Football roundtable: Oregon State showdown

Dec. 9, 2020, 8:02 p.m.

Stanford will travel to Oregon State with a chance to move above .500 for the first time since 2018. The Daily’s Sofia Scekic, Jacob Neidig, Ells Boone and Jibriel Taha huddle up to discuss signal callers, Stanford’s trajectory and their thoughts on “whatever it takes.”

The offensive line neutralized the Washington pass rush behind senior center Drew Dalman, the top-graded Pac-12 center by PFF. When Stanford’s line is able to get consistent push, Stanford has a reliable road to victory with its running backs. Will that continue Saturday in Corvallis?

Jibriel Taha (JT): It sure looks like it. Stanford has run the ball effectively for the last three halves of football they’ve played, doing so on Saturday against one of the top defenses in the conference. Dalman has been excellent, and the play of freshman offensive tackle Myles Hinton has me hopeful for the future as well. Sophomore running backs Austin Jones and Nathaniel Peat are turning into a formidable duo, opening things up for senior quarterback Davis Mills to excel. I expect the offensive line to continue to impress against the Beavers and lead the way for offensive success.

Sofia Scekic (SS): The offensive line has long been a strength for the Cardinal (minus last season when it was decimated by injuries), and they seem to have hit their stride four games into the season. They paved the way for the run game, led by Jones, to pile up 191 rushing yards on 4.8 yards per carry against a good Washington defense. Through five games, Oregon State has allowed an average of 206.4 rushing yards per game and 5.2 yards per rush attempt. The offensive line will record another solid performance on Saturday as the running back duo of Jones and Peat lead the Cardinal to their third straight win.

Jacob Neidig (JN): Having an effective and healthy offensive line is critical to the success of any offense, but especially Stanford’s. As we’ve seen in recent seasons, when Stanford’s offensive line is hindered by injuries, forced to rely upon unprepared underclassmen or simply cannot create a push, the offense is stagnant. Yet this season, the Tunnel Workers, even with the opt out of star offensive tackle Walker Little, have gelled together and consistently improved. This past week, they imposed their will on a solid Washington front seven. With the status of multiple receivers in the air this week, Stanford will be forced to rely on the ground game even more. I think the offensive line, and the extremely important but seldom praised skill position blocking groups such as the fullbacks and tight ends, will be up for the challenge. I’m confident the Tunnel Workers will dig deeper than the Beavers and dominate at the point of attack. 

Ells Boone (EB): I certainly hope so. The Cardinal offensive line showed that they can hold their own with the best of them, and now we just need to see consistency. If they can play like they did against the Huskies, there is no reason that Austin Jones and his fellow running backs cannot have a field day in Corvallis on Saturday. The best part of the offensive line play so far has been that most of them are underclassmen. We are starting to see the foundation being built for stellar offensive line play, similar to what was seen in the early years of Coach Shaw’s tenure. 

Stanford held a 21-point lead against Washington, its largest since the win over Oregon State in 2018. Oregon State is a program on the rise. Stanford won on a game-winning field goal last season and this year the Beavers upset their in-state rival. Does Stanford get a big win?

JT: The Cardinal are certainly the favorite. We saw vintage Stanford football for two-thirds of the game against Washington on Saturday, something we have not seen in a while, and I expect the higher level of play to continue in Corvallis. The Cardinal seem to be hitting their stride, and after the victory on Saturday head coach David Shaw observed that “this is the kind of team that Weeks 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12, would be a lot of fun.” The defense has improved the past two weeks, and special teams has been superb. Additionally, Oregon State’s starting quarterback Tristan Gebbia is out for the year with a hamstring injury, and five other Beavers, including star running back Jermar Jefferson, are on the COVID-19 list and are questionable for the game. Stanford is the more talented team, and I expect them to get their third straight victory Saturday night. 

SS: Stanford is on a roll, coming off two straight wins over their biggest rival and one of the better teams in the Pac-12, so there is certainly no lack of momentum on their side. However, keep in mind that this team has been living on the road in two different states for the past two weeks. While opponent stadiums aren’t quite as difficult to win in this year due to the lack of fans, three straight road games (if you include Big Game) and the inability to return to Stanford between the latter two has probably taken its toll on the team. With that being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if that also provides the Cardinal with added motivation to play well and secure yet another win. Like Jibriel pointed out with the Beavers, the Cardinal are also dealing with injuries to some of their top players including junior wide receiver Michael Wilson, which might make it more difficult for Mills and the passing game to find their rhythm right away. The Cardinal does have the run game to fall back on when the pass game isn’t performing up to expectation, and it seems as though the special teams unit can be counted on to make a game-changing play or two each week, so I think Stanford squeaks out the win on another Jet Toner game winner.

JN: Stanford ended the game against Washington with a 14-play, 79-yard drive that ate up three Husky timeouts and the final 7:54 of the game. The drive was truly a thing of beauty and showcased the capabilities of the Stanford offense. On that drive and the entire game, quarterback Davis Mills was accurate and effective on third down as he completed two huge throws to wideout Simi Fehoko on 3rd and 10 or more. The offensive line and running backs were also able to grind away at the Washington front the entire drive. If the Cardinal play 60 minutes against Oregon State at a level similar to that of the final 7:54 against Washington and can win the line of scrimmage and turnover margin, I have little doubt about the outcome of the upcoming game. 

