It was a sunny, crisp, cool afternoon at Stanford Stadium for the showdown between two Top 15 ranked teams. It was also senior day and the last regular-season home game for the Cardinal. With two games left in the season and bowl games around the corner, there was a lot on the line for both teams.
Expectations were high and the teams did not disappoint, as Stanford topped Oregon State 27-23.
It started out all Stanford, with the Cardinal dominating the first quarter. At the end of the quarter, Stanford held a 14-0 lead, and out-gained the Beavers 194 yards to 20. But it was not going to be that easy.
Oregon State is a well-coached team with a good quarterback (Cody Vaz), two outstanding wide receivers (Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks), and a very strong offensive line. Add to that an uncharacteristic afternoon for Stanford, and there was plenty of drama.
Stanford lost the turnover battle, giving up two fumbles and two interceptions. In addition, the heralded defense was good, but did not get into the offensive backfield much in the first three quarters. Once OSU got going in the second quarter, they pretty much had their way for a while.
The result was 23 unanswered points (two touchdowns and three field goals), putting Stanford in a 23-14 hole late in the third quarter. The stadium had gotten very quiet during those two quarters as OSU showed everyone how they climbed so high in the national rankings.
It wasn’t until the last play of the third quarter that Stanford got it going again. There was a spectacular 40-yard pass-and-run play for a touchdown from quarterback Kevin Hogan to running back Stepfan Taylor that ended the quarter and closed the gap to 23-21.
At quarter’s end linebacker Chase Thomas gave a pep-talk to the defense that worked.
Stanford’s D rose to the occasion, holding OSU in check on all four of their fourth-quarter possessions. One possession ended with a fumble recovery, the only OSU turnover for the day. It was a big one, and resulted in Stanford’s go-ahead touchdown with about five minutes left in the game.
OSU’s last-gasp effort was snuffed out when the Stanford D recorded a sack on third down, and held on fourth. With no OSU timeouts left, Stanford simply killed the clock.
The win left Stanford (8-2, 6-1 in Pac-12) ahead of OSU (7-2, 5-2 in Pac-12) in the Pac-12 North Division, trailing only Oregon.
In the AP poll, Stanford moved up one spot to No. 14, while OSU dropped to No. 15. Some of the heroes and special plays are described further below.
This was the coming-out party for Kevin Hogan. It was his first collegiate start, and he played before a national television audience. He was impressive, and looked more like a seasoned pro than a redshirt freshman.
Last week he proved he could do well against a poor team. This week he proved he could shine against one of the best defenses in the Pac-12. His numbers were impressive: 23-of-29 (76 percent) for 254 yards and three TDs, plus another 49 yards rushing. Beyond that, there was much more to him than the numbers.
Hogan gives Stanford a dimension not seen since the Andrew Luck days. He opened up the playbook, used his legs to get out of trouble, found open receivers, changed plays at the line of scrimmage, and made good decisions again and again. This was refreshing for Cardinal fans.
Here are some indicators of his impressive afternoon:
- Completed passes to eight different receivers.
- Converted seven of 12 third-down attempts (58 percent).
- Went 3-for-3 on red-zone opportunities, with all three being touchdowns.
Hogan also made other guys look good. Those included:
- Tight end Zach Ertz, who caught nine passes for 75 yards and one touchdown (the go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter).
- Full back Ryan Hewitt, whose long blond locks bounced around as he caught four passes for 52 yards and one TD, and became a key part of the offense for the first time this year.
That last play of the third quarter was perhaps the single best example of his skill, and may have become the signature play for Stepfan Taylor’s career.
It started out as a passing play. Hogan looked around for open receivers, but couldn’t find any. He decided to run, but wasn’t having much luck with that either. He was grabbed by an OSU lineman.
Before going down he saw Stepfan Taylor in the left flat all by himself. He shoveled a pass to Taylor, who took it on near the line of scrimmage at the OSU 40. From there, the Taylor magic took over. He ran down the left side, juked past one defender, cut back to the middle of the field and stiff-armed another, and then eluded two others as he ran into the end zone.
It was a bang-bang play that began as Hogan was being tackled in the backfield. Very impressive all the way around.
Taylor and Ertz each fumbled once during the game. But Stanford was able to prevail in the end. Those two are among the team’s most reliable players. By game’s end, they were once again Hogan’s heroes.
Taylor has been a steady performer game after game, year after year. He will clearly go down as one of the all-time greatest runners in Stanford football history. Against OSU he carried the ball 19 times for 114 yards (6.0 yard average), caught two passes for 47 yards, and scored two TDs.
He represents the heart and soul of the team, always fighting for a bit more yardage. He atoned for his rare first-half fumble with his second-half performance. He went over 1,000 yards for the season, the third consecutive year he’s done that. No Stanford player has ever done that before.
He is now second all-time in touchdowns scored and in total yardage. Before the end of the season, Taylor will set several more records. He is a stud.
Several defensive players—Chase Thomas included—had big days. Others included:
- Defensive end Ben Gardner, whose speed caused OSU’s offense all kinds of problems.
- Safety Ed Reynolds, who had two near-interceptions slip through his hands.
- Defensive end Josh Mauro, who recorded a sack and recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter on two consecutive plays.
- Linebacker Alex Debniak, who made the game-saving sack near the end of the game.
But it was Chase Thomas who inspired the team start to finish with his play and his words. He put pressure on the OSU quarterback, particularly in the fourth quarter. He knocked down a third-down pass forcing OSU to kick a field goal rather than go for a touchdown.
In fact, OSU scored five times compared to Stanford’s four, but three of those were field goals because of defensive stops. That was the difference in the game, and Chase Thomas was the leader.
It doesn’t get any easier from here. With the Beavers behind them, Stanford now faces the Oregon Ducks. After Alabama’s upset loss to Texas A&M and Oregon’s trouncing of Cal, the Ducks are the No. 1 team in the country. Stanford did well against Oregon State, and now will have to step it up even more to upend the mighty Ducks.
It should be a great game.
The Rose Bowl remains within reach for Stanford. Beating Oregon and UCLA in the next two weeks, and then winning the Pac-12 Championship game would guarantee it. But there are other possibilities. Even if Stanford loses to Oregon, there is a chance Stanford could gain an at-large berth in the Rose Bowl if Oregon plays in the national championship game.
It may be a tall order for Stanford to win out the rest of the season. But they have a good team, with a new high-quality quarterback, an outstanding running back and one of the very best defensive units in the nation.
One thing we know for sure is that the final few weeks of the season are going to be fun.