I still don't think it's right that Big Game is not the last game on the Stanford schedule -- and I really hope that the Pac-12 can return that bit of tradition league-wide, if only to even the playing field for the conference championship game -- but there is still one game left to play. So it's time to put the victory over Cal behind us and look towards this Saturday's game against Oregon State. (I'll forgive you, though, if you choose to read this with your hands wrapped firmly around the handle of an Axe.)
So what are we to make of Oregon State? For a while as they muddled through their season it looked like they might make the perfect opponent for Saturday's Senior Day, but then they had to go and crush USC last week, reminding us that this was a team most expected to contend for the Pac-10 title this season.
To get to the bottom of all this, I reached out to the angriest Oregon State blog out there, angrybeavs.com. The proprietor, a mysterious gentleman named angry, was good enough to answer a few questions about the Beavers. Here's our conversation, in all its glory. (You can read my answers to his questions over at his site.)
angry: Versus Boise State and TCU, the Beavers had a hard time rising to the occasion. Even in the pregame you could see the apprehension in their eyes. They were feeling their way through the games, unsure of themselves. The scores in both contests appeared close because OSU gained chunks of yards in the kick and punt return games, which have both been excellent all season, and they were given a gift interception versus TCU. If TCU had run the option the entire game, the score would have been ugly. Boise State sat on the ball when they could have scored more as well, so don't let the scores fool you. In short, teams that come "ready to play" give the Beavers a hard time -- even lowly Washington State. Their two blowout victories, Cal and USC, featured teams that came out flat.
GMC: Stanford fans know junior running back Jacquizz Rodgers well and remember the 189 yards he dropped on the Cardinal last season, but he is probably the most under appreciated back in the country. As impressive as his stats are, why do you think that is? What are his strengths, and how likely is it that he'll return for his senior season?
angry: Quizz is appreciated by those who watch him weekly, but if he is under appreciated it's because he plays for an unglamorous team in a small, pastoral town. If the Beavers had won against TCU and BSU, and Quizz had had big games, he'd be receiving more hype. Rodgers's strengths are his vision, cut-back ability, ball security, and pass catching. I'd say there's a 99.999% chance he returns for his senior year given that his brother will be returning and there could be an NFL lockout.
GMC: What can we expect to see from sophomore quarterback Ryan Katz? If Stanford jumps out to a lead, is Katz good enough to bring the Beavers back on his own when the defense doesn't have to honor the run? Also, how does he compare to the other young quarterbacks we've seen in the Pac-10, people like Washington State's Jeff Teul and Arizona's Nick Foles?
angry: Expect to see a guy who has some Brett Farve in him. He trusts his arm a bit too much, forcing balls into coverage and throwing (and missing) deep way too much. His completion percentage is surprisingly respectable (61%) given his all or nothing approach. Realize his interceptions should be double what they are; he's gotten away with a lot of bad balls because he puts so much velocity on his throws. As far as whether he's good enough to lead a comeback, that has yet to be proven, so no. He's had two chances. In the first one versus TCU, center Alex Linnenkohl snapped the ball over his head. In his second chance versus Washington, he put too much velocity on a semi-open Joe Halahuni as a wide open Jordan Bishop stood in the corner.
Comparing him to Teul, I'd say he has way more upside, but right now they're about even. Nick Foles is light years ahead of Katz, but he's also in a system that's simplistic and relies on a horizontal passing attack and run after the catch.
GMC: The season changed for the Beavers when senior wide receiver James Rodgers went down for the season after only five games. Which receivers have stepped up in his absence?
angry: Markus Wheaton has filled in admirably at WR. He has a huge future in front of him. The coaches burned his redshirt year, and the rest of the Pac-12 will be glad about that. Jordon Poyer has taken over punt returns for Rodgers, and he's done outstanding.
GMC: I think the player I'm most looking forward to watching on Saturday is senior defensive tackle Stephen Paea. He made a name for himself with his superhuman strength, but how does that strength translate to the football field? How will he impact Andrew Luck and the Stanford offense?
angry: Paea has been hit or miss. There's a notion out there that he gets double- and triple-teamed on most plays, but I just don't see it. Sure, he is strong, but he isn't as dominant as Suh or his reputation. I don't think Paea will have much impact on Andrew Luck. Luck can move around, Harbaugh will double team Paea on play action and roll the pocket otherwise. If I'm Andrew Luck, Dominic Glover is the player I'd fear in this matchup. He was a 4-star recruit to Oregon before transferring, and has progressed well throughout the year. Another player to watch is Cameron Collins, whom you might remember since he was once recruited by Stanford. He's filling in for the injured and much slower Keith Pankey. Andrew Luck might not find running room outside the pocket with Collins on the field.
GMC: Finally, give me a prediction. How do you expect the game to go, and what will the final score be?
I'm done predicting scores this year. Usually I'm pretty good, but the Beavs have killed my reputation this season. As far as what I expect, I'll say this: I've never been impressed with Stanford's home field "advantage", and the Beavers' defensive coordinator Mark Banker tends to scheme well against pro-style offenses. I've had this game penciled as a Beaver win all season. But I thought the Beavers would be better than they are. The team lacks fire and leadership, so you just never know if they're going to show up.
Stanford's advantage, as always, is at QB and their offensive line. Additionally, their head coach is a great motivator, and like I said, the Beavers tend to do their most damage against teams that come out flat. I expect Stanford to be ready.
The Beavers do have more speed at the skill positions and an excellent return game. If offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorff puts together a great game plan to get the Beavers' speed advantage on the edge, I don't think Stanford can catch them. QB play and offensive lines tend to win games, however, so the smart money is on the Cardinal.