There was something for everyone in Oregon St.'s 10 point win over Arizona St. Saturday night, but it boiled down to the fact that the Beavers adjusted to their opponents' speed better than the Sun Devils.
Arizona St.'s speed rush caused a lot of problems for Oregon St.'s offensive line, and especially Colin Kelly, and it made life difficult for Cody Vaz, who was sacked 6 times. But after the initial blitzkrieg that cost the Beavers 9 points, Oregon St. was able to at least manage the pressure from the Sun Devils. Conversely, Arizona St. never solved the problem that is Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks.
It's neither shameful nor unique to not have anyone who can run with Oregon St.'s dynamic duo, but its also hard to win when you can't. Wheaton and Cooks sliced up the Sun Devils to the tune of over 300 total yards and 3 touchdowns, thoroughly erasing the early advantages Arizona St. took.
Whether it was on the sweep, above, on which Wheaton picked up 57 yards on 3 tries, or down field on the pass, like below, for the 17 yard touchdown that put Oregon St. ahead to stay early in the third quarter, Arizona St. simply lacked the speed in the secondary to keep up with Wheaton. Wheaton also added a 50 yard touchdown catch that got some momentum for the Beavers before the midway mark in the first period, a crucial drive and play after the Sun Devils had gotten an early touchdown off a fumble and a safety on a blocked punt, and it looked like Oregon St. might be on the version of losing control of their season, never mind the game.
And Cooks, below, who had 6 catches for 116 yards, and the 49 yard 4th quarter touchdown that effectively put the game away, was uncoverable.
And while the Arizona St. speed pass rush ruffled Vaz more than anyone in Orange and Black would like, it came at the price of not being able to prevent the Beavers from running the ball effectively as well.
And Oregon St. did it without starting running back Storm Woods, who gave it a go, but just wasn't able to perform. Malcolm Agnew turned in some tough yards, but it was Terron Ward, above, who took full advantage of the situation, scorching the Sun Devils for a game and career high 146 yards, including the 53 yard touchdown that answered the sequence that produced the safety and a field goal as a side benefit, and served notice that the Beavers were not going to allow themselves to be in a deep hole until it was too late, as happened against Washington.
"The kids kept their composure, and no one really panicked or blinked," Oregon St. coach Mike Riley said. "We made some major mistakes that were our doing but they (ASU) also made some sacks. We made enough plays defensively, and the kids played like crazy. Their first drive was impressive, and it takes time to get a feel for the speed and pace of their defense. Our guys got stronger as the game went on, and played smart. We got some pretty decent runs going, and we improved our kick-off returns."
Vaz, above, struggled at times, completing only 14 of 33 passes, and he suffered his first interception of the season, when it appeared no one finished out their route once Vaz had lofted a deep ball. But he did throw the 3 touchdown passes, and conducted another 4th quarter scoring drive that turned a game still in doubt into a clock-ball contest at the end.
Vaz also oversaw a pair of drives that [only] resulted in field goals, but were nevertheless vital to the outcome. The drive right before halftime that ended in the second of Trevor Romaine's 3 field goals was a bit of a disappointment in that it didn't produce a touchdown, after having first and goal, especially since one of Will Sutton's sacks and an incompletion after reaching the red zone resulted in a 19-19 tie at the break instead of Oregon St. taking the lead for the first time in the game.
But the 14 play drive consumed 5:47, started at the Oregon St. 14, and was an example of quality clock management at the end.
The 12 play third quarter drive that put the Beavers up by 2 scores, though not 2 touchdowns, stalled when Vaz threw 3 consecutive incompletions. However, had the umpire understood the difference between holding and the pancake block Kelly delivered, below, Ward's touchdown would have stood, and the incomplete passes would never have had to have been thrown.
And that drive covered 90 yards, after Arizona St. quarterback Taylor Kelly had pinned Oregon St. at their own 4 yard line with a perfectly executed quick kick, something he has done several times this season.
The struggles due to Arizona St.'s pressure need to be improved upon in practice, especially with Stanford up next. But its worth remembering how good the Sun Devil front 7 is. Sutton entered the weekend as the best sacker in the country, not just the conference.
Defensively, it was another solid performance at Reser, where the Oregon St. defense has done their best work. The Beaver defense entered the game having allowed only 20 points in 3 home games, and though the raw stats don't support it at first glance, this was another game winning effort for the unit.
Arizona St. only scored 10 meaningful points against a defense that was playing without their unquestioned leader and best overall player, Jordan Poyer. The yardage and the last touchdown were a bit disturbingly easy, but then the Beavers were in clock-ball mode by then. And of course, 9 of the Sun Devils' 16 first quarter points were scored while the defense was watching from the sideline.
The Arizona St. offense did seem at times to be able to seal the Oregon St. pursuit, particularly on runs to the Beavers' right, allowing Cameron Marshall, several solid runs, though his touchdown was up the middle. But Marshall was held to only 42 yards, though it seemed like more.
Kelly, above sprinting away from Devon Kell, caused more problems, as mobile quarterbacks always do against Oregon St., who rarely seems to decide to use a linebacker to defend such situations. Kelly ran for 80 yards on only 10 carries. But though he completed 22 passes, he put it up 41 times, and only accumulated 153 yards, and the 1 touchdown pass to Marion Grice with only 22 seconds left, as Arizona St. had trouble converting their mostly short passes into big plays (contrast that with Vaz throwing for 267 yards, on only 14 completions).
Overall, the defense did their job well enough, though controlling mobile quarterbacks will have to improve before the Ducks fly into town at Thanksgiving time.
As Riley noted, special teams provided some solid support despite the lapses that resulted in Keith Kostol's blocked punt, and Romaine doinking an extra point off the left upright, and it came in the form of Jovan Stevenson's 32 yard kickoff return, as well as more production from Ward, who had a 39 yard return, and 78 yards overall, plus no dropoff in punt returns with Wheaton handling them.
Oregon St. improved to 7-1 for the season, their best start since 2000, and 5-1 in the Pac-12, good for a tie with Stanford (7-2, 5-1) for second in the Pac-12 North, with the win. The Cardinal clobbered Colorado 48-0 in Boulder earlier in the day, and host the Beavers next Saturday.
Arizona St. dropped to 5-3 overall, and 3-3 in the Pac-12 South, having now lost 3 games in a row.
"Not much you can say other than we got our butt whipped," Sun Devils coach Todd Graham said.
Both pass protection and pass efficiency need to improve, as well as better control of opposition quarterbacks running at large, but even Benny was of the opinion that it was a good night to be a Beaver by the time all was said and done, and most of the near sell-out crowd of 45,979 on hand for Dad's Weekend, the 4th largest in Reser Stadium history, agreed.
(Photos by Andy Wooldridge)