Stanford will still be a clear underdog when it faces Oregon in Eugene, Ore., on Nov. 17, but the Cardinal seems to at least have a fighting chance now, something it probably could not have claimed a month ago.
That's because now the Cardinal (8-2, 6-1 Pac-12) has a reliable quarterback, and because it has a quarterback, Stanford now has an offense, one that can get the Cardinal back into a game even if it gets behind.
That was proved Nov. 10, when redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan made his first career start for Stanford and the Cardinal rallied from a nine-point deficit in the second half to beat No. 11 Oregon State 27-23.
It gave the Cardinal a win in its first of three successive games against ranked opponents to wind up the regular season. But more important, it gave the Cardinal the knowledge it has the offensive weapons to make an impact, something it simply did not have when Josh Nunes was the quarterback.
The Cardinal did commit a season-high four turnovers, but that made the victory over the Beavers that much more impressive.
Everything seems to be more effective offensively with Hogan at quarterback, and that includes the running game. Stepfan Taylor rushed for 114 yards and had a spectacular 40-yard touchdown reception that was the play of the game.
But even that play was made possible by Hogan and the creativity he brings to the offense.
It was one of two plays by Hogan that made the difference in the game.
His first big play came on the final play of the third quarter with Stanford trailing by nine points. Hogan was going down for an apparent sack with a defender wrapped around his waist when the 6-foot-4, 225-pound quarterback somehow got a throw off to Taylor on the sideline. Taylor brushed off two tackles to complete the 40-yard touchdown reception to reduce the deficit to 23-21.
"That was probably the play of the game," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "That really changed the momentum."
Hogan, who finished the game 22-of-29 passing, got a chance for his second big play when Beavers quarterback Cody Vaz simply let the ball slip out of his hand while scrambling for yardage, giving Stanford the ball at the Oregon State 29-yard line with 9:21 left.
On a first-and-goal play from the 14 (after a holding penalty), Hogan placed a perfect pass to Zach Ertz over the middle for the go-ahead touchdown with 5:07 left. Hogan had changed the play at the line to get what he wanted.
"It was a phenomenal throw," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "To be able to check to that and throw a laser, and with his eyes to look off the safety."
The win over the Beavers came at Stanford Stadium, where the Cardinal finished unbeaten during the regular season, and Hogan still have to prove he can do it in a hostile environment against a top team. And it doesn't get any more hostile than Oregon's Autzen Stadium.
WHAT'S AHEAD: Stanford plays at Oregon on Nov. 17 and at UCLA on Nov. 24. Stanford has had top-10 teams the past two seasons, and the Ducks handled Stanford rather easily both years. If Stanford beats both Oregon and UCLA, it would play in the Pac-12 championship game, but beating Oregon, especially at Autzen Stadium, will be a major challenge. Oregon's speed in its spread option offense has been too much for Stanford to handle in the past. Oregon is ranked No. 1 in the polls and leads the nation in scoring after beating Cal 59-17 on Nov. 10.
--Stanford completely dominated the first quarter and appeared to be on its way to an easy win over Oregon State. When Stanford took a 14-0 lead with 31 seconds left in the first quarter, it had outgained the Beavers 194 yards to minus-4. But the Beavers scored 23 consecutive points to take control of the game. The four Cardinal turnovers, including two Kevin Hogan interceptions (one of which came on a tipped ball), had a lot to do with Oregon State's rally.
--Tailback Stepfan Taylor fumbled for the first time this season against Oregon State, and for the first time in 261 carries. It was a costly fumble because it came at the Oregon State 21-yard line with 51 seconds left in the first half. However, Taylor also went over 1,000 yards rushing for the third straight season, the first Stanford back in history to accomplish that.
--The Beavers had one final chance in the closing minutes, but Stanford linebacker Alex Debniak sacked Cody Vaz on a third-and-3 play from the Oregon State 43 with 2:10 left. Vaz also injured his ankle on the play and had to leave the game. That brought in Sean Mannion for the first time in the game, facing a fourth-and-15 with no timeouts remaining. His fourth-down incompletion ended the Beavers' chances.
--The Cardinal conceivably could get to the Rose Bowl even if it loses to Oregon. The Ducks would have to play in the national championship game, which would give the Rose Bowl the option to select another Pac-12 team for its game, if that team finishes in the top 14 of the BCS standings. Whether the Cardinal would finish in the top 14 with three losses is debatable. It's also debatable whether the Rose Bowl would pick Stanford over Notre Dame if the Irish are available. But the Rose Bowl has always shown strong allegiance to the Pac-12 in its desire to match the Big Ten against the Pac-12.
KEEP AN EYE ON: QB Kevin Hogan is the focal point of all discussion surrounding Stanford after his second straight impressive game. He has energized the offense, and he provides considerable flexibility. He can roll out to either side and pass accurately, and he can run the option effectively or scramble out of trouble. He rushed for 49 yards as well as completed 22 of 29 passes. He can even create positive plays when none seems to exist.
LOOKING GOOD: The Cardinal defense was not as dominant as it has been in recent weeks, but it shut out Oregon State in the fourth quarter and made the plays that needed to be made to win the game. The Beavers had some success running the ball, as the Beavers' Storm Woods rushed for 94 yards. But Oregon State finished with just 86 rushing yards and the Cardinal still leads the nation in rushing defense. That is important with its game against Oregon next, because the Ducks rank third in the nation in rushing offense.
STILL NEEDS WORK: Stanford turned the ball over four times against Oregon State, a season high, and the Cardinal knows it cannot do that against Oregon and have a chance to win. The Cardinal had committed just 10 turnovers in its first nine games, by far the fewest in the Pac-12, before the game against Oregon State. One of the turnovers was a tipped pass for an interception, but Kevin Hogan threw a poor pass on another that led to an interception. The two fumbles were by usually reliable players -- Stepfan Taylor and Zach Ertz.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's going to take our best game and not their best game for us to pull this off." -- Stanford coach David Shaw, on his team's chances against Oregon on Nov. 17.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--QB Kevin Hogan was 22-of-29 passing for 254 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions against Oregon State. For the season, he has completed 77.4 percent of his passes (41 of 53) for 447 yards, six touchdowns and two picks.
--TB Stepfan Taylor had his 19th career 100-yard game with 114 yards against Oregon State. He surpassed 1,000 yards rushing for the third straight year, the first Stanford player to do that. (Darrin Nelson had three 1,000-yard seasons but not in consecutive years.) Taylor did fumble for the first time this season and for the first time in 261 carries, however.
--OLB Trent Murphy had two tackles for loss against Oregon State, giving him 14.5 for the season.
--TE Zach Ertz had nine catches for 75 yards and a touchdown and leads the team in all three categories with 47 catches (19 more than the team's No. 2 receiver), 641 yards (281 yards more than any other Stanford player) and five touchdown catches.
--TB Stepfan Taylor scored his 41st career touchdown, moving him past Darrin Nelson and into second place in Stanford history. Only Toby Gerhart, with 44, is ahead of him.
--K Jordan Williamson missed his only field-goal attempt, a 51-yarder, against Oregon State.
--Freshman OT Andrus Pea, who missed the Colorado game with a finger injury, played against Oregon State, though he did not start.
--WR Ty Montgomery was back in the starting lineup against Oregon State.