CORVALLIS - Midway through the third quarter, Oregon State had the ball trailing 17-13, and the denizens at Reser Stadium were beginning to wonder:
Could an upset be in the making?
Stanford's answer was emphatic, however, the Cardinal outscoring the Beavers 21-0 the rest of the way en route to a 38-13 victory Saturday.
The victory extended Stanford's nation's-best win streak to 17 games and kept the fourth-ranked Cardinal (9-0 overall, 7-0 in Pac-12 action) on target for its showdown with Oregon next Saturday for the North Division championship.
Oregon State (2-7, 2-4) made it interesting, though, keeping things close for most of three quarters before Stanford pulled away.
'We were ready,' OSU cornerback Jordan Poyer said. 'The vibe before the game, we felt ready.'
'We came to play today,' Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. 'It was a better game than (the final score), but that's how Stanford has won some games. (The Cardinal) quietly go up by 20 or 30 in the second half. That's what they did to us.'
Heisman Trophy front-runner Andrew Luck threw for three touchdowns, but it was the running game that powered Stanford's victory. The Cardinal rushed for 300 yards and kept Oregon State's offense off the field a good portion of the game.
'They're a very good team,' OSU tight end Joe Halahuni said. 'They don't do anything extraordinary. They do what they need to do, and they do it well. They played a great game. They deserved to win.'
Stanford had 48 rushing plays - one more than Oregon State in total plays for the game. The Cardinal wound up with a huge advantage in offensive plays (79-47), first downs (31-13), total offense (507-285), rushing yardage (300-33), time of possession (40:20 to 19:40) and third-down conversions (10 of 15 to OSU's 2 of 9).
'They controlled the ball,' Riley said. 'That's the nature of what they do. And they have a fairly efficient quarterback, too.'
Luck completed 20 of 30 passes but for only 206 yards - his second-lowest total of the season. Stanford averaged more than six yards per carry, though, tailback Stepfan Taylor leading the way with 95 yards in only 13 attempts.
'They're a balanced team,' Poyer said. 'You can't just blame it on one dimension of the game.'
Poyer was involved in perhaps the biggest play of the game.
Stanford led 14-7 late in the second quarter when a 39-yard return of a fumble for a touchdown by Poyer was nullified by penalty.
On third-and-5 from the Stanford 37, Luck connected on a short pass to Chris Owosu, who was belted by Poyer upon impact and coughed up the ball. The junior cornerback picked up the fumble and rambled 39 yards for the touchdown, but he was flagged for targeting the head on the play.
'I thought it was clean,' Poyer said. 'I felt I hit him with the shoulder. It was a bang-bang play. The ref thought it was helmet-to-helmet contact, though, and it's going to be called every time.'
Riley didn't take issue so much with the call as the rule interpretation, as officials over the last two years have been asked to pay closer attention to hits to the head.
'These calls right now are hard on everybody,' the OSU coach said. 'What used to look like a great football play is now a penalty in a lot of cases.
'It was a big play. A turnover touchdown is a huge play. Too bad we didn't get it.'
Did the call affect the game's outcome?
'It could have,' Poyer said. 'If it was a touchdown, we'd have had momentum.'
A second penalty - after Oregon State had trimmed a 17-7 halftime deficit to 17-13 and had the ball - also loomed large.
OSU's Brandin Cooks took a third-down pass and went for 25 yards into Stanford territory. A holding penalty on Markus Wheaton negated much of the gain - replays made it seem a phantom call - and after an incomplete pass on third down, the Beavers were forced to punt.
'Another big play,' Riley said. 'If indeed Markus held, it appeared it was behind the action and wasn't necessary.'
Stanford responded with a pair of touchdowns in a span of 2:05 late in the third quarter to break the game open. After an eight-play, 82-yard Stanford scoring drive, OSU quarterback Sean Mannion fumbled while being sacked and the Cardinal recovered on the Beavers' 24. Three plays later, Luck hit Coby Fleener for a 14-yard TD pass, and a potential upset was suddenly a comfortable Stanford victory.
