After getting shocked by FCS opponent Eastern Washington in its season opener, Oregon State has won six straight games and is now back in the AP Top 25.
What's changed for the Beavers since their early-season struggles? Cardinal Sports Report caught up with Angie Machado of BeaverBlitz.com to preview Saturday's contest.
Cardinal Sports Report: Oregon State has won five straight games since getting shocked in its season opener against Eastern Washington.In what areas have the Beavers improved since the beginning of the season?
Angie Machado: The answer is simple, really, the defense has improved leaps and bounds. Against Eastern Washington the Beavers could not stop Eagles quarterback Vernon Adams. In fact, the only stop the Beavers had all game was the single drive when Adams left the game because of cramping.
Oregon State struggled to contain the run and pass and was honestly just ill-prepared for the game. It has been a steady improvement throughout the season as junior college transfer Steven Nelson has been able to adjust to the Division I game at cornerback. The Beavers also made a change at middle linebacker with redshirt freshman Rommel Mageo taking over starting duties midway through the season.
CSR: Cody Vaz started for Oregon State when the Beavers and Cardinal met last season. Sean Mannion obviously has been terrific this year. What's made Mannion -- and Oregon State's passing offense, which is ranked No. 1 in the nation -- so effective?
AM: Sean Mannion has been incredible this season. Last year he struggled to make good decisions and threw way too many interceptions. This year he's taken care of the football and has been able to throw it away when need be.
The biggest reason for his hot streak are his targets. While the Beaver run game has not been as strong as past years, the Beavers have a stable of great receivers to turn to. Of course Stanford fans are probably very well aware of Brandin Cooks, but double team him and it opens up Richard Mullaney or Kevin Cummings. If those two aren't open, the Beavers have a handful of tight ends who have shined in receiving this year including Connor Hamlett (expected out for Stanford with a knee injury), Caleb Smith and Kellen Clute.
CSR: On the other hand, the Beavers average only 73.7 rushing yards per game. How would you assess the state of Oregon State's rushing attack?
AM: The screen game has really become Oregon State's run game at the moment. While the offense is not as balanced as Coach Riley would like, the weapons at receiver/tight end are getting the job done. Add Storm Woods and Terron Ward as receiving threats out of the backfield and it has kept defenses honest.
CSR: Oregon State's defense gave up a ton of points to Eastern Washington and Utah but have been more stout the last two weeks. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Beaver defense and how do you think they match up with Stanford's power-run game oriented, pro-style offense?
AM: As mentioned in an earlier question, the Beaver defense has made great strides each and every week. Over the past several years, the Oregon State defenses have struggled more with mobile quarterbacks (like EWU's Vernon Adams and Utah's Travis Wilson).
Quarterbacks that are a threat to run make defenses stay patient which is sometimes difficult for an aggressive defense like the Beavers employ.
Oregon State has always matched up well against more traditional 'pro-style' teams. USC and Stanford have been very close games for the Beavers over the past several years because it is an offense they see every day in practice against OSU's first team.
Stanford's offensive line is so big and powerful, it will be tougher for the Beavers smaller, more athletic defensive line to get in there and stop the run. Look for safety help and stunts from the defensive ends to help shore up the run defense.
CSR: What's Oregon State's injury situation? Any key players who are questionable or will miss Saturday's game?
AM: Tight end Connor Hamlett is not expected to play on Saturday. Victor Bolden, a true freshman wide receiver/punt return specialist twisted an ankle against Cal, and is day to day.
CSR: What must Oregon State do to earn the victory?
AM: The Beavers need to be sound on all three areas of the game, offense, defense and special teams. Stanford is good and won't make many mistakes. If the Cardinal does make a mistake, the Beavers need to be opportunistic and capitalize on every opportunity.
I really see special teams being important in this game. The Beavers will need to connect on all of the kicking attempts and also have an excellent coverage game to keep Ty Montgomery in check. From what I can see, that guy is a game changer.
CSR: What is your score prediction and why
AM: This game has the makings of an instant classic. I see a back and forth battle, but I think that the home game helps Oregon State here. They were close to knocking off the Cardinal last year in Palo Alto and tis year's Beaver offense is more potent. Of course, the Beavers will need to play nearly flawlessly, but I see Oregon State getting the win, 38-34.