Oregon State and Stanford have both struggled after fast starts. Now the two schools both face must-win situations when they face each other on Saturday.
The Beavers (5-4, 3-3 Pac-12) have dropped two straight games against opponents they were expected to beat after rising to first place in the Pac-12 North and are suddenly in a tough spot in their quest to get bowl eligible. Oregon State lost 37-34 in double overtime to Colorado last week after Everett Hayes missed a 38-yard field goal attempt in the second overtime period. The miss stung considering Hayes made a school-record 60-yard field goal at the end of regulation to force overtime in the first place.
The Cardinal (3-6, 2-5) are reeling after losing four straight games and are one loss away from being shut out of a bowl game for a third straight season. Stanford gave up 441 rushing yards to Utah in a 52-7 loss to the Utes a week ago. It was the most rushing yardage the Cardinal had given up in 11 seasons. The Utes held Stanford to 28 yards in the first half while rolling up 440 yards.
Stanford leads Oregon State 59-25-3 in the all-time series. The Cardinal have won 11 consecutive games in the series dating back to 2010. Four of those wins – including a 27-24 victory last season – have come by four points or less.
Stanford at Oregon State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 13 at 5:30 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: Oregon State -12.5
When Stanford Has the Ball
With Tanner McKee sidelined, Stanford became completely lifeless on offense against Utah. The Cardinal did not muster positive yardage until the second quarter and finished with 168 total yards. They crossed midfield on just one drive before the fourth quarter.
McKee remains questionable this week. If he can't play again, Stanford will give true freshman Ari Patu his first start at quarterback. Patu completed one pass for a three-yard loss against Utah, but he's a better option than either Jack West or Isaiah Sanders to run the offense. West threw for 58 yards and an interception while completing a bunch of short checkdown throws. Sanders added 29 passing yards on two completions. Neither quarterback was effective at moving the chains.
E.J. Smith showed some potential last week to grow into a running threat. He racked up 54 yards on seven carries in garbage time. Nathaniel Peat and Austin Jones have been mostly ineffective at providing any offensive punch in the backfield. Peat's production has taken a nosedive since he ran for 115 yards against USC. Jones has produced more than 40 rushing yards in only two games this season.
When Oregon State Has the Ball
An inability to get stops ultimately undid the Beavers. It also wasted a solid performance from Chance Nolan, who had his third straight 200-yard game. Nolan threw for 255 yards – his second-highest total of the season – and three touchdowns. He has seven career 200-yard games and five of them have come this season. His accuracy has been a problem in both losses. Nolan has completed just 55 percent of his passes in the last two games after completing 74 percent in Oregon State's win over Utah.
B.J. Baylor should eclipse 1,000 rushing yards this week. Baylor needs only 31 yards to reach that high-water mark. He finished with 98 yards against Colorado, falling just shy of getting his sixth 100-yard game of the season. Baylor's performance against the Buffaloes was encouraging after he tallied just 42 yards on 13 carries a week earlier against California. Trey Lowe is emerging as a nice complementary back to Baylor in recent weeks. Lowe has only 10 carries over his last three games, but he has tallied 124 yards on those carries and scored his first touchdown of the season against Colorado.
The math is simple on this one. Stanford has a terrible run defense and Oregon State has the Pac-12's top running back. This is a recipe for disaster for the Cardinal. The Beavers haven't lost at home this season and have a chance to go 5-0 in Corvallis for the first time since 2012. Given Stanford's struggles on both sides of the ball, the odds favor Oregon State finally becoming bowl eligible this weekend.
Prediction: Oregon State 28, Stanford 17
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– Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sports journalist based in Utah. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.