Welcome back to The Vault. A look back at a familiar 2012:
2012 was a pivotal season for the Stanford Cardinal. Andrew Luck had graduated and left Stanford fans wondering if the team would slide back into irrelevance as the talent base pooled by Jim Harbaugh cycled out of the program. The first half of the season did little to dispel those fears. The offense sputtered under Josh Nunes and the Cardinal failed to score more than 24 points in all but two games throughout September and October. A very strong defense bailed Stanford out most of the time, but the Cardinal scored just 13 points in losses to both Washington and Notre Dame which indicated that a change was needed.
Shaw stuck by Nunes until the end of October, when he subbed in redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan after two possessions against Colorado. Hogan played brilliantly and Stanford rolled to a 48-0 win over the Buffaloes. However, Colorado wasn’t much of an opponent. The hapless Buffs finished the season 1-11 and head coach Jon Embree was fired. Hogan was essentially untested going into a very rugged final three games to end the season, starting with the Oregon State Beavers.
No matter how awkward the multiple entrances and exits that Mike Riley made at Corvallis, his tenure will be remembered fondly by Oregon State fans. He was the one who finally built a winner out of the traditional punching bag of the PAC-10. The 2000’s will be remembered as a high water mark for sustained success at OSU and it is all thanks to Riley (with an assist from Dennis Erickson for that Fiesta Bowl win). The Beavers were especially strong in the mid-2000’s, finishing third in the conference twice in a row and then second twice in a row from 2006 to 2009. As has always been the case, it doesn’t take much for Oregon State to fall behind, and in 2010 and 2011 the Beavers finally crashed back to earth. OSU had a combined 8-16 record in the two years after they went to four straight bowl games.
2012 was different. Oregon State was experienced and led by redshirt sophomore Sean Mannion. Mannion would leave Corvallis as the all-time PAC-12 leader in passing yards. The Beavers started the season unranked, but after two consecutive upsets to Wisconsin and UCLA, they entered the polls and eventually climbed all the way to 8th in the country. Mannion had injured his knee in a win over Washington State and Cody Vaz took over for the next month. Vaz and Mannion split time when Oregon State finally lost their first game to Washington by a field goal, the same Washington that had beaten Stanford earlier in the year. OSU entered the game with a 7-1 record against Stanford’s 7-2 mark.
The game was held on November 10th at Stanford Stadium. #13 Oregon State was tied with #16 Stanford behind undefeated Oregon in the PAC-12 North race. A win would help each team keep the pace as they tried to reach the seemingly uncatchable Ducks. Vaz was named the starter for the Beavers. It was to be Stanford’s last home game of the regular season, as they traveled to both Oregon and UCLA to end the year.
The 2012 meeting between Stanford and Oregon State was a big mess. It started messy and it ended messy with some flashes of brilliance coming from both teams in between.
Just three plays into the game, Stanford’s Zach Ertz fumbled the ball on the Cardinal 46 yard line, giving Oregon State possession past midfield. The Stanford defense corralled Beaver running back Storm Woods and OSU was forced to punt without gaining a first down. The Cardinal got back on track during their second drive, and executed their patented long, slow touchdown drive. 6 minutes, 40 seconds, and 13 plays later Stepfan Taylor barreled through the endzone to put Stanford on the board first. Oregon State was forced to punt a second time, and the Cardinal scored a second time to take a 14-0 lead as the first quarter ended.
It was suddenly the Beavers’ turn to control the ball. As the second quarter got underway, Cody Vaz and Storm Woods marched Oregon State down the field and Terron Ward ran seven yards into the endzone to halve the Stanford lead. The Cardinal had to punt on their next possession and the Beavers managed to bring the ball all the way to the Stanford 3 yard line before being forced to kick a field goal. The defense would continue to bail out the Cardinal. Stepfan Taylor fumbled the ball on OSU’s 26 but the damage was limited to a three and out. Stanford got the ball back with little time left in the half and Jordan Williamson missed his 51 yard field goal attempt. The score was 14-10 Stanford as both sides headed back into the locker room. The contest was very much undecided and both teams were disappointed with how they were blowing chances to take a significant lead.
Oregon State made a statement in the third quarter. The Beavers again advanced down the field and Cody Vaz connected with Markus Wheaton for a 22 yard passing touchdown. OSU took their first lead of the game. Three plays into Stanford’s first possession, Kevin Hogan threw the first interception of his career, giving Oregon State the ball on the Cardinal 29. With another heroic performance, the defense didn’t allow a first down, limiting the damage to a field goal. Following a Stanford three-and-out, the Beavers tacked on another field goal, owning a 23-14 advantage. The Cardinal finally got things underway as the third quarter drew to a close. Hogan connected with Ty Montgomery for a 40 yard touchdown pass, bringing the Cardinal within a field goal as the fourth quarter began.
Oregon State got into Stanford territory but the Beavers were forced to punt the ball away. Stanford moved quickly across midfield but on 3rd and 9 Hogan was again intercepted. It was the Cardinal’s fourth turnover and Hogan’s second interception. This time luck would be on Stanford’s side as Vaz fumbled the ball on OSU’s second play and Josh Mauro recovered it on the Beavers’ 29. With the short field, Kevin Hogan found Zach Ertz in the endzone and Stanford was able to retake the lead with five minutes left. The Cardinal then did what they do best: squeeze the life out of an overmatched opponent. Oregon State was once again forced to punt the ball away, and the Beavers blew all of their timeouts preventing Stanford from running down the clock. It didn’t matter. Oregon State got the ball back with 3:41 left in the game but they didn’t make it past their own 35 yard line. On 4th and 16, Mike Riley put in Sean Mannion for the first time all game. The phenom threw an incomplete pass to give Stanford the ball and the win.
Stanford’s victory was just a taste of what to come. The defense that held fast through four turnovers against Oregon State rose to the challenge the very next week, holding one of the best offenses in college football to 14 points in overtime when the Cardinal sank #1 Oregon in Eugene. Stanford then won at UCLA, and beat the Bruins in a rematch for the PAC-12 Championship. The unheralded Kevin Hogan would end up winning more games at Stanford than any quarterback in program history and bring the Cardinal to three Rose Bowls. His fantastic run officially started that night against Oregon State and it would take him to the NFL.
The Beavers ended up losing to archrival Oregon at the end of the season and then to Texas in the Alamo Bowl. They finished the year 9-4 and 20th in the AP Poll. It was a triumphant comeback from their previous two seasons, but they probably thought that they left a couple wins on the table including the matchup against Stanford. Oregon State hasn’t finished in the top 25 since the 2012 season.