Oregon St.'s Jordan Poyer could be just the ticket to disrupt Washington St.'s "Air Raid" passing game.
Washington St. (2-3, 0-2) vs. #14 Oregon St. (3-0, 2-0) / Reser Stadium at 3 PM PDT / Pac-12 Channel / KEJO 1240 AM / KEX 1190 AM
Oregon St. returns home for the first time in a month, and takes on an old northwest nemesis, Washington St. There won't be In-And-Out burgers for the Beavers if they win, but there will be a sell-out crowd waiting to cheer for them.
At #14 in the nation, its the highest the Beavers have been ranked while playing in Reser since the 2000 Civil War.
The game begins "Cougarfest" a 2 year October tradition, that puts the Wazzu game adjacent to the BYU game.
When the schedule came out, it was much anticipated as the first look for many Oregon St. fans at the "Air Raid" offense of new coach/chief pirate in the Palouse Mike Leach. And sure enough, despite having to switch from long time Cougar quarterback Jeff Tuel to sophomore Connor Halliday when Tuel got hurt (pretty much an annual event in Pullman), even without a rushing game (the Cougars are 123rd of 124 FBS teams in average rushing yards per game) or time to recruit, the "Air Raid" is 12th in the country in passing.
But who knew it would be the Beavers that have the hot passing game? Sophomore Sean Mannion has had a career best game 2 weeks in a row in leading Oregon St. to consecutive upset wins on the road over UCLA and Arizona, and the 362.7 yards per game Mannion has thrown for is 4th best in the country.
The real differences are on the ground and on defense, though. Against Oregon, Washington St. actually lost ground on the ground, whereas Storm Woods also had his career best game so far in Tucson, running for 161 of the Beavers' 180 rushing yards.
Defensively, Oregon St. is 66th in total defense, at 395.3 yards per game, and more importantly, 38th in the country in scoring defense, having allowed 20.67 points per game.
Washington St. is 104th in total defense, having given up 472.2 yards per game, and 95th in scoring defense, as the Cougars are allowing 32.6 points per game.
The odds are against this being a close contest, as the Cougars and Beavers haven't had one since Washington St. beat Oregon St. 13-6 on Oct. 7, 2006 at Reser. The Beavers won 52-17, 66-13, and 42-10 the next 3 years. The Cougars struck back 2010 with a 31-14 upset that was as much as anything to blame for the end of the Beavers run of 4 straight bowl games. Oregon St. answered with a 44-21 win last year at Century Link Field in Seattle. It was one of Mannion's best games, as he threw for 376 yards and 4 touchdowns.
It was also one of the first hints at things to come from Brandin Cooks, above, who wore #13 at the time, but is now known as #7, and has become Markus Wheaton's regular running mate in opponents secondaries.
Oregon St., who is a 14 1/2 point favorite over Washington St., is expected to be healthy for the game, as reserve defensive end Rudolph FIfta, who was in doubt, after missing some time this week recovering from concussion-like symptoms, was cleared late in the week, practiced, and will play. Storm Woods, who sat out practices Monday and Tuesday, returned to action Wednesday, and is full speed for the game as well.
Tuel is healthy again, and came on in relief of a limping Halliday in Seattle, but Halliday took the majority of the snaps with the first team in practice this week, and is expected to get the start.
One area Oregon St. could certainly stand to improve on is starting field position, and if they don't, it certainly creates an opportunity for Washington St. The Beavers are last in the conference in average starting field position. It's partially a product of facing some pretty good kickers, but also an issue with controlling opponents' gunners, who have been getting down field relatively easily and quickly.
Regardless, it needs to change for Oregon St. to continue their successful starts. Mannion has been good at 70+ and 80+ yard drives, but facing more 60- yard ones would be better.
The game will also be Benny's 60th (!) birthday, and he doesn't look a day over half that! It should be a great day for a birthday party for our furry friend.
Buildingthedam.com will be at the game, and back afterwards with full coverage and analysis.
(Photos by Andy Wooldridge)