Against the Washington Huskies, the Stanford Cardinal’s leading receiver (JJ Arcega-Whiteside) left the field on a golf cart with an ankle injury, and with him went 754 yards and 11 scores. So where does that leave Stanford, headed into their game against the Oregon State Beavers?
Arcega-Whiteside has been the most productive piece of the Cardinal offense this season, dusting the stats of highly anticipated players like Bryce Love or Osiris St. Brown. He leads the team in yards, receptions (48), and touchdowns. Arcega-Whiteside also has the most yards per reception (15.7) of any receiver with double-digit snags. Not only was he a deep threat, but the former basketball star was also a monster in the red zone, boxing out defenders and coming away with more scores than even the running backs from inside the 20.
Tight end Kaden Smith has been nearly as productive in yardage but has only found the end zone twice, while the other tight end (Colby Parkinson) has been solid in the red zone with three scores, but has just 17 catches on the season. Trenton Irwin has been at his best as the third option, eating one-on-one matchups but unable to oppress a defense. St. Brown has been disappointing in production, with only 152 yards on seven receptions. The middle child from the HBO football family has been wildly inconsistent, able to take the top off a defense but failing to do so more often than not. As Stanford prepares for Oregon State, going 1-4 over the last five games, the Cardinal find themselves desperately in need of a fast start and a victory.
The Beavers have surrendered 4,832 yards this season, ranking them 127th out of 130 squads around the country. They relent 44.8 points per game and an average of 537 total yards per game. Oregon State is really, truly, terrible on defense. Yards and points will be there for the taking; the Cardinal need to get up and seize them.
What the Cardinal need -
It would be perfect if St. Brown pounced on Arcega-Whiteside’s absence, using the hole left to explode for the Cardinal and stabilize the receiving core. But expecting a player with seven catches through nine outings is a far-fetched pipe dream.
Stanford can more safely rely on Smith to take over the night, already recording 44 receptions and 601 yards this season. Smith has shown he is the fail safe for quarterback K.J. Costello and will be critical filling in for the signal caller’s favorite target.
Connor Wedington’s addition could also add stability to the offense, returning to the lineup after missing seven straight before his return last weekend. The Washington Huskies was the first action the versatile receiver had seen in two months but was able to reel in three catches for 30 yards upon re-entering the lineup. His presence will give the Cardinal depth and speedy option underneath longer routes from Irwin and Smith.
The ground game can also play a significant role this weekend, with an excellent opportunity to find a rhythm against a squad that allows over 200 rushing yards every contest. Love and Cameron Scarlett can shred the Beavers, giving the Cardinal the first reliable running attack since the USC game in week two. Despite the disappointments from the ground game this season, Love is still averaging 4.4 yards per carry headed into a matchup with a sieve of a front seven.
Against Oregon State, the Cardinal should find answers to help carry the load left by Arcega-Whiteside’s injury, with the bounty of options around Costello. The solution will be spreading the ball around to the deep receiving corps, finding balance via the ground game and starting a rhythm early at home versus Oregon State.