Define: Safe Catch; Controversy!; UCLA -- Bwahahahaha!

Stepfan Taylor does his best Joseph Fauria imitation in Corvallis.

Well, at least Andrew Luck and the senior starters got a win in the state of Oregon.  There's always that.

In another game that had Stanford fans go "What now?", the Stanford Cardinal defeated the Oregon State Beavers for the second year in a row behind over 500 yards of offense and brutal injuries to key players.

While much of the discussion (rightly) surrounds what should be done with Chris Owusu for the remainder of the season, including next Saturday's historic game, we would be remiss to discuss that there actually was a football game played in Corvallis.

So what happened when Stanford met up with OSU in the cold, rainy confines of Reser Stadium Saturday?

Stanford came into this game with every single person labeling this a "trap" game.  The Cardinal was coming off an emotional triple overtime win in Los Angeles the week before and has what many are considering the biggest game of the conference this year coming up next week in Palo Alto against Oregon.  Combine that with OSU's propensity to host top ten teams and gleefully destroy said team's championship hopes and you had a recipe for a disappointing performance against the Beavers.

And, for perhaps one half, it was disappointing.

Head coach David Shaw said so himself: Stanford played a 30-minute game, and for the most part did not improve from last week.  If anything, Stanford regressed in almost every area of play.  Defensively, the secondary had difficulty again covering receivers while Jacquizz James Rodgers ran over, under, and around Stanford's D-Line in a bad omen for Stanford's defense facing the Duck's stellar running back LaMichael James next weekend.  On special teams, fouls again gave the opposition better field position than what it should have been while Pac-12 officiating again showed its ugly face in whistling down a Drew Terrell catch as safe when replays showed that Terrell never raised his hand above his head (he only pointed out to his teammates the coverage).

And then on offense, Andrew Luck again had an "off" game.  For the first half, Luck threw bad balls, couldn't get the ball out of his hands effectively when being hurried, and most egregiously, threw his fifth interception of the season on a very poor short throw down the middle.  In fact, Luck was very lucky he didn't have more interceptions as several of his throws went straight into Beaver defenders that were fortunately dropped.  As to whether or not this was due to good OSU coverage or Luck just making several bad decisions in the opening 30 minutes is debatable, but it wasn't a great first half.  Even though Stanford was able to score 17 points through two quarters and held OSU to only a touchdown, the converse of this is that the Cardinal was held scoreless in the first quarter for the first time this season, there was an interception, a more-porous-than-usual run defense, and a funky FG attempt by the Beavers to close the half.

But far be it that Stanford was terrible the entire game.  In some ways, this game featured more adversity for Stanford than last week's USC game.  Going into the half, the Cardinal watched helplessly as Owusu was taken by ambulance out of the stadium, Levine Toilolo was carted to the locker room, and faced the daunting prospect of completing a game with a team already stretched thin by the losses to injury to Delano Howell, Shayne Skov, Zach Ertz, and Jordan Williamson.  The fact that Stanford was able to keep the score 17-7 at the half probably is considered something short of a miracle to some people given Stanford's injurous misfortunes going into the locker room.

True to early season form, though, Stanford came out in the second half with a renewed resolve.  Despite allowing an early Beaver touchdown, Ben Gardner was able to block the ensuing PAT, keeping the Beavers from making it a game separated by only a FG.  From there, the effort that many non-Stanford observers would expect out of a fourth ranked team took over as Luck and crew were able to extend Stanford's lead to the end of the game to 25 points even without two of his biggest receivers (Owusu and Toilolo) while the defense wore out Sean Mannion's offense, keeping them scoreless for the remainder of the game.

Stanford now faces one of the biggest games in its history on the Farm this week against the Oregon Ducks.  Earlier in October, more than a few people gave Stanford a fighting chance to beat the Ducks at home for the second time in three years.  Oregon had its own injury issues to contend with in the form of James' elbow and QB Darron Thomas' knees.  However, since those issues, the Ducks have shown the depth of their roster by proceeding to continue on its winning ways against ASU, CU, WSU, and most recently, ruining the closing of Husky Stadium in Washington.  While Oregon has not been scoring as aggressively or as often as last year (in addition to their margin of victory diminishing considerably, save for the CU game), they have shown a steely resolve that should worry Stanford, USC, and OSU, the Ducks' remaining opponents.  Meanwhile, Stanford has struggled in its games since Washington State, making what was once a coin-flip game into more of a game that may favor Oregon.  Even the blowout against Washington saw Stanford gift Chris Polk 142 yards -- in the first half.

The Cardinal, though, now have an opportunity to show that they are a better team to a national audience.  With ESPN's College GameDay making its first trip to Palo Alto, Stanford has the chance to show the nation that this isn't just a school with brainy kids who excel in everything except football.  To do it, though, David Shaw and the Cardinal will need the best efforts of every person on the team in addition to hoping for the best for those players who have been listed as questionable after injury prior to the OSU game.  If Stanford can beat the Ducks, it will remain in the discussion for a national championship berth.  If it doesn't, while the Fiesta Bowl remains a possibility (as does the Rose Bowl if the Ducks lose to USC or OSU), the chances of an Alamo Bowl appearance increase exponentially, which would be disappointing to say the least for many Stanford fans.  And these are the same fans who only three years ago were clamoring for any bowl appearance.

