Happy to be home again at Reser Stadium, the 14th ranked Oregon St. Beavers embark on "Cougarfest 2012" today, hosting the Washington St. Cougars, before hitting the road next week again to visit Provo, and the BYU Cougars, who defeated Utah St. 6-3 last night, improving to 4-2 for the season. (Quick glance ahead, the Blue Cougar defense hasn't allowed a touchdown in their last 3 games.)
The Crimson Cougs come in on a 2 game losing streak, after being blown away in the second half last week in Seattle by Oregon. The Ducks flew to a 51-26 win, though the Cougars were within 4 points, only down 23-19 at halftime.
Connor Halliday and Jeff Tuel combined to throw for 410 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Duck defense, though, and Marquess Wilson caught a dozen of those passes, for 182 yards, making him the Cougars' all time leading receiver.
The unbeaten Beavers enter after back to back road wins, only the second and third ever before the beginning of October under head coach Mike Riley, wins which pushed Riley past Lon Stiner to become the winningest coach in Oregon St. football history.
Sean Mannion torched Arizona for 433 yards and 3 touchdowns in Oregon St.'s 38-35 come from behind x3 win, including leading touchdown drives of 86 and 75 yards in the 4th quarter. Mannion was named the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week as a result.
Washington St. still holds the all-time advantage in the series 48-45-4, but Oregon St. has won 4 of the last 5, and 6 of the last 8 contests.
When the Cougars hired a pirate known for conducting "Air Raids", it was of particular concern to Beaver Nation, who still had fresh images of an often defenseless defense and an erratic offense from last year. But Mannion, and his favored targets of Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks have quickly become more of an "Air Raid" threat than the "Air Raid" is. And though they are still very inexperienced at safety, especially beyond Anthony Watkins, the Oregon St. secondary has improved as dramatically as any in the conference. This has contributed to a turnaround of the entire defense, with the improvement in both speed and depth in all the position groups the main reason.
Meanwhile, Washington St. still lacks speed and depth, especially on defense. That's a big enough problem to begin with, but the lack of depth really has had a lot to do with the second half collapses the last couple of weeks. Recall that the Cougs blew a 31-14 lead in the last half of the 4th quarter in losing to Colorado.
The fightin scrappin Cougs will put up a fight for a while, but that lack of depth, not only does the defense wear down, their lack of options means they are still doing the same thing late in the game, and opponents adjust to it, with the Cougars unable to respond.
Plus, Oregon St. is quietly getting the rushing game that Coach Mike Riley has felt was so important going again, and without having to hamper Mannion's air show. And Washington St. has all but no infantry support.
The Beavers should be able to wear down the Cougars, and pull away as they have in 4 of the last 5 years, so long as they keep that cold, rainy November day 2 years ago in the back of their minds. A lot of the current Beavers weren't even on the field that day, but there are enough who were at least in the stadium, and should remember it as well as I do, who will never want to experience that again.
Its going to be a beautiful day today, and it should prove to be another great day to be a Beaver!
Beaver Believer Believes:
In the fundamentals.
BB12's Keys to the Game:
1. Improve the pass defense. It's been shaky the last few games and the Cougs love to throw the ball. If the secondary can play good coverage, then I have little doubt that the defensive line will be there to pressure Connor Halliday. Rashaad Reynolds is a decent corner and Jordan Poyer is obviously great, but neither has been playing as well as they should. This has become the weakness of OSU after the last two games, and it needs to improve in order to face spread offenses down the road.
2. Continue to build the run game. The Beavs turned in a nice performance last week from the offensive line and Storm Woods, and that needs to continue. The Beavs need the run to set up the pass and if Woods can continue to tear up defenses, the Beavs will be truly lethal. Also he better, because WSU is giving up 161 rushing yards per game, although that stat is slightly skewed by UO from last week.
3. Crowd presence. OSU should have a sellout crowd and it should be loud. Rather it needs to be loud, the Beavs have played well, and now the fans need to back up the team. The Wisconsin game had the same kind of atmosphere that I hadn't felt since USC had come through in '08. With a soldout crowd, the noise needs to get back to the almost Rose Bowl run years.
The Beavs have been playing with their hair on fire, I don't see them having a letdown on the first home game on a long time. Beavs 45-24.
Beaver fans will be able to relax during this one, assuming the Beaver players don't do the same. The latter doesn't seem likely, with this being the first home game since Week 2, and a sellout or close to it. The team should be hyped up enough to beat the Cougs quite easily.
It will be interesting to see how well Oregon State deals with Wazzu's air raid offense that garners so much attention. As of this week, the pass defense is the most suspect aspect of the team, which is less an insult to that squad than a compliment to the other parts of the team. Even if they struggle as much as, or more than, they did against Arizona, it likely won't be enough to cause the Beavers to lose for the first time this year.
Now, an obligatory mention of the run game success carrying over into this game. And an obligatory "Oh my god, Sean Mannion is so good!" with the help of Cooks and Wheaton.
If this game were being played in Washington, a week before the Civil War, this could be a classic trap game. But it's not, so it's not.
It's been almost a month since the Beavs played at home. Playing in front of close to what will be a sell-out. Playing to go 4 and 0 for the first time in a decade. Able to improve on the win TOTAL from last year. Ranked 14th in the country. Really I think that about says it all to me. But to be a bit more specific, I expect some game jitters at first, and then I fully expect both sides of the ball for the Beavs to take over this game for what probably won't be a total cake-walk win, but will be a solid and unquestionable win.
A couple areas I am curious about (and wow I'm actually not using the phrase "concerned" here!):
1. How will the running game look? We saw a big step forward here against Arizona and I would assume that this could be a game where Mannion gets a little more of a break where the team will try and establish more of the run game sooner and more often. I seriously don't think the play calling will go this way, but part of me wonders if we could actually get two 100 yard performances out of Woods and Agnew if the play calling pushed for that much more of the run game.
2. How will the defense react after having it taken to them last week? Right now I have no big concerns about this for Arizona's spread and quick offense is going to just be a tough match up for the Beavs at this point in the season. But I am hoping for all of that defensive swagger to come back in this game, especially as the Beavs will be going to Provo to what looks like to be a tough defensive battle type of game.
And lastly on the WSU side of things are we going to have more of their last week's first half or second half team show up?
Oh, and I would be totally remiss, if I did not mention how excited I am for this game. I have been amped up all week about this one! This OSU team has some attitude and a get it down mentality we have not seen for a good length of time, and it is refreshing to say the least!