Conference road games continue as a source of frustration for the Stanford football team, especially on the offensive side of the ball. The Cardinal seems to leave a piece of the game plan behind and then struggles to fill in the blanks.
Stanford gave itself another scare Saturday. This time the seemingly lack of focus cost them nothing but a few puzzled looks.
Tyler Gaffney, as good an athlete as there is, continued his upward slope toward the next level of football. He scored three times, rushed for 145 yards and served up a sickening fumble in the fourth quarter that had to leave a queasy feeling in the pit of the Cardinal's collective stomach.
The defense stood up to the challenge yet again, deflecting would-be game-tying touchdown passes and allowing Stanford to leave Corvallis with a 20-12 victory over host Oregon State. On Sunday, Stanford was elevated to No. 6 in The Associated Press Top 25 poll.
The Cardinal (5-1 in the Pac-12, 7-1) faces the ultimate test in its next contest, a meeting of the North Division giants. It's a winner-take-all, or at least a winner-jumps-into-the driver's seat, contest with Oregon on Thursday, Nov. 7 at 6 p.m. in Stanford Stadium.
"I'm already done thinking about Oregon State and the effort tonight," Cardinal coach David Shaw said. "It wasn't good enough to beat Oregon or good enough to be in the game against Oregon. So, we have a bunch of stuff that we need to make sure we do in the next 12 to 14 days to play one of the best teams in the nation."
Stanford totaled 276 yards of offense as quarterback Kevin Hogan completed just 8 of 18 passes for 88 yards. Stanford was held scoreless in the first quarter for the first time since a win at Oregon on Nov. 17, 2012.
The Cardinal also slowed the Beavers' offense to a walk. Oregon State was held to 288 yards, below its season average of 515 yards. OSU quarterback Sean Mannion, the national leader in yards passing and touchdown passes, was 41 of 57 for 271 yards and one touchdown.
Beavers' receiver Brandin Cooks, tops in the nation in receptions and yards, finished with nine catches for 80 yards.
"Defensively, I thought we played extremely well, against the No. 1 quarterback and the No. 1 receiver in the nation. To hold Cooks down was phenomenal," Shaw said. "He caught some balls in front of us, and we said we would live with that. We deflected a couple of passes, we tried to make the quarterback hold the ball a couple of times and were able to sack him. It was a great team defensive effort, because you can't just put one guy on him. He's so fast and so explosive."
Stanford's defense held in key situations, stopping Oregon State on downs four times inside the Cardinal 35. Stanford held Mannion to less than 350 yards passing for the first time this season, and sacked him eight times.
The Beavers had Hogan scrambling a lot, and he completed only three passes of more than 10 yards.
"We should have played better in the passing game. I can't tell you exactly why, or what happened new. One thing I knew is this is the most pressure we have faced," Shaw said.
Gaffney was the engine that made the offense work. His second effort and ability to drag defenders an extra few yards seemingly improves the longer he plays. The tireless runner ran for 79 yards and two touchdowns in the second half.
"If you can just get those extra yards, it's something I take on myself as a pride thing, and you know, I think Stanford football is about it," Gaffney said. "If the offensive line opens up a hole I have to take advantage of it, and if not I still have to do my part."
Oregon State drove to the Stanford 7 with 30 seconds remaining, but four consecutive incomplete passes stopped the comeback attempt.
"We've said since the beginning of the season that we have to have guys out there that are ready to play," Cardinal linebacker Shayne Skov said. "Going into the season we found ourselves having great depth and now it's time for that to show. If your name gets called, it's time for you to step up."