EB: I also think that Stanford should be able to get the win against Oregon State. The momentum is there, and Stanford has the advantage in terms of talent. Coach Shaw announced that wide receivers Michael Wilson, Connor Wedington and Osiris St. Brown are all out for the season, so the Cardinal will have to stick to what has been working for them recently: the ground game. Austin Jones and Nathaniel Peat have enough firepower to carry Stanford offensively, but there will not be a total lack of a passing attack on Saturday. Junior wide receiver Simi Fehoko is still available, and Davis Mills has shown that he is not afraid to spread the ball around to different targets. I think as long as the defense continues to improve on the prior week’s performance, the Cardinal should come away from Corvallis with a W. 

Stanford is playing with a lot of salt (see their Twitter header) in light of the jokes made about their walkthrough occurring in a public park. The program has adopted the mentality “whatever it takes” and that means incurring the cost of moving the entire operation to the Pacific Northwest. The cost is not only monetary (junior wide receiver Michael Wilson said last week “I can’t imagine how much it costs”) but also emotional with coaches and staff leaving their families behind. As a student observer, what do you feel about Stanford football doing whatever it takes to play during a pandemic?

JT: The players and coaches are behind it, so I support them. Stanford football has been a welcome distraction during these times for fans as well. And on the football side of things, Stanford has a real chance of salvaging something from this shortened season. Two wins to close out the year would put the Cardinal at 4-2, giving them a solid chance of returning to a bowl game, depending on how many bowls are played this year. Regardless of what happens, these experiences will strengthen bonds in the locker room; hopefully the Cardinal can build some momentum heading into next season.

SS: I’m torn on this one. On one hand, I’ll never say no to watching more football and honestly don’t know what I’d do every weekend if I didn’t have football to watch. On the other hand, it seems a little weird to me that the football team and both basketball teams just decided to leave Santa Clara County to move to places with fewer COVID-19 restrictions so they’re able to continue with their seasons. It’s not like Washington, Oregon, Nevada and North Carolina (the latter two states are where the women’s and men’s basketball teams are, respectively, for the time being) are in better shape than California; in all five states, cases are continuing to rise. It’s also worth raising the question of why Stanford can pay for teams to relocate for weeks to escape strict COVID-19 rules but felt the need to cut 11 varsity teams this past summer primarily due to financial concerns. All in all, I think I’d have a different response if the Cardinal were 0-4, but I’ve had fun watching them especially over their last two games so I can’t say I’m too upset that they’re doing whatever it takes to play.

JN: Similar to Sofia, I’ve been quite torn for a variety of reasons. The wins in the last two games have been sweet and the football fan within me has simply loved watching Stanford play the last couple weeks regardless of the outcome. I’ve also enjoyed seeing the Stanford players, coaches and Twitter manager embrace the challenges head on, which has made me optimistic about my own, non-football related challenges. However, this operation has created a plethora of non-football related concerns for me personally. As sports have resumed nationwide, I can’t help but wonder the value of these competitions, especially in the long run. As Sofia already touched on, moving locations to skirt COVID-19 restrictions raises the question of if this season should be happening at all, regardless of where. While there is no way to know, I also wonder how much added risk Stanford has brought onto everyday working people to make this operation possible for multiple varsity sports. Outside of the scope of COVID-19, I too am curious about how Stanford has financed these operations. I wonder if the money could be better spent elsewhere, whether on retaining other programs or simply put into things that benefit Stanford athletes, students, fans and society as a whole. To wrap up, I’d like to note that I am aware that the athletics budget and the University budget are separate entities and the inherent differences between student athletes, students and University workers. With that thought in mind, as a student, I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the fact that it doesn’t quite feel right to me that on one hand, these teams have been able to relocate quite comfortably while Stanford workers are currently battling the University to preserve their rights among other funding-related issues. There’s no doubt that I’ll be glued to my couch come Saturday, but these questions and others will continue circling my brain as I cheer on the Cardinal for the remainder of the season. 

EB: I agree with Jibriel, as long as the team wants to play, I support it. They are taking precautions and getting tested everyday, as well as getting to do what they love. Closing out the season with a few more wins would create some great momentum heading into spring practice and next season. On the other hand, I do agree with Sofia and Jacob that the financial decisions that go with this prolonged road trip are eyebrow-raising, but football is the money maker in every athletics department so I understand why play is continuing. 

Contact Jibriel Taha at jtaha ‘at’, Sofia Scekic at sscekic ‘at’, Jacob Neidig at jhneidig ‘at’ and Ells Boone at eboone24 ‘at’

Jibriel Taha is a staff writer for the sports section. He is from Los Angeles and studies economics. He also co-hosts The Stanford Daily's men's basketball podcast series. Contact him at jtaha ‘at’ Jacob at sports 'at' Scekic is the deputy managing editor for the sports section. She is a senior from Wisconsin studying Public Policy. An avid Green Bay Packers fan, she has watched nearly every game for the past nine years. Contact her at sscekic 'at' Boone is a desk editor for the sports section. He is a sophomore from Virginia Beach, Virginia, studying communication and economics. You can catch him waking up early on weekend mornings to watch his favorite Premier League team, Tottenham Hotspur, play. Contact him at eboone24 'at'

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