Oregon State 101: Beavs living dangerously

MIKE RILEY

OREGON STATE has been the surprise team of the conference this year: 3-0 for the first time in the Mike Riley era. OSU overcame a difficult early schedule and haS risen to 14th in the AP poll. But the Beavers have also been living dangerously. They have won their three games by an average of just four points.

The opening win over Wisconsin was impressive at the time (ranked 13th), but a month of struggles have the Badgers looking unlikely to even make a bowl game.

Against youthful Arizona, OSU needed a last second touchdown to secure a come from behind victory. Bottom line, the Beavers look as vulnerable as they do dominant. An effort equal to what they gave the Ducks last week, might be enough to deliver Washington State a badly needed upset.

Cougars (2-3) vs Beavers (3-0)
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
3 pm Pacific Time

WHERE:
Reser Stadium (45,764)

TELEVISION:
Pac-12 Network

RADIO:
The Cougar Sports Radio Network covers much of the West. Click here for listings.

THE LINE:
Oregon State by 16

LAST MEETING:
2011, Oregon State won 21-44.

THE SERIES:
WSU is 48-45 in the series.

CF.C PREDICTION:
Cougs 24, Oregon State 27

THE BEAVERS ON OFFENSE

Players to Know
Sean Mannion, QB: The Beavers can thank their sophomore quarterback for much of their surprising success this season. The Beavers rank 4th nationally in passing yards per game and second in the conference in passing efficiency. Mannion has been intercepted only once this year while completing 65% of his throws for an average of 362 yards per game.
Brandin Cooks & Markus Wheaton, WR: The duo rank #1 and #2 respectively in both receiving yards per game and yards per catch in the Pac-12. These deep threats have generated five the Beavers six passing touchdowns this season.

Overview
The Beavers have the top ranked passing offense in the conference, but only the eighth ranked scoring offense. In that respect, they really are not that different from Washington State statistically (3rd ranked passing, tied for 8th in scoring), struggling to turn yards into points. The passing game is the main feature but freshman running back Storm Woods is threatening to deliver more balance to the Beaver offense. He has rushed for 255 yards over the past two games.

Strategy
Mannion is licking his chops to get after the Cougar defense which ranks No. 11 in the conference in pass defense. WSU will need to take its chances with Woods and the running game..

Key Statistic
10.2 yards per pass attempt in conference play: Mannion has thrown for big yards in big chunks in conference play. For WSU to win, the Cougs must contain the deep ball.

THE BEAVERS ON DEFENSE

Players to Know
Rashaad Reynolds, RCB: eams seem to be trying to pick on Reynolds over senior left corner Jordan Poyer. Oregon beat writers have been lauding his play. He leads the team in both tackles (25) and pass deflections (7). But conventional wisdom would suggest he will have his hands full with Marquess Wilson this week.
Scott Crichton, DE: Crichton leads the team with three sacks and seems to generate good burst despite having more a run-stopping frame (263 pounds).

Overview
Oregon State runs an aggressive 4-3 that ranks 2nd against the run and 12th against the pass. The defensive line is huge but has struggled to generate a pass rush. A veteran secondary that is the strength of the team quickly turned into a liability against Arizona in the second half.

Strategy
The defense that looked like a brick wall against Wisconsin got shredded by UCLA and Arizona. The Bruins and Wildcats passed for 362 and 403 yards respectively. As bad as WSU's pass defense has looked at times, Oregon State's has looked just as bad at times. Connor Halliday should have a monster day statistically, he just needs to avoid turnovers. And the Cougs need to get touchdowns, not field goals, after they cross the 30-yard line.

Key Statistic
383 passing yards per game in conference play: OSU has been unable to stop competent passing attacks.

THE BEAVERS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Kicker Trevor Romaine has missed field goals from 35 and 40 yards this season, making him a big question mark. Punter Keith Kostol has an adequate leg, but OSU has not generated a punt or kick return of note this season despite the offseason plaudits for punt returner Poyer.

FINAL THOUGHTS
-A strong offensive start would go a long ways to taking the pressure off WSU's defense. Oregon State has not allowed a point in the first quarter this season.

-These teams never seem intimidated by each other. The underdog has won the last two meetings and three of the last five.

-The talent levels are always close between these teams, but the scoreboard isn't. The average margin of victory in the past 5 contests has been 32 points.

-OSU is trying to go deep more this season and their two best receivers, Wheaton and Cooks, have really emerged this season. Wheaton has made some great grabs and Cooks is one of the fastest players in the Pac-12.

-Mannion has not been pressured much this season. If the Cougs can put the heat on him, he could revert back to his 2011 form when he threw 18 INTs.

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