Sports are not inherently simple matters. The number of factors that go into deciding a game is essentially limitless. But some cases are a bit more straightforward than others, and this Saturday’s matchup between Stanford and Oregon State really only comes down to a single number: 5.2.
That is the number of yards per carry that Oregon State is allowing to opposing rushers this season – and the Beavers have yet to face the best running back not yet in the NFL. That comes Saturday, when Oregon State will travel to The Farm and attempt to somehow contain Christian McCaffrey.
This is not going to happen. By McCaffrey’s standards, he has had a subpar season – and he’s still leading the conference with 111.6 yards per game. He has done that with injuries. He has done that with little to no help from his offensive teammates. He has done that for no reason other than because he is one of the most difficult young men in college football to tackle. And Oregon State, while vastly improved and certainly no pushover, does not have very many players who can tackle at the exceptionally high level that is demanded to stop McCaffrey.
Stanford’s success predictably hinges on the success of its former Heisman finalist. When McCaffrey has scored this season, the Cardinal is 3-0, and when he has eclipsed 100 yards, it is 4-0. Playing against a rushing defense ranked 107th in the nation, with backfield mate Bryce Love back to spell him, McCaffrey should have little trouble finding the end zone, and Stanford should subsequently have little trouble in becoming bowl eligible with its sixth win of the season.
It’s brutal timing for Oregon State, to have a date with Stanford. McCaffrey, after being hobbled with injuries, appears fully healthy again, or close to it. He ran for 169 yards and two touchdowns and hauled in an 18-yard reception for another score in a 34-10 victory over Arizona last week. Helping McCaffrey is both Love and the fact that David Shaw, after two months of toying with an ineffective duel-quarterback system, has alas decided on a single starter, Keller Chryst.
Chryst was far from perfect in his first game as the full-time signal caller, during the aforementioned win over Arizona. He attempted 30 passes and threw for just a hair over 100 yards, but he did toss two touchdowns along with an interception.
“First game as a starter, I get it, he’s not going to be Johnny Unitas out there,” Shaw said afterwards. “He’s going to grow. The thing Keller can do is throw the ball down the field.”
But if all goes as planned, Chryst shouldn’t have to be doing much throwing at all. His duties should consist of calling a play, taking a snap, and handing it off to either McCaffrey or Love. That will be more than enough.
Meanwhile, the Oregon State quarterback tasked with actually throwing the ball, Marcus McMaryion, should have no small amount of trouble.
McMaryion deserves credit for his work thus far. After beginning the season as a third-stringer, he was abruptly promoted to full-time starter, and he has performed admirably, nearly leading the Beavers to what would have been a massive win over Washington State. But in a blowout loss to Washington, McMaryion completed just 12-of-26 passes while completing two to the wrong team. The major reason behind that? Pressure.
And Stanford, with Solomon Thomas, who is ranked 18th in the nation in sacks, can and will bring the pressure.
It is, simply put, a nightmare matchup – the wrong team at the wrong time. Sometimes, even in sports, it can be as simple as that.