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Beavers the day after: 'We have to play just a little better'


A few things from the coach, and a few things from your trusty columnist, as we look both back and ahead at Oregon State (and some Oregon) football ...

• The quotes from the Beavers after Saturday’s heartbreaking 27-23 loss at Stanford were of this ilk: “We beat ourselves ... we blew it ... we gave it away.”

There was no disrespect meant to Stanford — just the reality that Oregon State had the game in its hands and let it slip away.

That part is true. The Beavers had a 23-14 lead and the ball late in the third quarter, rallying after a sorry start, and were in position to put the victory away that would probably get them to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1965.

But without four turnovers, Stanford may have won that game handily. The Cardinal had a big edge on total offense (417-312) and ran more effectively than any team has against Oregon State all season. Redshirt freshman QB Kevin Hogan was more than good in his first career start, throwing for 254 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 60 gross yards on bootlegs and scrambles.

The Beavers missed some tackles they normally make Saturday. I asked coach Mike Riley if Taylor — who rushed for 114 yards and a TD and caught two passes for 47 yards and another score — had anything to do with that.

“We weren’t real sharp defensively, at least on the first couple of drives,” Riley said. “We missed one right off the bat. We had them pinned down deep in their territory, we miss a tackle and they run through it. When they get that run game going ... we’re not the first ones they’ve run against pretty well.

“But we settled down and got better defensively as the game went along.”

Stanford’s defense — No. 1 in the nation against the run and blessed with an extraordinary front seven — made it hard for an OSU offense that was clicking only sometimes.

The Beavers needed to bring their “A” game to beat a Stanford team that has now won eight straight, and 19 of 20, at home. I’d give the visitors a “B” or a “B-minus.” That wasn’t bad — just not good enough.

“I don’t look at it like we outplayed them,” Riley said Sunday. “They outgained us. We did a lot of good things against a really good team — as solid as they come. But we made two crucial mistakes in the second half. In a tight game against a good team like that, you can’t do that.”

The first play was the drop-off pass by Hogan as he was going down under pressure to Stepfan Taylor in the left flat. Taylor juked OSU cornerback Rashaad Reynolds at the line of scrimmage, broke a couple of other tackles and beat half the Beaver defense to the end zone for a TD to bring the Cardinal within 23-21 as the third quarter ended.

“We left a back uncovered,” Riley said. “Hogan made a great play on it, and Taylor is a great back. We gave him the open field for the first time, and he’s tough in the open field.”

The second play came with the Beavers still in front 23-21 and fewer than nine minutes remaining. Vaz was in the midst of a scramble right — with some open real estate in front of him — when he pumped the ball and dropped it. Stanford recovered the fumble at the OSU 29 and, six plays later, was in the end zone with the lead.

“We gave (the Cardinal) a short field,” Riley said. “They had momentum and took advantage of it. When you consider those two plays, and some other stuff we did to ourselves — especially at the end — we didn’t play well enough to win. We have to play just a little better.”

• The biggest question moving forward is who will be at quarterback when the Beavers — now ranked 15th and 17th in the two polls — play host to California Saturday in a 7:30 p.m. matchup at Reser Stadium.

Vaz went down with an ankle injury late in the Stanford game and was on crutches as the team bus rolled into Corvallis on Saturday night. While the extent of his injury is uncertain, it would be somewhere between surprising and shocking if he were available to play against Cal. Sophomore Sean Mannion is almost certain to start.

“I’m going to wait until (Monday) and see how Cody’s coming along,” Riley said. “If there’s any question at all, it’s not a big decision anymore to go to the next guy.

“We know Sean can play, which is good for us. It’s good to have that confidence in knowing how hard he has been working and getting ready to go for the next opportunity.”

• Oregon State (7-2 overall, 5-2 in Pac-12 play) remains in position to reach either the Alamo Bowl or Holiday Bowl games. Victories over Cal and Nicholls State — not to mention a upset of the Ducks — would put the Beavers in prime position for a major bowl as well as the second 10-win season in school history.

“Oh my gosh, we have a ton to play for,” Riley said. “These last few games are for the continued identity of this team.

“We’ve played all nine games into the fourth quarter, competed hard in every game and had an opportunity to win them all. We don’t want to change that part of who we are. We want to build on it.”

• Cal, 3-8, will be playing the final game of its season — and perhaps of Jeff Tedford’s career at the school. The Bears have beaten Southern Utah (50-31), UCLA (43-17) and Washington State (31-17), the latter coming on the road. There have also been four losses by 10 or fewer points, including a 35-28 setback at Ohio State on Sept. 15.

The Bears gave the Ducks all they could handle for 2 1/2 quarters Saturday night at Strawberry Canyon before wilting under Oregon’s relentless pressure. Cal loaded the box and did an excellent job against the Ducks’ vaunted run game, with Kenyon Barner held to 65 yards on 20 carries. That left it open, however, for Oregon QB Marcus Mariota to blitz the Bears for 377 yards and six TDs through the air.

Cal’s running game is excellent, led by Isi Sofele — who carried 15 times for 134 yards and a TD against Oregon — and shifty scatback Brendan Bigelow, who has a little De’Anthony Thomas in him when he gets the ball in space. The Bears shredded the Ducks’ defense for 236 yards on the ground.

The pass attack is hampered by injuries to quarterback Zach Maynard — in the lower echelon of Pac-12 signal-callers, anyway — and star receiver Keenan Allen. Maynard’s successor, Allan Bridgford, looked overmatched against the Ducks, completing only 9 of 21 passes for 113 yards with two interceptions.

• Can Stanford give Oregon a game Saturday at Autzen Stadium?

Probably, but more likely if the game were being played on The Farm. The Cardinal are big and physical on both sides of the ball. The mobile Hogan gives them an added dimension that predecessor Josh Nunes didn’t have.

But Mariota’s effectiveness in the pass game against Cal looms ominous for Stanford, which is terrific up front but ordinary in the secondary.

• Oregon has gone through a pair of talked-about Heisman Trophy candidates in Thomas and Barner this season. But what about Mariota, who leads the nation in pass efficiency and has completed 71.7 percent of his passes — ahead of the national freshman record of 69.5 percent set by Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford?

Mariota is certainly on the radar of voters now. It wouldn’t be an upset to see him as one of the finalists at the Heisman banquet Dec. 10 at New York.

• There were some gamblers cussing a blue streak at Stanford coach David Shaw late in the Oregon State game. When the Cardinal scored a TD to go ahead 27-23 with 5:07 remaining, Shaw went for a two-point conversion (to provide a six-point cushion, which made sense) and failed.

The Las Vegas line on the game favored Stanford by 4 1/2 points. Ouch.

• THIS AND THAT: OSU outside linebacker D.J. Alexander missed most of the Stanford game with a rib contusion. Alexander had been injured in practice and tried to play, but was pulled after the first series Saturday. It was a big loss for the Beavers, who needed his speed to contain Hogan and Taylor on the outside. Alexander’s availability for Cal is questionable. ... Riley is hopeful guard Grant Enger, who missed most of the second half of the Stanford game, will be able to play against the Bears. ... Oregon State won’t hit the road again until its bowl game. The Beavers have Cal, Oregon and Nicholls State left at home. ... With four games left, Markus Wheaton has 197 career receptions and needs 26 more to pass Mike Hass and become the school’s all-time pass-catcher.

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Twitter: @kerryeggers