#10 Oregon St. (4-0, 3-0) at BYU (4-2) / LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo / 1:30 MDT (12:30 PDT) / ABC, ESPN3 / KEJO 1240 AM / KEX 1190 AM
Oregon St. takes to the road for the third time this fall, for their second non-conference game of the season. The game will be televised regionally in the Pac-12 and intermountain areas on ABC, and on ESPN3 in other areas.
It's the conclusion of Cougarfest, 2012 edition, the second consecutive game against Cougars, and the second year in a row with back to back games against Washington St. and BYU. Last week, it took until the second half for the Beavers to get going, but then they pulled away from the Crimson Cougs for a 19-6 win. 4 interceptions, 3 by Jordan Poyer played a major role in the win.
The win lifted Oregon St. to #10 in the nation, their highest ranking since the beginning of the 2001 season. Another would give the Beavers their first 5-0 start since Lon Stiner's 1939 team. Something none of the Rose Bowl teams nor the Fiesta Bowl team accomplished.
A win today would also avenge last year's 38-28 win by the Blue Cougars in Corvallis. Oregon St. tied the game at 14 apiece just before halftime, on a pick-6 by Poyer, below, but BYU pulled away in the second half. 4 turnovers and a pair of missed field goals by Trevon Romaine were major factors in that.
Oregon St. fans will note some similar themes between then and more recent times, including Poyer interceptions, winning the turnover battle translating to winning the game, and Romaine missing makeable kicks, all of which were story lines again as recently as last week. And could well be again today.
But the story lines that dominated the week leading up to the game both had to do with what turned this episode of Cougarfest into the "Orthopedic Surgeon Bowl", after both teams had their quarterbacks suffer surgery requiring knee injuries in last week's game.
Oregon St.'s Sean Mannion tweaked his left knee while executing a handoff in the third quarter, but finished the game, only to notice something not right on Sunday. An MRI Monday led to successful surgery to clean up a torn meniscus on Wednesday. While it isn't expected to be a season ending injury, Mannion is out for several weeks, thrusting Cody Vaz, whose' last action was in the 2010 Civil War, into the starting lineup for the first time ever.
Vax, a red-shirt junior, has been the #2 for the Beavers for 2 1/2 years, but has only appeared in 5 games, and has 6 completions in 17 passes, for 48 yards in his career.
Meanwhile, BYU learned Sunday that freshman Taysom Hill would need knee surgery, and would be lost for the season. Hill hurt his knee late in the Cougars' 6-3 win over Utah St. last Friday night, as BYU was running out the clock. Hill missed the signal from the sideline to take a knee, and ran a keeper instead, resulting in having his knee taken out.
Fortunately for BYU, Riley Nelson, above, who was the starter last year, and at the beginning of this season, is ready to return to action, after missing action due to a back injury sustained in the Cougars' second game of the season, though Nelson did play in subsequent losses to Utah and Boise St.
He struggled though, and the biggest reason this game isn't between a pair of undefeated top 15 teams are a couple of pick-6s he threw in the Cougars' 24-21 loss at Utah, and in the 7-6 loss they suffered the following week at Boise St.
Last year against Oregon St., Nelson completed 17 of 27 passes, for 217 yards, and also 3 touchdowns, against the one interception Poyer returned 51 yards for a touchdown, and also another 87 yards rushing.
This year, its the BYU defense that gets the headlines, as the Cougars are #1 in the nation against the run, allowing just 59.5 yards per game, almost exactly half of the 118.5 yards per game Oregon St. averages on the ground, and less than 2 yards per rush.
The Blue Cougars are also #3 in scoring defense, allowing only 8.8 points per game, and #5 in total defense, giving up just under 230 yards per game. And their pass defense isn't that far behind, ranking #12 nationally, and allowing less than 170 yards per game.
The BYU defense hasn't allowed a 300 yard game in their last 12 outings. Oregon St.'s 365 yards last year was the last game above the 300 yards allowed mark for the Cougars.
You can follow the foe's feelings on the game at Vanquishthefoe.com.
The series between the teams is tied at 5-5, but BYU has won the last 2 meetings, including their 44-20 win in the 2009 Maaco Las Vegas Bowl, and then last year's Cougar triumph. It's the first game in Provo since 1986, when Oregon St. beat BYU 10-7.
The game is homecoming for BYU, and it will be a black-out, as the Cougars will be wearing special black uniforms and helmets designed by Nike for this one game. It will be the first time in modern times that BYU will wear black uniforms.
The game opened with BYU a 3 point favorite before the quarterback injuries arose, which was somewhat surprising, given Oregon St.'s top 10 ranking. With the changes behind center for both teams, the line has moved to BYU + 5 1/2. The real money to be made was taking the initial "under", which was 38.5. That looks like an impossible target to reach now.
The game will also be something of a family reunion for Oregon St. middle linebacker Feti Taumoepeau, formerly `Unga, and his twin brother Uani `Unga, a linebacker for BYU who played linebacker at OSU in 2009 & 2010, before going on an LDS mission last year, and joining the Cougars this season.
And BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall, of course, is an Oregon St. alum, having played for the Beavers in 1986 and 1987. Mendenhall was also a defensive graduate assistant at Oregon St. in 1989 and '90, under Dave Kragthorpe, and the defensive line coach in 1995, and finally as defensive coordinator in 1996, both for Jerry Pettibone.
Buildingthedam will be at the game, and back later with full coverage and analysis.
(Photos by Andy Wooldridge)