Oregon State (1-6) hosts #20 Stanford (5-2) this Thursday at 9 PM ET. Stanford opened as 20 point favorites, but public action has bet that number up. Read on for a valuable college football pick.
Stanford Cardinal vs Oregon State Beavers
The key for Oregon State will be to stop Stanford's Heisman candidate Bryce Love.
Oregon State possesses an improved and more physical rush defense. Last year, the Beavers were 105th in allowing 5.3 yards per rush. This year, they are 81st in allowing 4.7.
In terms of personnel, Kalani Vakameilalo leads the defensive line with his massive size, strength and improvement in his use of hands to apply pressure and secure gaps. The team's leading tackler is Manase Hungalu, who impresses with his open-space tackling.
OSU's largely experienced front seven is almost identical to last year's squad. An important difference is that former outside linebacker Titus Failauga resumed his natural defensive end position.
The most important difference is coaching. Last season, former Head Coach Gary Andersen was responsible for the defensive line and the Beavers' run defense struggled with fundamentals. Under Andersen's leadership. the linemen and linebackers demonstrated poor understanding of gap control and perimeter technique. As a result, opposing running backs could run through open gaps and encounter little resistance when progressing past the first level of defense.
This season, Chad Kuaha'aha'a regained his responsibility for the defensive line and helped impart the fundamental soundness to his defense that was absent last season.
The best tool for Oregon State's rush defense will be its ability to control time of possession with its rush attack. Interim coach Cory Hall has brought a boost to Oregon State not only by eliminating former Head Coach Gary Anderson and the toxic, negative culture that Anderson had instilled, but also by developing a strategy that optimizes Oregon State's strengths as a team.
Whereas the Beavers had run the ball only 48% of the time, last week in their near upset as a 10 point underdog against Colorado, in Hall's debut, they ran it 55% of the time. Whereas they had averaged 28 minutes of time of possession per game, they controlled the ball for 35 minutes last week.
Stanford presents an opportunity for Hall to continue this run-first strategy because of its struggles on the defensive line. Stanford's line lacks depth and physicality and therefore struggles to generate pressure and reach the backfield. Stanford ranks 103rd in allowing 5.1 yards per carry. Teams have identified this weakness in Stanford's defense, as opponents run 53% of the time against Stanford.
The biggest mismatch will be on third-and-short. The Beavers rank a very respectable 33rd in converting 43% of their third-down opportunities. They can exploit this mismatch in order to control time of possession against Stanford.
Running Back Ryan Nall, at 6'2 and 237 pounds, is a bruiser who is tough to bring down. His combination of physicality and elusiveness is the main reason why he is 28 yards removed from ranking tenth on Beavers' all-time leading rushers' list. He excels at breaking tackles but also at making defenders miss.
From a match-up perspective, the Beavers' ability to compete with Stanford on the ground will be decisive.
From a situational perspective, the Beavers have kept within a touchdown through the first half of the last 6 Power-5 teams that they have faced at home.The Verdict
Oregon State's improved rush defense possesses the physicality and is developing the fundamental soundness in order to keep Love in check. Their biggest asset will be its rushing offense. Behind Nall, the Beavers can chew up a lot of clock, rest their defense, and score points. As massive underdogs for our NCAAF picks, the Beavers should produce a respectable performance through the first half in Corvallis.