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Mike Riley: Stanford is next 'Super Bowl' for Oregon State

Beavers coach dissects Cardinal game, win over Arizona State


Life in the bubble moves on for Oregon State as it heads south for the biggest game of the year Saturday at Stanford.

Sound familiar?

The mindset going into last Saturday’s 36-26 win over Arizona State was that it was OSU’s most important game of the season, too. A loss would have sent the Beavers to Stanford on a two-game losing streak with no chance at the Rose Bowl or BCS bowl game.

Now, the Beavers (7-1 overall, 5-1 in Pac-12 play) are sitting well — ranked 11th in the BCS standings and 12th (Associated Press) and 13th (USA Today) in the polls.

Every bit as much is riding on Saturday’s visit to Stanford (7-2, 5-1). The winner remains in the hunt for the Pac-12 North championship and in the major bowl picture. The loser is looking at something decidedly less attractive.

“I guess it is,” OSU coach Mike Riley said Sunday with a chuckle when asked if the Stanford game is the season’s biggest. “But it always feels like the next game is the biggest one.

“I feel like all the games are the Super Bowl. Everybody in sports understands as you go along in a season where you’re doing pretty well, the games get bigger.”

Oregon State experienced that in 2008 and ‘09 when it was in the Rose Bowl picture until the final Civil War Game — only to have the Ducks knock them out of it both years.

Even without quarterback Andrew Luck, Stanford — ranked 14th in the BCS and 15th and 16th in the polls — fields a formidable team for any opponent this season. The Cardinal have lost only to Washington and in overtime to Notre Dame, both on the road.

Oregon State and Stanford are similar teams in a lot of ways.

“Style-wise, for sure,” Riley said.

Both feature pro-style offenses, though Stanford’s is more run-oriented with senior tailback Stepfan Taylor, who ranks fifth in the conference with 818 yards and eight TDs on the ground.

Oregon State’s main weapons are wideouts Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks, while Stanford’s top receiving targets are senior tight ends Levine Toilolo (6-8, 265) and Zach Ertz (6-6, 250).

Oregon State ranks sixth in the Pac-12 in total offense (420.8 yards per ame) while Stanford is ninth (350.8).

Saturday’s foes field probably the top two defenses in the Pac-12.

Stanford and Oregon State rank 1-2 in the conference in scoring defense (16.6, 18.1 points allowed per game) and rush defense (57.6, 91.8 yards given up per game). Oregon State and Stanford rank 1-3 in opponents’ third-down conversion percentage (24.1, 32.3). In total defense, Stanford ranks first (310.6) and Oregon State fourth (339.0). In opponents’ first downs per game, Stanford ranks second (17.4) and Oregon State fourth (18.9).

Nationally, Stanford ranks first and Oregon State fifth in rush defense. Oregon State ranks second and Stanford 15th in opponents’ third-down conversion percentage. Stanford ranks 12th and OSU 19th in scoring defense.

Stanford’s defense absolutely stoned Colorado in a 49-0 victory last Saturday at Boulder. The woeful Buffaloes managed six first downs and 76 yards total offense. The Cardinal had seven sacks and held the Buffaloes to minus-21 net rushing yardage.

Kevin Hogan likely will be making his first start at quarterback Saturday against OSU. The 6-4, 225-pound redshirt freshman entered last Saturday’s game at Colorado on Stanford’s third offensive possession — by design, though he was only supposed to play a series or two — in place of senior starter Josh Nunues.

But Hogan, who had seen only sparse action in four previous outings, was so productive he played most of the way. He rushed seven times for 48 yards — including a 20-yard scramble on third-and-9 — and completed 18 of 23 passes for 184 yards and a pair of TDs in a 49-0 victory.

“You see the mobility,” Stanford coach David Shaw told reporters afterward. “It’s not just his scrambling ability for a couple of yards. He’s fast. He’s athletic. He can throw on the move to the left or the right. You saw him push up in the pocket and find his check-downs. I can’t find a lot of negatives in what he did today. I’m very impressed.”

Shaw played coy when asked if Hogan will start against the Beavers, saying only, “You’ll see a whole lot of Kevin Hogan.”

Oregon State and Stanford have similar results against common opponents this season.

Both teams lost at Washington, both beat Arizona (OSU 38-35, Stanford 54-48 in overtime) and Washington State (OSU 19-6, Stanford 24-17).

Stanford has the tougher remaining schedule, facing road games at Oregon and UCLA to close the season. Oregon State has three home games left — California, Oregon and FCS foe Nicholls State should the Beavers not be in the Pac-12 championship game.

A victory Saturday would be huge for the Men in Orange. But you’ve heard that before.

More on Oregon State ...

• The quarterback’s start was ominous and his full-game stats were so-so, but Riley gave Cody Vaz a thumbs-up for his performance against a very aggressive Arizona State defense. Vaz was sacked six times — five in the first half — and was 1 for 7 passing in the first quarter.

