Oregon St. meets Washington St. tonight, and the winner will move within 1 win of becoming bowl eligible before mid-October. The Beavers will literally throw the nation's leading quarterback in terms of total yards in Sean Mannion at the Cougars, who will throw back with the #3 guy, Connor Halliday. You won't mistake this one for Notre Dame-Navy.
One thing Oregon St. does have going for them is last week's bye, because it allowed time to get their backfield, which has been missing both RB Storm Woods and TE Tyler Anderson the last couple of games, back healthy, and also get the offensive line healthy too.
That can only help Mannion, and he threw for an Oregon St. record 6 touchdowns against Colorado in gale force winds.
Washington St. on the other hand hasn't had a bye yet (the Cougs first weekend off comes at the end of the month), and as a result Halliday has been bounced around enough to be a bit bruised up. Not that that has hindered him; he threw for more yards (521) last week at California last weekend than any Pac-10/12 quarterback has since 2005. Check back over the records for the last 8 years and you will find quite a few qbs have come through this conference that could really roll up some yards, so that's no small accomplishment.
So a shoot-out is assured, right?
Lets not forget these same 2 teams, running the same basic systems, played a 19-6 game last year. Or that it was just before halftime in that game last year when Mannion injured his knee.
OK, maybe everyone would and should forget those details.
I do think Oregon St. coach Mike Riley will go to considerable lengths to try to get the run game going, though it again might be sooner than later that that morphs into passes to Woods out of the backfield. And that makes sense, not only to generate balance, but to keep the ball away from Halliday, and the Mike Leach "Air Raid" attack.
But its worth noting that this season we have seen the Mike "we win with defense" Leach Cougs, and the Mike "we win with ball control and field goals" Leach Cougs, and as a result, the Cougs are actually becoming more dangerous.
Still, I'll be surprised if this game doesn't come down to a 4th quarter scoring drive, and if it isn't around 11 PM when that happens. In that scenario, I like Mannion's interception numbers better than Halliday's, though the reason both teams have 4 wins at this point is the reduction in picks thrown by both qbs.
The Oregon St. secondary, which already has 8 picks this season, needs multiple interceptions of Halliday (or knocking him out of the game while he runs loose).
Beaver Believer's Keys To The Game:
1. Pressure Connor Halliday. Halliday has been prolific so far, but is a little dinged up. Oregon State needs to get in his head from the get go, and never let him find his rhythm. If the game gets into a shootout, I have trouble trusting the defense against the Cougars The front four of the Beavers need to get pressure without extra help. I do not have enough trust in the secondary to handle things by themselves, if the Beavs require extra rushers it will give all the receivers too much space to work with.
2. Get Cooks the ball. The Beavers are beginning to state the obvious, that giving the ball to Brandin Cooks will give OSU that best chance to win. Cooks has been unbelievable all year, he has been one of the best wideouts in the nation, if not the best, at least by stats, although he passes the eye test as well. The Beavs need to get the ball in his hands any way they can, and let him take care of the rest. It is getting to the point where even when throwing into double coverage, it still feels like he will get the ball anyways.
3. Step up on coverage. The Beavs have improved on defense over the last few games, but it is still hard to trust them. More than anything else I just want to see the secondary not give huge cushions, as the spread attack of WSU will look for the open receiver, and giving that much space is just begging for them to eat up yards.
Both teams are rolling right now offensively, but with Oregon State coming off the bye and finally getting some guys back, I think the Beavs eke it out in a nailbiter. 44-41 Beavs.
Things are rarely easy for Beaver fans, and I suspect tonight will be one of those back and forth, four-hour battles that go deep into the chilly Northwest night. To put it briefly, prepare your heart beforehand. The keys in this one are twofold. Most importantly will be giving Sean Mannion time in the pocket. I think the bye week helped most of our offensive line get healthy, and they should do well enough to let Mannion find his targets. If he is able to do that, the Beavers win. Plain and simple.
On the defensive side of the ball, I'm hoping we see the results of an extra week to prepare pay off. Do I see us completely stopping Connor Halliday? No. No one will. But if we're able to disrupt things and contain the Cougar offense, that should be good enough.
Alright, prediction time. The bye week pays off, at first, and similar to the Utah game, the Beaver D comes out aggressive and forces some critical Wazzu mistakes early. The Beaver offense rolls from the start, but settling for field goals on their first two possessions keeps the game tight. Soon enough, Mike Leach makes the right adjustments and Halliday begins to shine, but the Beavers still lead 20-14 at the half. The next 30 minutes, things go full #PACtion. Touchdowns are traded as the night grows longer, but with two minutes left, the Cougars, down seven, are faced with a fourth and long at midfield. Steven Nelson steps in front of an out route, and there's no one in front of him on the way to the endzone. He might as well run all the way to Berkeley, which is where the Beavers are headed after the 49-35 win.
