Stanford football back and forth: Oregon State

Oct. 24, 2013, 11:21 p.m.

In advance of Saturday’s football game between Stanford and Oregon State, The Daily’s Winston Shi chatted with Andrew Kilstrom of The Daily Barometer, Oregon State’s student newspaper, to get perspective from both camps. Below is a partial transcript of their conversation.

Winston Shi (WS): Oregon State has one loss. What happened with Eastern Washington?

Junior Wayne Lyons (bottom) and fellow corner Alex Carter will be tasked with shutting down the best statistical passing attack in the nation. (SIMON WARBY/The Stanford Daily)
Junior Wayne Lyons (bottom) and fellow corner Alex Carter will be tasked with shutting down the best statistical passing attack in the nation. (SIMON WARBY/The Stanford Daily)

Andrew Kilstrom (AK): Last time Oregon State lost to an FCS team was in 2011, when it dropped its opener to Sacramento State. That OSU team ended up finishing 3-9, so it was full-blown panic mode in Corvallis. What it came down to was an injured defense that wasn’t ready for a live test. OSU kept Eastern Washington off the scoreboard on only one possession the entire game. Since then the defense has been progressively better, is as healthy as it’s been and looks to be formidable at this point. So what it really comes down to is just experience and getting everything in sync, I’d say. That’s the word from defensive coordinator Mike Banker and the defense, at least.

WS: Do you think that OSU’s front seven has the talent and the depth up front to match Stanford’s offensive line?

AK: Good question. I think the starters definitely do. There’s a ton of speed and even some NFL talent there. Scott Chrichton is going to be drafted in the first round, Dylan Wynn is a stud and D.J. Alexander is one of the most talented players in the conference. The depth is a huge area of concern, however. After the first unit, it’s pretty thin. OSU has managed good pressure all year, and is defending the run well as of late, but can be vulnerable. The Beavers can hang for a while, but whether they can hold for four quarters is a different story. Stanford is by far OSU’s best competition it’s faced all year.

Similar to your first question: What happened against Utah, a team I think everyone would agree the Cardinal is much better than?

WS: Honestly, the entire team came out flat. It had just been in a dogfight with a Washington team that was playing some of the best football in the country, and it’s a pity that Washington started unraveling somewhere in the third quarter against Oregon. Everything went wrong: A depleted defensive line couldn’t get enough push, the pass coverage was soft, the secondary seemed confused and the offense was getting pushed around in pass protection. It was a trap game. Utah’s a good team, much better than its record (controlling for turnovers they’re not as bad of a loss); Stanford was on the verge of beating the Utes anyway.

I should also mention that Utah’s got a great home-field advantage. Trent Murphy said after the game that the team wasn’t taken off guard by the thin air, but seeing as Stanford took a while to get off its feet and that it eventually rallied in the second half, I’m not sure I’d agree.

How are the Beavers doing in a post-Jordan Poyer world? Can they match up with Stanford’s wideouts?

AK: Junior-college transfer Steven Nelson has filled in for Poyer at corner, with senior Sean Martin filling in at the nickel position Poyer loved. Nelson has been great for the Beavers all year. He was shaky at best in the first two games, but Banker and Riley attributed it to nerves and getting acclimated to D1 football. Since, he’s intercepted five passes, tied for first in the nation. He also had the game-winning pick-six against SDSU a few weeks ago. Ryan Murphy and Tyrequek Zimmerman were both starters last season, so it’s a talented and experienced bunch. They give up yards, but are fourth in the nation in interceptions as a unit last time I checked. Stanford has some great wideouts — that highlight TD from Saturday was absolutely incredible — but I like the secondary’s chances in coverage overall.

Quarterback Sean Mannion and receiver Brandin Cooks have been the talk of Corvallis this season, leading the nation in every major category. Does Stanford have an answer for them?

