One of the keys for Stanford against Oklahoma State -- besides getting Andrew Luck to the game on time -- will be running the ball effectively. As exciting as it is to imagine an aerial shootout between Luck and Brandon Weeden, the Cardinal is intent on running the ball early and often against the Cowboys. Here's what offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton told GoStanford.com's David Kiefer:
"If we’re successful running the football, it’s going to force them to make an adjustment with their secondary and force them to bring an extra hat in the box, to bring their safeties closer to the line of scrimmage. In time that’s going to give pass catchers like Coby the ability to release at the line and get downfield on safeties and linebackers."
It's the same gameplan Stanford has used all season, and with great success. Why change things now?
As Kiefer notes, Oklahoma State ranks 84th in rushing defense, allowing 180.8 yards per game. In their worst defensive performance of the season, the Cowboys allowed a season-high 365 rushing yards to Tulsa in a 59-33 win that didn't kickoff until after midnight. Tulsa ranks 23rd in rushing offense; Stanford ranks 22nd. Oklahoma State faced four other teams that rank in the top 25 in rushing yards per game. The Cowboys went 4-0 and cruised in three of those four games, but it wasn't because they were stingy against the run:
Texas A&M: 27 carries, 162 yards (6.00 ypc)
Texas: 49 carries, 231 yards (4.71 ypc)
Missouri: 52 carries, 248 yards (4.77 ypc)
Baylor: 54 carries, 176 yards (3.26 ypc)
The best rushing defense that Stanford faced was USC and the Trojans held the Cardinal to 3.88 yards per carry. In its only loss, Stanford was held to a season-low 129 yards and 3.69 yards per carry against Oregon. The Cardinal had some success running the ball in the first half, but relied more on the passing game in the second half while playing from behind. Twenty of Stepfan Taylor's 23 carries came in the first half.
Hamilton told Kiefer that patience with the running game will be important against Oklahoma State.
"I liken it to a heavyweight fight," Hamilton said. "The body blows start to wear on our opponents over the course of the game.
Staying committed to the run could be difficult if Stanford finds itself down a couple of scores in the first half as it was against Oregon, but, based on Oklahoma State's split stats, the Cardinal's patience could be rewarded. Opponents averaged 3.91 yards per carry against Oklahoma State in the first half and 4.75 yards in the second half and overtime. While Stanford has been a more dominant running team in the first half (6.23 yards/carry), the Cardinal still averages a healthy 4.53 yards per carry and ranks 43rd in rushing yards in the second half and overtime.
Interestingly, Oklahoma State shows the opposite trend. The Cowboys average 4.71 yards per carry in the first half and 6.04 yards per carry in the second half and overtime. Stanford's defense allowed 2.51 yards per carry in the first half and 3.67 yards per carry after the break.
Wearing down Oklahoma State won't be easy. Like Oregon, OSU isn't concerned with time of possession and its defense is on the field a lot. The Cowboys' defense has played 250 more snaps than Stanford's defense. The only defense that has had more plays run against it than OSU is Southern Miss, which has played two more games than the Cowboys. Oklahoma State's passing defense is ranked even worse than its rushing defense, and Luck should have a big night, but the surest recipe for success in Glendale starts with the running game.