Sean Mannion should have another big night throwing against Utah, unless Oregon St. is penalized too much. (Photo by Andy Wooldridge)
Oregon St. (2-5, 2-2) faces Utah (3-4, 0-4) in the Utes' annual "Blackout" game. It's a good sign that Utah respects the Beavers enough to "use" their motivational tool in this game. Fortunately, black is a color the Beavers are comfortable around. After all, the black that is the new red/green/blue/etc. in the world of uniform tailoring is still the black that is still a base color for them.
The last time Oregon St. came to Rice-Ecles, they were coming off a shocking win over USC, and would go on to play for a Rose Bowl berth, and eventually get a win in the Sun Bowl. The Utes were working on what would be an undefeated season, eventually capped by a Sugar BCS Bowl win over Alabama.
It took 11 points in the last 89 seconds of the game to pull out the 31-28 win that saved the perfect season for the Utes, and overcame the 28-20 lead the Beavers opened with 2:18 left, when Lyle Moevao found Brady Camp for a 2 yard scoring pass.
The stakes, and the national interest, won't be as high this time, but the game could be as close, and at least as critical to both teams, as they look to make the most of overall disappointing seasons to this point.
Oregon St. lost multiple games early while sorting out their quarterback situation, but since settling on Sean Mannion, the Beavers have won 2 of their last 3 games.
Utah had their quarterback situation upended when Jordan Wynn was lost for the season in the middle of the Utes' 31-14 loss to Washington in their Pac-12 Conference home opener, forcing Jon Hays into the fray. Utah has lost 3 of their last 4 games, starting with that game against the Huskies.
Despite Utah being a 5 point favorite, which might be as much about trying to stimulate some speculative investing as the anticipated outcome, I expect an Oregon St. win in this one.
The Beavers are playing better, and have the offensive fire-power to out-score an inconsistent Ute offense that hasn't been able to keep up with any Pac-12 offense yet. With his running backs healthy, Sean Mannion, last week's Pac-12 offensive player of the week, should have a field day. The array of receivers Mannion has used (11 caught balls against Washington St.) will cause problems for the Utes in coverage.
Also, Oregon St.'s defensive strengths and weaknesses match up favorably for the Beavers. DEs Scott Crichton and Dylan Wynn, and an impressively good season by Andrew Seumalo, have supplemented Kevin Frahm well, and should make life difficult for Utah's best weapon, RB John White IV. And Hays isn't likely to burn the Beavers' secondary as some of the quarterback/stud wide receiver combinations they have encountered.
But its a tenuous advantage Oregon St. has, due to being terribly thin at linebacker and on the offensive line. And Utah is a very physical team. BYU beat up on the Beavers, and Utah might be even more bruising. This game could swing, and wildly, on a couple of key injuries.
The other huge stats to watch are turnovers and penalties.
In every one of Utah's wins, they have had at least a +2 turnover margin. In all of their losses except the USC game, where a +2 turnover margin gave them a chance to win the game down to the last play, the Utes are -4 or worse in the turnover column. It's almost certain that if there is a turnover margin of 2 or more, the winner will be the team on the good side of that stat.
As far as penalties go, well, the Beavers are the most penalized team that there is. Oregon St. coach Mike Riley has reviewed every called penalty, and has said he can't find anything to penalize on some of them. But then Pac-12 officiating can be counted on to break out, and in a negative way. However, that only accounts for a portion of the problem. Oregon St. continues to make numerous communication and alignment mistakes, a problem that persisted against Washington St., and in an atmosphere that won't be nearly as distracting and challenging as Rice-Eccles will be. If injuries and turnovers don't bite them, penalties certainly could if there isn't improvement in this area.
This game is another very similar to last week's matchup against the Cougars, two teams toward the bottom of the Pac-12 trying to keep from sinking all the way to the bottom of the barrel. Utah is looking to get their first Pac-12 win and OSU is trying to get their third and claw back up to a respectable position in the Pac-12.
This is a very winnable matchup this week against the Utah Utes. The injury to the Utes' starting QB Jordan Wynn has really caused Utah to struggle for the last few weeks.