'We are not satisfied by any means,' Luck said. 'We left a lot of plays out there.
'Give credit to Oregon State. (The Beavers) played well and are a good team. (Reser Stadium) is also a tough atmosphere to play in. We are just a little disappointed in ourselves.'
The same can be said for the Beavers - especially when they had the ball and a chance for the go-ahead score in the third quarter.
'We were thinking we had a good chance of going up on them, but we didn't finish our drive like we wanted to,' said Halahuni, who caught two passes for 63 yards including one that covered 42 yards and set up OSU's second touchdown. 'It happened to us a lot today.
'We had opportunities to make some plays and get some points on the board, but we kept stopping ourselves. We had the ball, we had a chance to go down and score and give our team a lot of momentum. We let our team down by not finishing that drive.'
Mannion completed 18 of 30 passes for 252 yards and a touchdown with one interception, despite a heavy Stanford rush that got to him three times.
'I saw mostly stuff I really liked,' Riley said of his redshirt freshman's performance. 'He had a lot of poise, and there was quite a bit of pressure. We did an OK job of protection, and he made a lot of good throws.'
Oregon State couldn't run, though, against a Stanford defense that came into the game ranked first in the Pac-12 and sixth nationally, yielding only 84.6 yards per contest.
'Stanford's a big reason for it. Then we have to look at us, and say we have to do a better job, whether it's blocking or ... blocking,' Riley said.
Luck was intercepted once in the first quarter, but the 6-4, 235-pound junior was never sacked. He did a slick job avoiding the rush and ran four times for 28 yards.
'We've seen him for three years now, and that's enough,' Riley said with a smile. 'It's hard to rattle him, and it's hard to tackle him. We had a couple of third-down situations where, had we been able to wrap him up, we could have gotten them off the field.'
Oregon State created a break on Stanford's second possession when Luck, under pressure from OSU's Andrew Seumalo and Scott Crichton, threw a pass that was intercepted by Michael Doctor at the Stanford 39. The Cardinal defense held, though, when Mannion's third-and-6 pass went through Wheaton's hands at the Stanford 10. Johnny Hekker's punt gave the Cardinal the ball back at their 8-yard line.
Stanford embarked on an 11-play, 92-yard drive that culminated with Jeremy Stewart's 2-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead on the first play of the second quarter. The Cardinal benefitted from a third-down holding penalty by OSU's Ryan Murphy in pass coverage. Luck bootlegged for 17 yards on a third-and-5 play and Owosu went 33 yards on a flanker reverse.
After an Oregon State three-and-out, Stanford went 67 yards in 13 plays. Griff Whalen beat OSU cornerback Rashaad Reynolds on a 17-yard touchdown pass and the Cardinal's lead was 14-0 with 7:51 left in the second quarter.
The Beavers answered with a five-play, 65-yard scoring drive marked by big plays. Wheaton went 21 yards on a fly sweep to get things started. Mannion hooked up with James Rodgers on a 31-yard pass to the Stanford 13. Two plays later, Mannion found Rodgers on a drag route for 15 yards and a TD that brought OSU to within 14-7 with 5:25 left before the half.
After a field goal made it 17-7, Poyer returned the kickoff 37 yards to the OSU 41, and a personal foul on the tackle gave the Beavers the ball at the Stanford 44 with 27 seconds left before the break. Mannion hit Wheaton for 16 yards, but a false start moved the Beavers back to the Stanford 33 with 10 seconds. After an incomplete pass, Trevor Romaine's 50-yard field-goal attempt was partially blocked as the clock expired.
'We blew opportunities in the first half,' Riley said. 'Maybe if we didn't score points, we could have done more with field position. Our defense got some stops, but we didn't do anything with a couple of three-and-outs. We never took off after them early. We had our shot; we didn't finish.'
