By T.J. Mathewson
Contributor, 750 The Game
The penultimate home game of the 2023 regular season awaits on Saturday at Reser Stadium. You might’ve passed over this game when scanning the schedule in September, but Troy Taylor and the Stanford Cardinal have been playing good football down the stretch run of this season. The first-year coach has already won road games at Hawai’i, at Colorado, and just last week at Washington State, an enormous achievement for any program in its first year under new leadership. The counter to that has been some massive growing pains: a 46-point loss to USC in week two, a loss to FCS Sacramento State in week three, and lopsided blowouts to UCLA and Oregon. While Stanford leads the all-time series 59-27-3, Oregon State should get the last laugh in this one and send the Cardinal into the ACC with a loss. Here’s how the Beavers will get it done.
1. Back in the confines of home
While the three wins on the road have been a massive victory for this Stanford program in the first year of the Troy Taylor era, the fact Oregon State has only had three road wins in 2023, all showing flaws in the roster and lacking the same energy shown at Reser Stadium, has been a disappointment. Thankfully for Jonathan Smith and Co., the Beavers won’t leave the state of Oregon for the remainder of the 2023 season. Not only does Vegas love the Beavers at home (-21, the Beavers’ largest-ever spread against Stanford), but Oregon State’s ability to win games at Reser Stadium is entering ridiculous levels. In the last three seasons, the Beavers are 15-1 at home. Only Georgia, Michigan, Alabama, Oregon, and Utah have won a higher percentage of their games at home in that span (94 percent) while covering the spread by an average of 9.5 points more than projected (third-most in that span). Think of how the Beavers’ game ended vs. Stanford a season ago on the road, vs. what most expect on Saturday. A night and day difference.
2. Not letting the Daniels-Ayomanor connection cook
Stanford isn’t a great offensive team, ranking outside the top 90 in points-per-game, yards-per-play and yards-per-carry, barely squeaking inside (No. 86) in yards-per-attempt. That’s not great balance or efficiency across the board. Despite that, Stanford has pieced together a couple of solid offensive performances in the past month, beating Colorado in double-OT and losing to Washington at home, a huge part of that being the connection between sophomore QB Ashton Daniels and sophomore WR Elic Ayomanor. The two hooked up for 13-294 and three touchdowns against the Buffaloes, with a more modest 9-146 and a touchdown vs. Washington. Not coincidently, those are Stanford’s two highest-scoring conference games this season. Neither of those are top-tier defenses, although from what we’ve seen this season I wouldn’t put the Beavers in that category either. This Stanford offense throws in volume (nearly 37 passes a game, top-25 nationally), and a lot of that will go to the playmaker No. 13 in Cardinal and White.
3. Getting back the balance on offense before the two biggest games of the season
The Oregon State offense didn’t look particularly good in either of the games on its two-week road trip. With the two top-six games looming on the horizon, the Beavers need to find that balance and explosiveness in their offense that they displayed vs. Cal and UCLA a month ago. Stanford has allowed a few of these games in 2023: Bo Nix threw for four touchdowns and completed 27/32 while the Ducks ran for 213 at the end of September, UCLA ran for 221 and passed for 282 in their 42-7 win two weeks ago, and USC threw for nearly 400 and ran for 189 against the Cardinal back in week two. Jonathan Smith needs to get DJ Uiagalelei in rhythm early, giving him some easy completions on the first couple of drives before Aidan Chiles comes in, so the junior quarterback is locked in when they open up the offense later on. The 46 rush attempts vs. Colorado made much of the fanbase happy, but this is a game where you let your quarterback drop back and let it rip (responsibly).
With the Beavers back at home in the friendly confines of Reser Stadium, this is a pretty easy pick. Jonathan Smith will have his team focused and ready to face the Cardinal before a monumental two-week stretch awaits.
Oregon State 42, Stanford 10