LOCKER DECKS WHEATON IN 2011 BATTLE
FOR WASHINGTON STATE, this Saturday’s game at Oregon State was supposed to be the easiest of the Oregon doubleheader. Now, in the wake of a blazing Beaver start to the season, who can be sure?
No. 2 Oregon figured to be a handful, and it was, particularly in the second half, when the Ducks ran away from Washington State to post a 51-26 win last Saturday at CenturyLink Field. We knew this game was going to be tough six months ago.
But Oregon State? Two years ago, this was a get-well game for the Cougars, when it appeared the program turned the corner in a 31-14 win at Reser Stadium. Not much was expected from OSU this season, at least from the media’s perspective. In late July, the Beavers were picked to finish last in the Pac-12 North in the league’s preseason media poll.
Fast forward to the first week of October, when Oregon State isn’t a doormat, but suddenly a bully wiping its feet on the doormats of college football. The Beavers are 3-0 after wins over Wisconsin, UCLA and Arizona. They have rocketed from nowhere to No. 14 in the Associated Press poll, and No. 17 in the coaches’ poll.
Cougars vs. Beavers
The Kickoff: 3 p.m. PT Saturday in Corvallis.
The Line: Beavs by 14 1/2.
TV Coverage: Pac-12 Network.
The Records: OSU 3-0, WSU 2-3.
The Series:: Washington State leads the 96-gameseries 48-45-3. The Beavers have won four of the past five, but the Cougars have won two of their past three games in Corvallis.
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More than a few national writers have referred to Oregon State as this college football season’s biggest surprise. The Beavers have shown they can dominate on defense, and also run up some offense, as they did with 613 yards in last Saturday’s 38-35 win at Arizona.
Just the sort of team Washington State, reeling from consecutive losses to Colorado and Oregon, wants to run into.
I say, yes, seriously. This is exactly the opponent the Cougars should want to play right now.
I’m not saying the Cougars are going to go into Reser and win this Saturday. But this is a better spot than you’d think.
College football is an incredibly emotional game, one that has big swings in performance from week to week because of the characters on the field. There are a lot of 19, 20 and 21 year olds on that field who still haven’t fully developed mentally or emotionally.
Oregon State hasn’t experienced a high like this in several years. Back-to-back wins on the road, preceded by a victory over nationally-ranked Wisconsin. These are kids who are suddenly being told how great they are. The Beavers are living the dream, maybe so much so that bad old Washington State might not get their full attention.
I’m not predicting victory here for the Cougars. Nor am I saying that Oregon State won’t win laughing. But it is highly possible this game will be competitive, if the Cougars build on their first-half performance against Oregon, and the Beavers prove to be a little full of themselves.
About Oregon State: Not too difficult to see why OSU is doing well. The Beavers are fourth in the country in pass offense (363 yards per game) and ninth nationally in run defense. Those two statistics alone will take a team quite some distance. They’re also winning the turnover battle, and are developing a decent running game.
Quarterback Sean Mannion is making a run at Pac-12 offensive player of the year. The OSU sophomore has completed 82 of 127 passes for 1,088 yards and six touchdowns, with just one interception. Mannion has two terrific receiving targets in Brandin Cooks (21 catches, 404 yards) and Markus Wheaton (27 catches, 403 yards).
Running back Storm Woods had the best game of his abbreviated OSU career against Arizona, running 29 times for 161 yards and a touchdown.
If there’s a ray of hope for Washington State, it’s what Arizona did to OSU’s defense, passing for 403 yards and three touchdowns.
Last year: Mannion passed for 376 yards and four touchdowns as Oregon State routed the Cougars 44-21 in the annual Seattle game. The Beavers came into the game 1-5, but looked nothing like a skidding team as they never punted until their final possession of the game. OSU snapped a 14-14 tie on Malcolm Agnew’s 3-yard touchdown run late in the first half, which ignited a run of 20 unanswered points by the Beavers.
Familiar faces: Unlike the Ducks, Oregon State has many Washingtonians on its roster. There are 13 players with Washington ties, including standout defensive end Scott Crichton (Tacoma), and tight end Kellen Clute (Spokane). There are no former Cougs on the coaching staff, although graduate assistant Trent Bray is a Pullman High grad and the son of former WSU assistant Craig Bray.
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Read Nick Daschel’s occasional Pac-12 ramblings at twitter.com/nickdaschel