Oregon State took the first possession of the third quarter and moved 66 yards in six plays, Malcolm Agnew carrying for the last two yards for the TD. But Romaine's extra point was partially blocked, leaving the Beavers trailing 17-13 with 11:59 left in the quarter.
For a minute, at least, the Cardinal were on their heels. After a pair of penalties left them with first-and-35, they went three-and-out for only the eighth time all season. After a terrific David Green punt, the Beavers, took over on their 9-yard line with a chance to gain the lead.
Then came Wheaton's penalty, an OSU punt, a pair of quick Stanford touchdowns, and it was ballgame Cardinal.
'We know we can do better than that,' Mannion said. 'We're going to work hard to become better than that.
'They're a good team, but we feel we had an opportunity to win. We were moving the ball on them at some points. It wasn't all bad. But we have to play a complete game. All of that comes down to execution. We have to put a bunch of drives together instead of having a couple of three-and-outs early.'
Riley said he is not worried about his players' attitude going into its final three games, starting with next Saturday at California.
'This team will be good,' the OSU coach said. 'I would be shocked if we don't have a great week of practice.
'We came to play today. (The Cardinal) got 500 yards, but we played some real good defense, made some great plays down the field on the ball. We tried to go toe-to-toe with them physically, and we were missing quite a few players. I was proud of them, but we can't be satisfied by that. We didn't take as big advantage of opportunities as we could have.'
NOTES - Romaine's missed PAT was his first this season. ... Owosu, down on the field for about 10 minutes with what was diagnosed as a concussion, was loaded onto a stretcher and taken off via ambulance to Good Samaritan Hospital for observation. ... Oregon State ran nine offensive plays in the first quarter, with one first down, minus-1 yard rushing and 26 yards total offense. ... Stanford had a huge advantage in total plays (44-19) and time of possession (20:46 to 9:14) in the first half. ... Luck entered the game with 23 touchdown passes and only four interceptions. ... Hekker, the national punter of the week for his performance against Utah, unleashed a 65-yarder on his first attempt in the first quarter Saturday.
Missing from Oregon State's lineup was a long list of injured players, including middle linebackers Feti Unga (calf) and Tony Wilson (hip), receiver Jordan Bishop (ankle), center Grant Johnson (ankle), guard Burke Ellis (back) and tailback Jovan Stevenson (knee) ... Stanford had scored 121 points in its previous two games, wins over Washington (65-21) and Southern Cal (56-48). ... Riley on next week's showdown between Stanford and Oregon: 'Those two teams deserve to be where they are. It will be a great matchup for our conference.' ... Stanford entered the game averaging 505.6 yards total offense and 49.5 points a game.
Stanford has now won two in a row in the series after Oregon State had emerged victorious in seven of the previous nine meetings. ... Stanford is 9-0 for the fourth time in school history. The Cardinal went to the Rose Bowl in each of the three previous seasons. ... James Rodgers, who led Oregon State with six catches for 77 yards, has 212 career receptions, one behind James Newson (213) and eight shy of Mike Hass (220) on the school list. Rodgers' TD catch was the 16th of his career, moving him into a tie with Robb Thomas for fourth on the OSU list.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Stanford 0 17 14 7 - 38
Oregon State 0 7 6 0 - 13
STAN - Jeremy Stewart 2 run (Eric Whitaker kick) 14:57.
STAN - Griff Whalen 17 pass from Andrew Luck (Whitaker kick) 7:51.
OSU - James Rodgers 15 pass from Sean Mannion (Trevor Romaine) 5:25.
STAN - Whitaker 31 field goal :35.
OSU - Malcolm Agnew 2 run (kick failed) 11:59.
STAN - Stepfan Taylor 27 pass from Luck (Whitaker kick) 2:40.
STAN - Coby Fleener 14 pass from Luck (Whitaker kick) :35.
STAN - Tyler Gaffney 10 run (Whitaker kick) 7:03.
ATT. - 42,835.