The Beavers of Oregon State make their way south out of Corvallis to meet Stanford in Palo Alto on Saturday afternoon. Although their 2-6 record is less than impressive on the surface, Oregon State could have a couple of surprises in store for the Cardinal could experience in all facets of the game. Here are three matchups to watch for in this weekend's tilt.
Stanford's run defense vs. Oregon State running back Ryan Nall
Because of injuries to quarterbacks Darrell Garretson and Conor Blount, the Beavers have committed to feeding their home-run hitter at running back, Ryan Nall, as evidenced in this 80-yard touchdown run against Cal earlier this season.
The key, as you can see, will be stacking the box and keeping Nall, OSU's leading scorer, inside the tackles when he is handed the ball. That onus will fall mostly on Thomas, who has been a monster off the edge for the Cardinal. Though pressure on QB Marcus McMaryion will need to come from everyone, Thomas is the best candidate for a pretty disruptive party in the backfield on Saturday.
Stanford wide receiver Michael Rector vs. Oregon State cornerback Treston Decoud
Rector has seen a sharp decline in targets, as evidenced by his lone 13-yard catch against Arizona last weekend. Unfortunately, he may be in for more of the same treatment, as he faces Decoud and the Beavers' 60th-ranked pass defense head-on.
According to Pro Football Focus, opposing quarterbacks had only challenged the JUCO transfer 39 times, only completing 16 (as of two weeks ago). Decoud only allowed Cal big-play threat Chad Hansen four catches for 16 yards on 11 targets (very well below his season averages). He also has the hands and speed to match Rector, and will not hesitate to turn on the jets if he catches the ball and sees open grass at Stanford Stadium.
If that clip showed anything, it was that this pass defense is not to be toyed with. In other words, If the speedster Rector can't find his feet in the vertical passing game, then Keller Chryst may struggle to beat the Beaver secondary with his cannon of an arm down the field.
Stanford punter Jake Bailey vs. Oregon State kick returner Victor Bolden
Though no one may be talking about this matchup, it may be the biggest of them all. Both quarterbacks still developing decision-making and play-calling skills, special teams (a.k.a. the battle for offensive field position) becomes even more critical.
If there were a Heisman trophy awarded to the nation's best specialist, Bailey would be the unanimous choice. The sophomore with the golden right boot has boomed 33 punts for almost 1500 yards in distance, often pinning opposing teams inside their own 20 yard-line.
However, Bailey and Conrad Ukropina will be kicking to Bolden, who has racked up 440 yards and one score as OSU's primary kick returner. Keeping the ball out of his hands could ensure a better start for the defense.