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Oregon State looks for turnaround against Stanford

STANFORD, Calif. — Oregon State and Stanford have been throwbacks in the Pac-12 the past few years.

Both run pro-style offenses, feature physical defenses and are in no hurry to break the huddle. Heck, they might be the only two teams in the up-tempo conference that still huddle before most plays.

This season they share another trait: disappointing starts.

The two-time defending Pac-12 champion Cardinal (4-3, 2-2) fell out of The Associated Press poll for the first time in four years after losing 26-10 at Arizona State last week. The Beavers (4-2, 1-2) have dropped two of their first three conference games and the most difficult portion of their schedule is still in front of them.

Of course, fortunes can change fast in the parity-filled Pac-12 these days.

The winner between Oregon State and Stanford today will control its destiny in the North Division and become the leading contender to upend No. 6 Oregon in the race for a spot in the league championship game. The loser will be all but eliminated from the race and left scrambling just to become bowl-eligible.

“It’s a big game that way,” Oregon State coach Mike Riley said.

The struggles for both teams are due in large part to their offenses, which are the lowest scoring in the conference. Stanford is averaging 24 points and leads the league with 14 turnovers, while the Beavers are averaging 27.3 points and a conference-high 82.5 penalty yards per game.

Neither team is sulking in its setbacks, though. Instead, they’re focusing on the task ahead and trying to give themselves hope on the horizon.

After all, by this evening at Stanford Stadium, one team will still be in a strong position to chase the conference crown.

“As bad as we feel, we’re tied for second place in the Pac-12 North. You can’t look at it any other way,” Cardinal coach David Shaw said. “We’ve got to try to find a way to create some momentum, score some points and have a chance to still try to get in that Pac-12 championship game.”

Here are some things to watch when Stanford hosts Oregon State:

OFFENSIVE OVERHAUL: Shaw shouldered the blame for his offense’s struggles and promised major changes this week, though he said a complete makeover is not necessary — and benching quarterback Kevin Hogan is not being considered. He declined to give specifics but the changes could, at times, include abandoning the power running game for a no-huddle offense and a spread-style attack to get wide receivers Ty Montgomery, Michael Rector and Devon Cajuste more involved.

MANNION’S MAGIC: With star receiver Brandin Cooks in the NFL now, Mannion has put up nowhere near the video-game like numbers he did last season when he threw for a conference-record 4,662 yards and 37 touchdowns. Mannion is averaging 262 yards passing after tossing 358 yards per game a year ago and will need to rediscover his magic against Stanford’s stout secondary.

DEFENSIVE DOMINANCE: The Cardinal defense is giving up a league-low 12.3 points per game, which is second-best in the country, and leads the conference in total defense (254.9 yards), passing defense (153 yards) and rushing defense (101.9 yards). “The thing I’m concerned about most is just blocking them. That defense is crazy good,” Riley said.

INJURED LINES: Oregon State right tackle Gavin Andrews is out after fracturing his ankle against Utah, the team’s third offensive lineman sidelined with an injury. Converted tight end Dustin Stanton is expected to start in his place. Stanford nose tackle David Parry is out after injuring a leg at Arizona State. Harrison Phillips and Nate Lohn are expected to play more in Parry’s absence.

KICKING GAME: Both teams have had trouble making field goals lately, and in a low-scoring game, that could be crucial. Trevor Romaine kicked a 49-yarder to send Oregon State into overtime against Utah last week. But Romaine, who had made his first seven field goals this season, missed wide right from 37 yards in overtime to give the ball back to Utah for the game-ending drive. Stanford’s Jordan Williamson has made seven of 12 attempts and failed to connect from beyond 40 yards this season.