WS: I have to respect the production that Mannion and Cooks have racked up, and if the Beaver defense can hold up — we’ll see about that on game day — then the focus is going to be on the other side of the ball. Stanford’s got a great secondary. Safeties Jordan Richards and Ed Reynolds might be the best in the country — they’re absolutely lethal covering the deep posts that passing coaches love, and they’re typically solid in run support as well. CB Alex Carter won the starting job midway through last season and ran with it — he’s tough and physical. Opposite him, Wayne Lyons gets picked on almost out of necessity, but if Lyons is the one getting picked on Stanford’s doing pretty well.

Sometimes Stanford has issues covering the seams in its Cover 2, but the coverage was pretty darn good against UCLA when Stanford held the Bruins to about a fifth of their scoring average. Stanford plays really conservatively and its soft zone coverage can be infuriating at times, but if you don’t give up the big play the offense typically sputters to a halt — interceptions, fumbles, penalties, sacks. The coverage forced multiple sacks and once the opponent is in a clear passing situation the pass rush is absolutely lethal. Stanford’s sacks tend to come in bunches, really.

Going off of that, Mannion’s been doing really well. Last year he was fighting for his starting job. What happened?

AK: The reason for the Mannion/Vaz quarterback controversy is really all speculation. Riley never came out and definitively said why there was a controversy at all. I know that I and all the media I’ve ever talked to thought Mannion should have been the guy all along. He had all the physical tools — many of which Vaz lacked — was younger and had proven he could win and be elite. The only question was his decision making. Riley said it was an open competition all spring and fall, but I had a hunch a whole time it was just for show. I don’t have any sources or reason to know that, but I think Mannion was secretly the guy all along. He’s proven to be the right guy, without question. He’s first in the nation in yards (2,900-plus), touchdowns (29) and has thrown only three interceptions. He’s already tied OSU’s single-season touchdown record and is a couple games from breaking the yards record. Really, he couldn’t have played any better up to this point. Even against Eastern Washington — the Beavers’ lone loss — he threw for 400-plus yards and four TDs, with zero interceptions. And he’s been clutch at the end of games, engineering two fourth-quarter comebacks. I couldn’t tell you why Vaz was ever considered, outside of one stellar game against BYU last year, honestly.

WS: Wow, that’s very interesting. What’s up with Storm Woods? He had a really good 2012, but he’s just averaging 3.0 yards per carry this year, and his longest run is 9 yards. Is it all due to his concussion?

AK: It’s much more an offensive line problem than a Storm Woods problem. Going into last Saturday’s game — I haven’t checked the stats since — OSU was 121st in the nation in rushing yards. OSU started the season with only two O-linemen that were expected to start going in. Injuries really rattled the unit, and the backups were young and inexperienced. Plus, many were playing out of position. Since, Gavin Andrews is back from mono and Grant Enger is back from a torn MCL. The unit is still looking to build chemistry, but I expect the run game to improve here soon. Surprisingly, pass protection has been pretty great, so it’s a little confusing, and O-line coach Mike Cavanaugh doesn’t seem to know either. I will say that Storm looks like he’s affected by that concussion, though. The first game back he looked tentative. But he looked pretty good last week — didn’t do much on the ground, but had a good receiving game despite limited touches — and should see more time in a big game like this. His best aspect has always been pass protection and receiving out of the backfield, though, for what it’s worth.

Stanford’s national title hopes obviously took a hit with the loss to Utah, but it’s still a possibility, and everyone wants to circle the big game with Oregon down the road. Where does a game like this — with a sort of unknown team in No. 25 OSU that hasn’t really played anyone — stack up in terms of importance? I’m sure no one’s overlooking this game from Stanford’s camp, but does it feel like a really big game, like it does for OSU?

WS: Honestly, every game is a big game at this point. If Stanford wants to make the Rose Bowl, OSU is a must-win. If Stanford wants to make the national championship game, OSU is a must-win. OSU is an unknown, to be sure, but I think this Stanford team has learned its lesson.