BB12's Keys to the Game
1. Stop the run: The Utah offense is very limited without Wynn as a starter, as the replacement, Jon Hays, was going to FCS school Nebraska-Omaha when their program shut down so he went to Utah. He has had a rough stretch as a starter, throwing for seven picks in the three and a half games he has played in. If Utah is forced to throw the Beavers should be able to walk away with a victory. In wins the Utes average 185.7 rushing yards and in losses they average a paltry 58 rushing yards a game. If you want to beat Utah, stop the run and force them to try and air it out, their top receiver DeVonte Christopher is back, but with Hays as QB it may be tough to get him the ball.
2. Create pass rush: The Beaver pass rush seemed revitalized for the first half against WSU repeatedly getting to Tuel, and then continuing to pressure Lobbestael throughout the second half. Against Utah with their shaky quarterback play, getting some pressure would likely cause some mistakes, which leads to the third key.
3. Win the turnover battle: In their last four games Utah has given up 5 turnovers twice and 4 turnovers once, all ending in losses. In their win against Pittsburgh, Utah actually forced 3 turnovers and gave none away and it resulted in a win. The Beavs have the potential to force some turnovers with Scott Crichton rushing the passer and Jordan Poyer on the outside. If OSU continues the momentum from the WSU game, Hays will make some mistakes due to pressure and the Beavs have to capitalize on those.
If the defense plays well enough the offense will get plenty of opportunities and eventually they will cash in on those. The Utah defense has given up an average of 402.5 yards per game, and has created very few turnovers against Pac-12 opponents. This is a game that OSU has to win; the pressure is on both teams to win and barring some special teams touchdowns by Utah, the Beavers have the capability to control this game and they really should. If the Beavs play relatively mistake free football, it should be an Oregon State victory. The spread is set at 5 in favor of Utah, but I respectfully disagree. My estimate for the score:
OSU 31 Utah 17
Coming out of the best performance this season by far, what is this Beavs team going to do for a follow up? What are we going to do without Connor's coverage!
So let's talk about the Orange and Black going into Halloween weekend (heck I know it is Monday, one of the worse days to celebrate one of the coolest holidays). Is this Beavs team ready step it up and be the bogeyman for another team? They seemed to play that role well for UA and WSU, and put the fear of the fires of unemployment into those coaching staffs!
Last week first, and there is a part of me that is excited after that WSU win, for it was a dominate win on offense and a very controlled win on defense. There is a part of me that is still hesitant to get too excited for it was WSU, and as much as WSU has supposedly improved I really still see it as a game the OSU program has to win (yes I know we lost to them last year, but it just felt like for a week the OSU football universe had realigned itself).
Now we are on to Utah, another team that I'm not really sure how well the Beavs match up with. Is this a team that beat up on BYU, a team the Beavs lost to, or this a team that hasn't won a Pac-12 game yet?
Basically what I am expecting out of the Beavs starts with that they really do have a true momentum going into this game. Yes more momentum than coming out of the UA game, for the Beavs last week looked pretty much in full control of the game.
I expect to see Mannion to continue to grow and I want to see him show that same at ease confidence and decision making he has showed us in the pocket. I want him to show an even higher percentage of good decisions with his passes. As I mentioned in a comment already I feel that sometimes he tries too hard to "guide" the ball into place. With this group of receivers I think he can become much more confident with throwing to the space. And yes I expect our talented receivers to get loose once again, and how about a big game for Halahuni? I like that idea!
I expect the running game to take it up another notch. We are going in to a game with what looks to be a fully loaded backfield, and I really like the different looks the backs could give the Utah defense. Oh, yes I expect a 100+ for Agnew.
I expect the defense to build on the good team energy they finally seemed to project (yes, a bit forced with the injuries I know, but maybe that makes it more impressive).
And as wild as this will sound, I expect the Beavs to come out of the weekend spooking us all with a winning Pac-12 record.
It has been a difficult and haunting season to be sure, and maybe it is the optimist in me, but I see glimmers of hope starting to really shine through. On a realistic note, it is still on the road, and against a good overall football program, so I am in no way handing this W to the Beavs. But I am starting to get the feeling that maybe the team has the quality to raise to the challenge. We shall see, and here's to all the tricks to go against the Utes and all the treats to the Beavs. Happy Halloween everyone!
BTD will be at the game, and back later with full coverage and analysis.