CORVALLIS, Ore. — The state of Oregon continued to treat Stanford like an unwelcome guest.
The darlings of West Coast football got knocked back to reality Saturday with a stunning 38-28 defeat to Oregon State in front of an announced crowd of 41,979 at Reser Stadium.
A program considered on the rise fell — and fell hard. With it went Toby Gerhart's faint Heisman Trophy hopes and probably the Cardinal's Rose Bowl dreams.
Forget top-25 rankings. With another Pacific-10 Conference road game at Tucson next weekend, Stanford (4-2, 3-1 Pac-10) still needs two victories to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2001. The Cardinal is 5-16 on the road in the past four seasons.
It will have to improve greatly to rebuild its reputation after three consecutive victories — all at home — attracted national attention.
The team took a step backward in Corvallis, a quaint college town where Stanford has experienced many a nightmare this decade. The Cardinal has won only once in Oregon in the past eight years, and the downward spiral didn't end Saturday.
Not with 5-foot-7 running back
Jacquizz Rodgers making Stanford tacklers look like foils in a Roadrunner cartoon. Rodgers had a career-best 189 yards and four touchdowns in exploiting Stanford's lack of speed.
"We've got to attack people rather than try to run around them," said Stanford linebacker Clinton Snyder, who led his team with 12 tackles.
Rodgers, who also had 82 yards on five receptions, set the tone the first time he touched the ball. He gained a career-best 61 yards on a wildcat play, and then scored five plays later. Rodgers scored three times in the first half as Oregon State (4-2, 2-1 Pac-10) built a 31-7 lead that Stanford couldn't overcome.
"You know what plays they are going to run," Cardinal safety Bo McNally said. "But you can't stop them."
Stanford couldn't stop anything the Beavers threw at it in the first half. By the time the game ended, Rodgers' older brother James had 78 yards on six catches and quarterback Sean Canfield completed 22 of 32 for 290 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.
But it wasn't just a defensive lapse. Oregon State corralled the Cardinal's potent kickoff return game; Chris Owusu, who led the nation beforehand (55 yards per game), gained 87 yards in five returns Saturday.
The Beavers also frustrated the offense, which relies on a steady diet of Gerhart's running. By disrupting quarterback Andrew Luck early, Stanford fell out of its natural bullish rhythm. Gerhart, who led the Pac-10 with 130.0 yards a game, had 96 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
"We had a horribly slow start," said Luck, who was 12 for 30 for 226 yards and two touchdowns. "They made us pay for that start."
The first play from scrimmage offered a glimpse at what was to come. Luck found Owusu in front of a Beavers defender for what looked like a sure touchdown. But Owusu dropped the ball. Luck told his receiver, "All right, let's come back on them and do it."
But then Luck, a redshirt freshman, overthrew open receivers time and again, missing on his first six passes.
"I wasn't calming down," he said.
Oregon State's defense can take a bow for rattling Luck. The Beavers pressured the Cardinal receivers and contained Gerhart and the ground game, forcing the redshirt freshman into uncomfortable passing situations.
But more than anything, Stanford just couldn't recover from a devastating 21-0 deficit by the second quarter. Jacquizz Rodgers, who had been held to fewer than 100 yards rushing in the three previous outings, slipped underneath defenders in the middle, or wiggled out of the grasp of tacklers in the open field. He looked capable of breaking a big gain almost every time he touched the ball.
"We weren't making tackles," Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said.
At least not enough while playing in the unfriendly precincts of Oregon.