STANFORD -- Stanford visits Oregon State on Saturday for the first time in two years, but in many ways, the Cardinal played this game two weeks ago.

It's Utah, redux: A treacherously-timed trip to face an opponent more dangerous than its reputation or record might indicate.

Two weeks ago, Stanford played unranked Utah in between games against No. 15 Washington and No. 9 UCLA.

Now comes Oregon State in between games against UCLA and No. 2 Oregon.

Stanford (6-1, 4-1 Pac-12) believes it was well prepared for Utah -- that victory wasn't taken for granted. But the circumstances had the earmarks, and the result, of a classic trap game.

"The media makes a bigger deal out of it than we do,'' defensive end Ben Gardner said. "Honestly, we take it one week at time.

"Especially in this conference, you can't overlook anybody. Utah showed us that. I'm not saying that we overlooked them, but they showed us that anybody can beat you on any given week ... Oregon State has our full attention.''

Anything less, and the eighth-ranked Cardinal will lose its second game of the season.

Like Utah, Oregon State (6-1, 4-0 Pac-12) is a tough, well-coached team with a rowdy home stadium. But the similarities end there.

Utah attacked Stanford with the spread option, mixing high-percentage passes with perimeter runs. Oregon State's pro-style system features the most productive downfield passing game in the conference.

Utah had struggled in high-profile games since joining the Pac-12 three seasons ago. Oregon State has made a practice of beating ranked teams. In the past seven years, the Beavers have 10 wins over top-25 foes, including home upsets of Pete Carroll-era USC teams that were ranked No. 1 and No. 3.

"Some very important components have to take place,'' coach Mike Riley said when asked about OSU's knack for upsets. "The team has to be getting better as the year goes on so you're playing your best when get to a game like this. And then you have to play well on that Saturday."

The unranked Beavers have improved each week since a season-opening loss to Eastern Washington -- if not for that result, they would likely be ranked in the top 15 -- and won where Stanford lost (in Salt Lake City).

They have the nation's most productive receiver (Brandin Cooks, of Stockton) and a prolific quarterback (Sean Mannion, of Pleasanton). The offensive line is coalescing, and the defense has patched the holes that allowed 49 points to Eastern Washington.

"They gave up some big plays early,'' Stanford coach David Shaw said. "But you don't see that anymore."

Shaw is focused on Oregon State, but not to the exclusion of all else.

He's not looking ahead to Oregon or behind to UCLA but further back -- to Utah.

"It's a life lesson that you try to make sure you talk about a lot,'' he said. "When you go through something tough, the worst thing you can do is forget it.

"You have to bring those lessons forward. We got outplayed, and we have to make sure that doesn't happen again. So we're not going to forget that any time soon.''

  • Gardner will play Saturday despite a recurring arm injury initially suffered against Washington. He declined to give specifics but said, "Sometimes, my arm just shuts down."

  • Receiver Kodi Whitfield and tailback Barry Sanders will continue to share the punt return duties.

  • Stanford and Oregon State are two of just four teams in the conference that make regular use of the huddle. "The dinosaurs,'' Shaw joked.

    For more on college sports, see Jon Wilner's College Hotline at blogs.mercurynews.com/collegesports. Contact him at jwilner@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5716.

    saturday's game
    Stanford (6-1, 4-1 Pac-12) at Oregon State (6-1, 4-0), 7:30 p.m. ESPN