I'm not sure if it's real or just perceived, but this game feels huge for the Beavs. Maybe it's the anticipation created by a bye week, maybe it's that WSU is probably the best opponent the Beavers have faced.
I'm more confident than I should be headed into this game. Until the opponent is Baylor or the Ducks, I'll have confidence our offense can out-gun the other team's. And this week, it looks like there's reasons to have faith in the aspects of the game Oregon State's struggled with this season. A healthy O-Line and steadily improving defense have to make Beavers fans feel better about the team going forward.
But that's getting ahead of ourselves, the Cougs are a more-than competitive team. If the Beavers come out flat after the week off, this game could be over before we know it. If Connor Halliday gets into a rhythm the Beavs will be in yet another shootout. But if the D-Line can get pressure and the secondary can force a turnover early, Halliday might be so rattled he never gets back into it.
A key factor is how well the O-Line protects Mannion, and Mannion protects the ball. Wazzu's front line and secondary have several dangerous playmakers that can disrupt plays and slow down the Beavers dangerous passing attack.
Really though it's great to have Oregon State football back. Any week Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks are playing is a good week!
Football? Are we playing football again? Well for better or worse, last weekend the weather was nice, and it was a break from OSU football, so did get some yard work and cleaning of gutters done. Let's just say I am ready to get back to it now!
Key questions I have for this game:
Bye Week? It sounds like the injury situation has got a lot more healthy in the off week, so this creates a lot more of a positive outlook for this conference game. Especially of note is getting Storm Woods back into the lineup. Will this translate into a little more of a well-rounded offensive attack for OSU?
On the flip side, there will be some questions of rust and mental sharpness coming into this one. I figure there could well be some rust and the question is will the Beavs be able to find their game legs quickly against a pretty dynamic offensive team in WSU?
Offensive Balance? Okay, yeah I know some chuckling here of course! To be old-school film reference here: "Rushing? Rushing? We don't need no stinkin' rushing!" But with both our starting RB and our FB back into the lineup there should be more chances to create some more balance with the offensive play calling. But is the offensive line ready for this? And with Mannion and his pretty deep receiver corps do we even need "balance" here?
Defense? Everything points to a stunning offensive show in this game. We have two of the top three QBs in the country coming together to what seems like a proving ground of who is the better. This bodes ill for the defenses, and especially with the OSU defense, that is one of the last defenses, stat-wise, in the league.
As such, my bet is some fans in Beaver Nation will be hoping for a huge Mannion and Cooks night for the Beavs to offset what looks to be an outmatched OSU defense. But I personally wonder here about this, and yes the defense has not played incredibly tough teams yet, but it has made some strides of improvement. Even if Colorado turned out to be an over-matched team, it did say a lot of how the Beavs were able to take it as a mission to shut down the Buffalo stars. WSU though is a deeper and more athletic team. This will be a big time test for the OSU defense, can it pass it?
Washington State? Connor Halliday, Connor Halliday, Connor Halliday. Just as on the Beavs side we have Sean Mannion, Sean Mannion, and Sean Mannion (okay and Brandin Cooks, Brandin Cooks, and Brandin Cooks), we are looking at really I think one huge key to the game: can the OSU defense slow down, and personally I am hoping shut down Halliday? Additionally, will Mannion keep his pose and composure in what could be a battle of pride and status between the two dynamic QBs?
The Cougars also do not seem to have a strong rushing game, so it will be of interest to see if this helps the OSU defense at all, or if WSU can do what I think OSU needs to do, and find just enough of a rushing game to help unleash the passing game.
I do wonder overall about WSU and just how good are they? No doubt they are improved and are totally following through on the glimpses of potential we saw last year under Leach, but at the same time they have a strange resume with: a solid loss to Auburn, a messy win over a down-on-its-luck SC, and couple solid wins against teams they should win against (again this is different than last year), an interesting offensive shoot out against a rebuilding Cal team, after a no doubt about it loss to Stanford.
Looking this over, it seems like WSU will have some issues matching up against OSU, IF (and bold and all caps on the 'if') OSU plays at the level it can, and should be, playing at.
In conclusion I have mixed feelings of excitement, anticipation, and nervousness with this game. I personally feel the Beavs, if they are clicking the way their athletes should be able to click, will be a match up issue for WSU. That said though, I am not naive and realize too that WSU has some potentially troubling match up issues for the Beavs. In the end one thing I know is it will be probably be more fun to watch this game than cleaning my gutters out!
As always, add your thoughts in the comments!