off a win over USC that was perhaps its best performance of the season, for Oregon State (5-5, 4-3 Pac-10), the challenge posed by the Cardinal is more than what was posed by USC.
And Mike Riley knows it.
"We'll need the same kind of preparation and then we'll need a better game," Riley said. "(Stanford) is a very good football team, in all phases. They're efficient to a T, I guess would be the best way of saying it."
One other key difference -- the Beavers are only 1-4 in games outside of Corvallis this season, and Stanford will be playing at home in its regular-season finale, making it Senior Day for the Cardinal.
Still, there's a definite sense of urgency for Oregon State that should add to their emotional preparation as the Beavers know they either need to beat Stanford or top-ranked Oregon a week later to reach the six wins needed to be bowl eligible.
--Ryan Katz has thrown 16 touchdown passes against five interceptions, a ratio of 3.2 to 1. That's the best for a starting quarterback playing for Mike Riley at any level, including Riley's stints as a head coach in the NFL and the Canadian Football League. It's probably especially notable in the fact Katz is a sophomore in his first season as a starter.
--Jacquizz Rodgers continues his climb up career rushing charts. With 3,714 yards, he is now third on Oregon State's list and 10th in the Pac-10. He seems likely to move up to at least eighth this week, with USC's Anthony Davis (3,724) and UCLA's Gaston Green (3,731) right ahead of Rodgers on the Pac-10 list.
--The Beavers have a decided connection to Stanford with the presence of student volunteer coach Jay Harbaugh, the son of Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh. The younger Harbaugh works closely with Oregon State offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf, and it's Jay Harbaugh who is on the sideline signaling plays into the Oregon State huddle. Jim Harbaugh played quarterback for the San Diego Chargers when Oregon State coach Mike Riley was in charge of the NFL team.
SERIES HISTORY: Stanford leads Oregon State 48-25-3 (last meeting, 2009, 38-28 Oregon State).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Beavers showed in their win over USC that it doesn't take overwhelming numbers to be successful as long as you're efficient. Oregon State scored on all six of its possessions that reached the red zone, with three field goals and three touchdowns against the Trojans. Good punting and a solid return game helped with field position, and the Beavers took advantage even with only 163 passing yards.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The big challenge for Oregon State against Stanford is pressuring quarterback Andrew Luck. Stanford has allowed only four quarterback sacks this season. The Beavers have 16 sacks in the past four games, to move up to 10th in the nation with 29 total. Whether they can keep up that pressure figures to be crucial to limiting Stanford's offense.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
OSU has played four ranked opponents this season, with a win at home over USC and a win on the road at Arizona, and losses in away games to TCU and Boise State. The Beavers have won 10 of their past 16 road games against Pac-10 opponents, though the losses include defeats this season to Washington and UCLA. The Beavers haven't lost three consecutive conference road games since 2003.
STORYLINE: Can the Beavers at least contain Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck? The defense has had problems with mobile quarterbacks this season and few are as able to run as Luck. He's already had three runs of 50 yards or more this season, and he's physical enough to deliver hits on defenders. His passing abilities are only enhanced by the threat he brings as a runner.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
RB Jacquizz Rodgers -- In a career that now has him 10th on the Pac-10 career rushing list, the best yardage game for Rodgers was 189 yards, with four touchdowns, in Oregon State's win over Stanford last season. It seems likely that the focus of the Stanford defense will be on containing Rodgers to avoid a repeat of last season, when he put the game out of reach for Oregon State with a big first half.
LB Cameron Collins -- An ankle injury to starter Keith Pankey figures to mean more time on the field for Collins, the converted safety. Collins has more speed and is a good open-field tackler, which could come into play against Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. The Beavers want to keep him inside and not let him loose on scrambles. That potential matchup on third down could go a long ways to determining the outcome.
CB Brandon Hardin -- Coming off a game in which he had a career-high 11 tackles, the 6-2, 215-pound cornerback had best be prepared for another busy day against Stanford. Because the safeties have to be concerned with Stanford's running game, the Oregon State cornerbacks are expected to often be in single coverage against receivers in Stanford's pro-style offense.
As the Beavers look to the Pac-10 being split into divisions next season, they can reflect on going 3-1 against teams that will be in the South next year. Oregon State is so far only 1-2 against teams that will be with the Beavers in the North, with Stanford and Oregon left to play. Oregon State's opponents in the South next season will be Utah and Arizona State on the road and UCLA in Corvallis. They'll miss USC and Arizona, two teams Oregon State beat this season, and conference newcomer Colorado, likely to be the Pac-12's weakest football team.