Toby Gerhart has been the center of attention all week and rightfully so.
Not only is the Stanford senior leading the Pac-10 in rushing (130 yards per game) this season, but he enjoyed his breakout game last year against the Beavers, who host the Cardinal Saturday at Reser Stadium.
Last year in Stanford's 36-28 victory in Palo Alto, Gerhart rushed for 147 and two touchdowns. So the Beavers are plenty familiar with him and will need to do a better job this time around containing him or mean their third straight loss at home.
Simply put, Gerhart is a load. At 6-1, 232 pounds, he has the size and strength to run at and over you. But he also has good agility and surprising speed as the Beavers found out in last season's game against Stanford. While the Beavers have the third best rushing defense in the conference allowing 87 yards per game, they know they have big task ahead of them.
"We gave up some big plays to them last year just being out of position, so the positioning in the running game and the tenacity of the defense and the combination of the two is going to be a major factor," OSU coach Mike Riley said at Tuesday's press conference. "We have to get people to the ball because (Gerhart) is hard to take down one-on-one. So the more people we get to the party the better we'll be."
The Cardinal (4-1, 3-0) are far from a one dimensional team, though. Despite the fact they are starting a freshman in Andrew Luck, they lead the Pac-10 in passing efficiency. Luck has completed 62 percent of his passes for 940 yards and four touchdowns against two interceptions. But the Beaver defense should enter Saturday's game confident.
Last week against Arizona State, it harassed Sun Devils quarterback Danny Sullivan all game. While he was only sacked once and managed to throw for 335 yards, he was constantly hurried and hit by the Beavers, who managed to defeat ASU in Tempe for the first time since 1969. Getting to Luck early and often will make keying on Gerhart easier.
"It comes down to being able to play fast and knowing our responsibilities," junior defensive end Matt LaGrone said. "A lot of the guys on the defensive line didn't play last year, including myself, so we're just getting into the flow of things."
Offensively, the key for the Beavers will be to get their running game going. Jacquizz Rodgers failed to rush for 100 yards for the third straight game, the longest drought of his career. He still leads the conference in rushing TDs with nine.
Rodgers has a good chance to break the 100 yard mark against Stanford, which is sixth in the Pac-10 in rushing defense at 114 yards. If not, he will likely add to his 33 receptions on the year which is second in the conference to his brother James's 37. Like the Cincinnati, keeping the opponent's offense of the field might be the best way to come out with a victory.
BeaverBlitz's Three Keys to Victory:
1. Contain Gerhart: In all likelihood, Gerhart is going to do some damage. He's too good not too. So the Beavers need to minimize the damage by wrapping him up better this time around. He can get small chunks of yards here and there, but no long, breakaway runs like he did in last year's game.
2. Rattle Luck: Seems like putting pressure on the quarterback is on this list every week. But considering the Beavers' subpar pass rush so far this season, you can't argue that it shouldn't be one of the keys. But it's an absolute must against Stanford. Luck is a freshman and if the Beavers can take him out of the game early, they can focus on Gerhart more.
3. Establish the run: The Beavers' passing game showed some signs of life last week against ASU, now it's time for things to become perfectly synched. The run and passing games need to balance each other. With that in mind, Quizz needs to get at least 20 carries.