I’d definitely call Utah “anyone,” regardless of how the game played out. OSU is a good team. This was the first time Utah played Stanford at all since entering the Pac-12, strangely enough, so the Utes were a bit of a wild card. Mike Riley is the dean of the Pac-12 coaches, so Stanford knows that OSU is going to come out and play.

I think that among the fan base, OSU seems like a bit of a breather, but I would disagree. This is definitely a conference with depth, and OSU still has Rose Bowl hopes.

Though OSU is known to be a fine squad, watching the Cal game I saw some periods of unacceptable sloppiness from the Beavers. Was that typical or an aberration, and can OSU expect to execute in Corvallis?

AK: Offensively, OSU has been consistent all year. Defensively it is a totally different story. Considering OSU hasn’t played anyone great, it’s pretty scary from their perspective. They’ve created turnovers, but have been eaten alive in terms of yards and especially by mobile quarterbacks. Kevin Hogan ran a little on them last year if I remember correctly, and it’s something to look out for this year. I think they’ll be sound and execute, but when the play breaks down they’re incredibly susceptible to big plays. To me, this game hinges on the defense holding Stanford under 30. If they do that and create a couple turnovers, Oregon State could pull the upset. I do think there will be miscommunication and mental errors, and Stanford will ultimately win, however.

WS: What’s your view for the rest of the season? The Beavers definitely have a bit of a gauntlet ahead of them. Stanford-USC-ASU-UW-Civil War. How do you think the season is going to play out? Can OSU finally bring down Oregon?

AK: This is how I see it: Stanford is a maybe that they’ll probably lose. USC, ASU, and UW are three tough games, but games I expect OSU to come out on top in. So of those four I’ll say they lose to Stanford, beat USC and ASU, and then lose to UW. Growing up a die-hard Beaver, I want to beat Oregon more than anything. But it’s just not the right year. This looks like the best Oregon team I’ve ever seen, and OSU has to play at Autzen. Realistically, the Beavers don’t stand a chance in that game unless Banker figures out how to defend the spread — something he’s never been able to do. Mannion has shown he can put up points in bunches, but it’s too much to ask going toe-to-toe with that offense, especially considering Oregon’s defense has been one of the best in the conference. So I see them finishing the year 2-3 and playing maybe in the Sun Bowl.

What about Stanford? How do you see this game, and the rest of the season, playing out? Can they take out Oregon again?

WS: That’s going to be interesting. Oregon State kept it close last year, and I think that the team will be very pumped to welcome Stanford to town. Typically, Stanford dominates its opposition in ways that aren’t reflected on the scoreboard, but I think in this case a pretty close score is matched by a close game. However, I think that Stanford’s offense is going to have success in the running game. The Cardinal defense absolutely smothers pro-style offenses, and I think that with the secondary hounding Cooks all night, Stanford wins 34-21.

I don’t mean to imply that Stanford can’t beat the spread, because it can — it did beat Oregon last year, after all. The Ducks have scored at will, but their schedule to this point has been one of the nation’s worst, and their schedule from here out one of the nation’s best. I’m excited to see how Stanford-Oregon goes, but I honestly have no idea what will happen. There will be more offense than last year, I think, but the real breakthrough Stanford has had this year has been in the field position game. Last year Stanford was an ace unit in kickoff and punt coverage; this year it’s added a very dangerous return game to the mix. Any Stanford win over the Ducks is going to require winning in the field position battle.

There are a lot of good games coming up. It’s OSU, Oregon, USC, Cal, Notre Dame. Cal’s been bad, but its talent at the skill positions is terrifying — former coach Jeff Tedford never had issues with recruiting lightning speed. The rest of the teams are extremely solid. I can see Stanford losing to one or more remaining teams besides Oregon.

You had a prediction for the game — what do you think is the score?

AK: 33-27 Stanford. I think it’ll be pretty close throughout, but Stanford’s just the better team.

WS: Best of luck, and thanks again for beating Cal.

Contact Winston Shi at wshi94 ‘at’

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