CORVALLIS -- From Tuesday's Oregon State practice session at Tommy Prothro Field in preparation for Saturday's 7:30 p.m. matchup with eighth-ranked Stanford at Reser Stadium.
At first, it seemed as if Storm Woods was providing Oregon with some future bulletin-board material when asked if, as one teammate had suggested, Saturday's game was for the Pac-12 championship.
"It definitely is for the Pac-12 championship," OSU's sophomore running back said. The Cardinal "are a great team; we're a great team. There are a lot of similarities."
Oregon State and Oregon share the Pac-12 North lead with 4-0 records while Stanford is a half-game back at 4-1. Is Woods discounting the Ducks?
"Stanford is the next team we're playing," he answered. "I have a lot of respect for the Oregon Ducks, the No. 2 or 3 team in the country. They're a great team. But right now, this is for the Pac-12 championship because (the Cardinal) are the next (opponent). We need to beat them Saturday."
To keep the Beavers in the race for the conference title?
"Yes sir, that's what I meant," he said.
The Beavers were 7-1 when they visited Stanford a year ago, falling 27-23 after leading 23-14 late in the third quarter. Memory of what could have been, Woods suggested, will add a little motivation Saturday.
"I've been reminding guys how it felt on the (flight) home, knowing we could have been in a BCS (bowl game) had we won that game," Woods said. "We'll have the mentality that we refuse to lose. We're going to have to fight four quarters, because (the Cardinal) are not going to give up."
Stanford ranks among the upper half of the conference in all defensive categories, including total defense (fourth, 363.4 yards per game), rush defense (second, 116.3), pass defense (sixth, 247.1) and scoring defense (fourth, 20.4).
The Cardinal "are sound, they're smart, they don't make a lot of mistakes," Woods said. "They're fast, they're strong, they're really hard hitters, and you can tell they're well-coached.
"We can't have stuff like false starts -- turning a second-and-1 into a second-and-6. We cannot beat ourselves."
Stanford's mammoth offensive line includes four seniors and sophomore tackle Andrus Peat (6-7, 310). The seniors are guards David Yankey (6-5, 315) and Kevin Danser (6-6, 295), center Khalil Wilkes (6-3, 285) and tackle Cameron Fleming (6-6, 320).
"It's not like we're a bunch of weaklings, but we don't have the size they do up front," OSU defensive coordinator Mark Banker said. "We play a different style. We'll have to rely on our effort, our will and our athleticism. But this is the best offensive line we've faced all year."
Against Washington State and California's spread passing attacks, Banker often employed the nickel and dime packages, meaning middle linebacker Rommel Mageo was on the bench a lot. That won't be the case Saturday against Stanford's power running attack.
"We rested him the last two weeks," Banker said facetiously of the 6-2, 245-pound redshirt freshman. "We are counting on him heavily Saturday. This will be his type of game."
Though Mageo didn't play much at Cal, he made the most of his time on the field.
"He was out there for 21 plays and was credited with five tackles," linebackers coach Trent Bray said. "After watching game (video), I counted him for eight tackles. He was getting after it."
Stanford running back Tyler Gaffney, a 6-1, 225-pound senior, ranks fourth in the Pac-12 with 741 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. Gaffney carried 36 times for a career-high 171 yards and two TDs in a 24-10 win over ninth-ranked UCLA last Saturday.
"He does a great job," Banker said. "He stays with his blockers, stays within the push, knows how to find the creases and understands blocking schematics and how to find the opening. He's not going to maverick and bounce outside from the point of attack, but every once in a while he breaks it and takes it the distance."
Ty Montgomery, a 6-2, 215-pound junior, leads Stanford with 36 receptions for 564 yards and five TDs.
"Physically, Montgomery is like Brandin Cooks on steroids," Banker said. "Might not have the same lateral speed Cookie does, but he runs good routes, is big, very fast and has good hands."
Montgomery is an even bigger weapon as a kickoff return specialist, leading the nation with a 35.2-yard average and bringing a pair to the house -- one of them 100 yards.
"He's a freaky athlete in an NFL-ready body," OSU special-teams coach Bruce Read said. "We'd love to have (every kickoff) a touchback, of course. But we'll mix it up on him and try to contain him."
Banker is also impressed with Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan, a 6-4, 230-pound sophomore who completed 22 of 29 passes for 254 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions and ran 11 times for 49 yards against OSU a year ago in his first career start.
"And he is really improved over last year," Banker said. "He is a big, sturdy kid with a strong accurate arm. He'll hang in the pocket, he sees the field well and can hurt you with his legs."
Stanford's balanced offensive attack presents major problems for an opponent, OSU coach Mike Riley said.
"Our whole front seven, plus the safeties, have to play a part in run defense," Riley said. "We have to maintain gap responsibilities, good angles to the ball and good tackling.
"There are a lot of elements that go into being able to play physically. If you're in the secondary and you have pass responsibility, you'd better be sound. You can't bite on play-action. You'd better pay attention to the releasers down the field. That's a big part of their game."
NOTES: OSU tight end Connor Hamlett, who had a knee procedure done last week, will not play. Defensive tackle John Braun (shoulder) sat out Tuesday's practice, but Riley said he hopes Braun will return Wednesday and be available Saturday. Kickoff return specialist Victor Bolden (ankle) was running well Tuesday and will play. Devin Cajuste, Stanford's No. 2 receiver with 21 catches for 377 yards and four TDs, injured a knee against UCLA and is not expected to play. OSU will use Andrew Maughan, a 6-4, 205-pound redshirt freshman from Oregon City, as both long and short snapper Saturday. Harrison Linsky snapped on place-kicks at Cal. Riley, asked what he can take from last year's loss at Stanford: "You look structurally at how they defend you and how they attack. But different year, different team." Oregon State owned Stanford in the 2000s, going 8-2. The Cardinal, though, have won three straight since then. With a nation-leading 2,922 yards passing, OSU's Sean Mannion needs 337 yards to surpass his 2011 total (3,328) and move into third place on the school single-season list. With 29 touchdown passes, Mannion needs one to break a tie with Derek Anderson (2004) atop the school single-season list. With 76 receptions, Cooks needs 11 to move into fourth place on the school single-season list. With 1,176 yards, he needs 131 to climb into third on the school single-season list.