“Cody played well,” Riley said. “Boy, did he get hit a number of times. The game started out so badly. You worry about a guy getting rattled by it all. Gosh, he hung in there and still made some throws. With all the blitzing, he just had to hit some shots downfield, and he did.”

ASU’s defense, with stud linemen Will Sutton and Junior Onyeali returning from injuries, “blitzed more than anybody we’ve played,” Riley said. “They are extremely fast and talented up front. Against a team like that, you might get some bad plays, but you might hit some big ones. We got enough of those to win.”

Riley said he never thought about replacing Vaz with Sean Mannion, who had started the Washington game.

“When I know what’s going on with the protection, I’m reluctant to bust a guy in a situation like that,” the OSU coach said. “It wasn’t anything to do with Cody at all. He almost got killed a couple of times. He just got racked.”

Oregon State blocked well enough to rush for 227 yards minus the 70 yards in sacks.

“Against that front, which is as good as we’ve seen, we blocked some runs real well and stayed after it,” Riley said. “We lost big-time some one-on-one battles in pass protection. Twice, we got beaten badly. But overall, the O-line did OK.”

• Riley is pleased with Mannion’s attitude about his demotion.

“Sean is such a good kid,” the OSU coach said. “All week, he just went to work, doing everything he normally does, which was neat to see. He is continuing to compete.”

• In the first quarter, Vaz never saw a wide-open Caleb Smith on a play that could have been an easy touchdown, instead throwing an incompletion to Connor Hamlett.

"We used Caleb as a decoy on that play to draw the coverage,” Riley said. “We sent Connor on a delay up the seam behind him. He was the intended receiver, and Cody was anticipating reading (the cornerback) and finding Connor. Even so, if you see a guy open (like Smith), you have to throw to him. Cody just never saw him.”

• Sophomore tailback Terron Ward’s career night could have been even bigger had not a 6-yard TD run been nullified by a holding penalty against tackle Colin Kelly.

“I don’t think that was a good call,” Riley said. “Colin pancaked the guy and his hands were inside.”

• Riley’s goal for his offense is 150 yards rushing per game. Oregon State has been far short of that with a 114.7-yard average, 10th in the conference with 917 yards in eight games.

Even so, it’s a big improvement over last season, when the Beavers gained only 1,043 in 12 games — and that included 266 yards in the opener against FCS foe Sacramento State. In only three other games did the Beavers reach triple figures, and seven times they were under 60 yards.

• Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly entered the game as the Pac-12’s top-ranked passer, but the sophomore managed only 153 yards through the air. And he was running for his life in the second half as the Beavers amped up the pressure. The Devils were 4 for 17 on third down.

“We played outstanding defense,” Riley said. “It took us awhile to get a handle on (the Sun Devils), but as the game went on, we did better on first down and got a lot of good individual pressure up front.”

• Riley was thrilled with the performance of Ward and cornerback Sean Martin in place of injured Storm Woods and Jordan Poyer, who were both held out of the game with sore knees. The OSU coach is hopeful both Woods and Poyer will be able to go Saturday at Stanford.

“I’m really glad we held both of those guys out and were still able to win,” Riley said. “Terron was terrific, and Sean played pretty darn well. This is the first year he has been healthy for an extended period of time. I liked everything about him out there Saturday night. He really competed.”

• Even with a missed extra point, it was probably the best career game for sophomore Trevor Romaine, who was 3 for 3 on field-goal attempts and got touchbacks on five of his eight kickoffs. His 45-yard field goal as time expired in the first half — to tie the game at 19-19 — cleared the upright by at least 10 yards.

“That was a major-league kick,” Riley said. “And the last one (from 33 yards late in the third quarter) put us up by two scores. Those were clutch.”

Romaine has made 10 of 12 field-goal attempts this season, the best percentage in the Pac-12.

• THIS AND THAT: Riley refused comment, but it appeared the sideline unsportsmanlike conduct penalty called against OSU in the first half was on defensive coordinator Mark Banker, who apparently irritated an official by being on the field more than once. ... Wheaton and Cooks continue to be among the Pac-12 leaders in receiving and all-purpose categories. Wheaton (54 catches, 787 yards, eight TDs) ranks second in receptions and fourth in receiving yardage. Cooks (50 catches, 906 yards, four TDs) ranks sixth in receptions and second in receiving yardage. They rank 6-7 in the league in all-purpose yardage. ... Wheaton now ranks fourth on the OSU career list in receptions (190), fifth in receiving yardage (2,537), tied for ninth in TD catches (13) and fourth in 100-yard receiving games (nine). He needs 33 catches to pass James Rodgers and become No. 1 on the career list, with at least five games to play. ... Wheaton had only one TD catch all of last season. ... In the latest BCS standings, Oregon State trails, in order, Alabama, Kansas State, Oregon, Notre Dame, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana State, South Carolina and Florida State. Stanford is 14th, UCLA 18th and Southern Cal 19th. ... Stanford leads the Pac-12 in fewest sacks allowed with only 11 in nine games.