The Oregon State football team expected to go up against No. 20 Stanford’s star running back and Heisman Trophy candidate Bryce Love on Thursday night.
They prepared to face Love’s ability to find an open sliver and then turn on his elite track speed that had led to so many big runs this season.
But the Cardinal coaching staff decided to hold Love out and rest his ankle, which was hurt in Stanford’s previous game.
That left Stanford using a running back by committee approach and changed the game for both teams.
The Cardinal avoided the upset with a late touchdown for a 15-14 Pac-12 win.
Stanford lacked the explosive breakaway ability that Love brought to the table and the Beavers were stout on defense throughout the game.
“We wasn’t worried about him at all,” OSU defensive back Omar Hicks-Onu said. “We wanted to play Stanford. We wanted to come out and stop the rush because that’s what they’re known for. And we’re not known for having a good rushing defense and we stopped them.”
Even with Love out of the game, the Beavers stayed focused and tough against the run from the start.
Stanford was able to hit a few pass plays but OSU would not let them get the run game rolling. The Beavers held Stanford to 222 total yards, 81 coming on the ground.
“They were outstanding today,” OSU running back Ryan Nall said of his defense. “They held a team that was rushing for what, 200 yards a game. Stanford’s running back wasn’t starting, but that Cam Scarlett, he’s just as good and for them to hold them to what they did tonight was amazing.”
Linebacker Jonathan Willis said he wasn’t surprised with how the defense played.
The players said the defense has gradually jelled as a unit.
“It didn’t surprise me at all,” Willis said. “When the team actually comes together and believes and we fight all four quarters, we can do anything we want.”
The Beavers made a few big plays in pass defense, with Manase Hungalu breaking up two Stanford passes, the second coming on a third-down play in which Stanford quarterback Keller Chryst had an open receiver near the OSU 5. Instead, the Cardinal had to settle for a field goal and the Beavers held a 14-9 lead at the end of the third.
Hicks-Onu also had an interception for the Beavers in the third.
“I just read it,” Hicks-Onu said. “No. 2, he did a corner route and No. 1 came right at me. Coach (Cory) Hall was teaching me all week, read the routes. So I just jumped it.”
Baker Pritchard got into the act, knocking down a Chryst pass and the Beavers eventually forced a punt with 8:12 to go.
The Beavers went into the locker room at the half with a 7-6 lead. A lost fumble with less than a minute to go set up the Cardinal at the OSU 16, but the Beavers would not break and forced a field goal.
OSU held the Cardinal to 39 yards on the ground in the first half and 119 total. Scarlett had 24 yards rushing and Trevor Speights added 11.
“A loss is always tough. We don’t go in to lose,” Willis said. “Nobody wants to finish a game with an L. Every down we try to go out and win every play. It sucks, but we’re going to take this pain and use it the next game to fight.”