Oregon St. starts a run of 5 games in their next 7 at Reser Stadium this evening. (Photo by Andy Wooldridge)
Oregon St. has concluded their 2 week Cougarfest, where the Beavers feasted on various Cougars for a pair of wins that have boosted them into the top 10, but Utahfest is only half way over. After last weeks trip to Utah, its Utah that is coming to Corvallis tonight.
For those who weren't at Flatail Brewery last night, here's the OSUMB Bar Band and "Beer barrel" to help get in the mood.
Last year, Utahfest was a disaster for Oregon St., with double digit losses in both games, most notably a non-competitive effort against the Utes. But this team is an entirely different squad, even if most of the members of it are the same ones. Utah, however, is on a similar path this season; one that got off to a struggling conference start, but can still be salvaged with a second half of the season surge.
The Utes are on their third quarterback of the season, and like Oregon St.'s Cody Vaz, Travis Wilson will be making his second start tonight. How he does will have a lot to do with whether Utah can begin a season turnaround similar to last years against Oregon St.
This is a game when the Beavers can solidify themselves as a top tier team. Washington St. was an example of how easy it is in this conference to get into trouble, or at least an unnecessarily close game. There was a general air of giddyness around campus pregame, and it seemed to affect the focus of the offense. At least the defense was on their game from the get-go that day.
Being Homecoming, and a night game, as well as the first "Blackout" in 5 years, the excitement level around having the #8 team in the country will be even greater this time. If the team can channel that energy, they can take a measure of control early, and hold on to it throughout the game.
Despite their first-half of the season struggles, I don't expect Utah to phone this one in; there's too much talent on that team. Hopefully, the Oregon St. players, most of whom were on the field last year in Salt Lake City, haven't blotted that night out of their memory, though there were plenty of reasons to do so. Rather, that night should serve as a reminder of what the Utes, at least some of them, can do.
It might be a little more challenging with Cody Vaz starting at quarterback instead of Sean Mannion, who probably still has nightmares about that night in Rice-Eccles, but I don't really think it will be a problem, based on last week's performance in Provo.
I do expect a game that looks a lot like the UCLA and BYU games, ones where Oregon St. had a measure of control for most of the game, but did see their worthy opponent do some good things. However, balance between the pass and run, a minimum of turnovers, and a good game out of a defense that's still improving most days, should send the Homecoming crowd home happy, after seeing the Beavers gradually pull away from the Utes, who will have a hard time scoring enough points to keep up with the Oregon St. passing game, and Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks in particular.
Beaver Believer Believes:
BB12's Keys to the Game:
1. Watch out for Star Lotulelei. Whether its just him matched up with Isaac Seumalo or just simply running the play away from him, Lotulelei is Utah's best player, and must be avoided. Much like how teams avoided Stephen Paea, the Beavs need to play Lotulelei the same way.
2. Build an early lead. OSU should be a better team than Utah, and the Beavs need to take control early and take Utah right out of the game. With no bye weeks for the remainder of the season, Oregon State needs to get some more rest for the starters, so they need to make Utah believe that they have no chance.
3. Get the crowd into it. Against WSU I never felt that the crowd got as loud as it should have. Everyone was waiting for the big play to create some noise and it never really came. The first two home games were terrific defensive performances, but featured lackluster offensive performances. This time around the Beavs need to play well in all phases of the game.
This is a game that OSU should win handily, but they cannot look past the Utes either. 31-10 Beavs.
The Beavers are a better team than Utah, and by a wide margin. They're kinda polar opposites in a way; Utah was a popular preseason sleeper pick and Oregon State was picked to be last in the Pac-12 North. And yet here we are, with the Beavers undefeated and the Utes 2-4, winless in conference play, and having suffered losses to Utah State and UCLA.
Much like Wazzu, I feel this could be a trap game if it were being played on the road. But I can't imagine the Beavs losing on homecoming night with a blackout, in a nationally televised game.
As long as Isaac Seumalo can contain Star Lotulelei decently well, there's not much that could trip up the Beavs. The Utes do have some talent, evidenced by being thought of quite well before the season started, but it doesn't make much sense to think they'll put it all together against the #8 team in the nation.
Should be a fun, stress-free Homecoming night for Beaver fans. And boy, do they deserve that.
Can we say QB controversy yet? Ha, only joking!
But one thing I am serious about is how more comfortable I am this week with Vaz starting again. What impressed me more than his spectacular start was how solid and refocused he looked at the end of the game after some rust and inexperience started to show itself. I think though one thing we really learned last week against BYU is how much this team is just that this year: a team.
Against an underachieving Utah team this weekend the team will be again tested. The team will be tested as the number eight team in the country. The team will be tested with a back up QB in his second start. The team will be tested in front of a homecoming home crowd. The team will be tested against a team that would love to upset them.
More specifically my hopes for this game:
1) The O-line continues its stellar play and establishes control of the game early and keeps it in control throughout.
2) Vaz continues his solid play and does not try to over play but at the same time does not become conservative. Sooner or later he will most likely make a mistake, like an INT, in this game, and I also want to see a Mannion shake it off and bounce right back type of attitude from Vaz.
3) Storm Woods and Malcolm Agnew combine for a very solid one-two punch to keep the Utah defense off balance. I would like to see a couple big runs too, for that is one thing I feel we have been missing so far; a long, crowd motivating run. (I would say also missing has been a great punt return.)
4) Another solid defensive performance with improvements in the pass rush for I do think the pressure on QBs has been a bit lacking of late.
5) Everything else that the Beavs have been doing well (showing off two of the best in the country receivers, punting the heck out of the ball, excellent rush defense, and so on) continues and even goes another step forwards.
I'm not totally sure what Utah is going to be bringing to this game, and I do personally wish for a bit more of a "no doubt" OSU win going into the fourth quarter. But my guess is another hard fought and impressive performance from a Beaver team that looks to be on a mission.