Understandably, there is a significant concern about Chris Owusu and his future football career at Stanford.  For more discussion on that, check out both Scott's and RickySteal's posts.  There's already enough discussion about it (and Shaw's quizzical comments) elsewhere that bringing it up here is redundant.  However, Stanford fans now have another problem on their hands.  In tonight's BCS rankings, Stanford didn't change its ranking of #4.  Why is this an issue?  Because a team ahead of it (Alabama) lost and still is ahead of undefeated Stanford.  Now that throws a wrinkle in Stanford's hopes for a national championship appearance.  Although it was assumed that with one of the undefeated teams in the purported "Game of the Century" losing Saturday night that Stanford was assured of at least a #3 position, Alabama's strength of schedule kept them ahead in the computers, and ultimately in the overall rankings.  This is primarily due to the Tide defeating fellow top-10 team Arkansas earlier in the season.  Now if Stanford defeats Oregon this coming week (a big if), not only does it have to hope to beat Cal and Notre Dame as well as hope that Oklahoma State lose to someone (curses, K-State!), it has to hope that Oregon defeats USC and Oregon State at home in order to make a potential Stanford win more "appealing" to the computers.  Otherwise, Stanford's strength of schedule takes a significant hit and could remain behind Alabama, even if Oklahoma State loses and the Cardinal win out.  It's all very confusing to those of us new to the BCS ranking system, but for simplicity's sake, the following events will result in the "best case scenario" for Stanford.
  • Stanford wins out (including against Oregon)
  • Oklahoma State loses at least one game
  • Oregon defeats both USC and OSU
  • Whoever wins the Pac-12 South has more than six wins (improves the quality of the Pac-12 Championship game)

Like I said, it is confusing and perhaps more than a little frustrating.  But it can be done, and it all starts with the red-letter game that has been anticipated since last January.  Otherwise, if Stanford loses this coming Saturday, all this conjecture will be for naught and the true success of Stanford's season will be questioned for many years to come.

Stanford 38, Oregon State 13

Star-divide


There are only three weeks remaining in the regular season in the Pac-12 (where did the season go?) and as expected, Stanford and Oregon are battling it out for North division supremacy.  But look who's on top in the South...

USC 42, Colorado 17 -- It's been a dismal autumn for Buffalo fans as CU dropped another game, this time against the Trojans.  While the prospect of going winless at home and in the conference remains a very real possibility for Jon Embree's club, USC recovered quite nicely from its loss against Stanford.  QB Matt Barkley threw a school record six touchdown passes against the Buffs.
Washington State 7, California 30 -- Cal's hot-and-cold play continued this week as Zach Maynard followed up a dismal UCLA performance with a stellar game against the Cougs, propelling the Golden Bears to one game shy of bowl eligibility a week before facing OSU.  The happy feelings that Wazzu fans had at the beginning of the season are now gone, however, facing three must-win games in order to achieve bowl eligibility.  With a schedule that includes Washington, ASU, and Utah, though, head coach Paul Wulff's tenure in the Palouse may be drawing to a close rather shortly.
Utah 34, Arizona 21 -- It took almost ten weeks, but it seems that the Utes are finally comfortable with who they are as a team, where they stand in the Pac-12, and what it takes to win (not turn over the ball).  The Utes played what may have been their second best Pac-12 game of the season behind a 34 point effort in Tucson.  Arizona, meanwhile, is bowl-ineligible after suffering their seventh loss of the season, just one year removed from a third place Pac-10 finish and Alamo Bowl appearance.
Arizona State 28, UCLA 29 -- If you were to look up conundrum in the dictionary, a UCLA Bruin's picture would be right next to it.  After UCLA scored with 49 ticks of the clock remaining in the fourth quarter (and failing on the two-point conversion afterward), ASU's Alex Garoutte missed a 46-yard FG as time expired as the Sun Devils fell to the Bruins and now sit behind UCLA in the Pac-12 South.  Think about that for a second.  For UCLA fans, the hypothetical is now almost the reality: if the Bruins can win against Utah (to reach bowl-eligibility) and Colorado and upset the Trojans to win the South Division, do UCLA fans still cry for the head of the very coach who won them their first division title, bowl game appearance since 2009, USC win since 2006, and the chance to play for the Rose Bowl in a one-game playoff?
Oregon 34, Washington 17 -- This was supposed to be the game that the Huskies were to come out with all they had and upset the Ducks to close Husky Stadium before its $250M renovation on a good note.  Instead, dropped throws and other Washington mistakes allowed Oregon to double the score on the Huskies, sending UDub fans out of the stadium with a bitter taste in their mouth for the eighth consecutive year.  Oregon's win now sets up what could be the deciding game of the Pac-12 North against Stanford.

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