Colorado makes their first ever visit to Corvallis today, and Oregon St. is only a slightly more common sight around Reser, as its the only home game in nearly 7 weeks, with next weeks bye and 4 road games taking up the rest of a run of 6 Saturdays.
The Beavers have won 3 straight, and the Buffs have been victorious in the only 2 games they've had, having both a bye and a flood in their immediate past weekends. Oregon St. can retain a share of first place in the Pac-12 North, with whichever team wins the Washington St.-Stanford game this evening. Colorado can get off to their best start since 2008. It meets the definition of a big game for both teams.
It's the weekend before classes start at Oregon St., so it will be the biggest turnout yet this season for the Beaver Dam. It's also the first game of the season for the OSU Marching Band, the oldest band in the Pac-12, and the first under new Director Dr. Dana Biggs, who just happens to have just come to Oregon St. from Colorado, where he was the assistant director. Any doubt the Buffs are going to hear more than chainsaws on third down?
The Buffs are itching to get back in action, after consecutive solid 2 touchdown wins.
The Beavers have been busy causing anxiety, with 3 of their 4 games going down to the wire, including pulling out last minute 4th quarter comeback wins the last 2 weeks in Utah and San Diego.
It's an early, noon game, quite the change after 3 evening games the last 3 weeks. Hopefully, the body clock shock won't bother the Beavs!
This has a repeat of San Diego written all over it, right down to another wild finish. Of course, if the Beavers can pull out another late win, 4-1 will be 4-1, and more importantly, 2-0 in conference is still in first place in the division. Of course, there's always the chance that a close game could go the other way, as happened against Eastern Washington.
I expect another good game receiving, and a better day by Brandin Cooks, as far as reduced mistakes, not necessarily matching a career day in terms of total catches. And there's nothing in the Buffs' defense that makes me think Sean Mannion won't have another big day.
I'm still lost on Coach Mike Riley's comment about not being sure whether he will play Storm Woods even though he's cleared and has practiced. If he's cleared, Oregon St. CLEARLY needs him. If he's not really ready to play, why has he been cleared? I don't know which side of this situation is correct, but it can't be both ways.
The revolving door with linebackers and constant shuffling in the secondary is going to produce another mixed bag of good and bad plays, and I expect Paul Richardson to put some big plays up. But I do expect a big play to go the Beavers' way as well.
If a train wreck doesn't occur, I expect next week's bye to be put to good use, and we will see some improvement in the areas of inconsistency afterwards; Riley has a good track record of making good use of mid-season byes. But this week is a hold the fort in a shootout kind of contest.
Fortunately, there's going to be a big advantage in being in Reser, as despite partial defection of some of the new-side fans (3-1 & 1-0 would be pretty good under almost any circumstances), the Beaver Dam and Band and the old side will be out in force, and help carry the day with a team that, while inconsistent, is emotionally invested in a way that some previous squads haven't been, and therefore wouldn't have been as good at "finding a way" when maybe they shouldn't have.
Beaver Believer's Keys To The Game:
1. Contain Paul Richardson. Can you name the nation's leader in yards per game? Second belongs to Brandin Cooks at a whopping 159.8, but first belongs to Richardson with 208.5 yards per game. He is also only 0.3 catches per game behind Cooks with 10.5 catches per game. He is still 8th in the nation with 417 yards, and he has only played two games. He also averages 19.9 yards per catch. Case in point, this is one dangerous buffalo. The Beavs need to keep a watch on him all day, and since Rashaad Reynolds will not be allowed to cover him every down, the whole secondary will be hard pressed to keep an eye on him. As he accounts for roughly 56% of the Buffalo offense, if the secondary can hold him down, the Beavs should be able to pin the Buffaloes.
2. Find other ways to run. At this point, the run game is essentially non existent. Riley can claim that he wants to run all he wants, but the fact remains that the Beavers are completely ineffective when trying, averaging 2.09 yards per carry. That does not include sacks. In order to offset that, the screen game can be utilized. Obviously a run is preferred, but screen passes have been effective at times, and wr screens have been effective with Cooks. The fly sweep has not been run as much this year, but it is still best as a decoy also. With the patchwork offensive line that OSU has been running with, just about every other option is preferable to running. After the bye with Grant Enger and Gavin Andrews potentially returning, there is still hope for the run game, but not this week.
3. Create turnovers. The offense has been competent enough so far to handle a few turnovers, but the defense cannot get a lot of stops without them. Against Utah that was the only stops the Beavs created in the second half. Against SDSU it was how Oregon State took the lead at the end. It is unfortunately the best way for the defense to get stops, although some actual stops would be nice to see, but that might not happen yet.
With homefield advantage and the Mannion to Cooks combo the Beavs have the edge, but it will be close. 38-34 Beavs.
Oregon State will win this game. I feel like I shouldn't be that confident, but I'm really starting to like this team. I think Colorado comes out a bit rusty playing its first game in three weeks. I also think the Beavers come out flying around and making plays, jacked up on a three game winning streak and finally returning to Reser. I think I'll finally be correct in predicting the defense has a "get right" game. And I think Riley tries to take advantage of playing what's perceived to be a lower half Pac-12 team and establishes the run game early on.
Even if the Colorado line is able to contain Terron Ward, we have no reason to worry about Mannion's ability to open up the field. The Buffaloes may attempt to deploy the blitz-heavy attack, a la San Diego State, but the Beavs appeared to have that mastered in the final quarter and a half down at Qualcomm.
I'm interested to see a few things this weekend, and on the top of the list is wanting to watch Chris Brown get some action in the backfield. I was impressed with him the few times I saw him in practice, and who knows, maybe he provides a new weapon at running back. I have a feeling the game will be too tight to see him, but I always like to see Cody Vaz. He looked good in a small sample size against Hawaii and hopefully we'll be in a position to get him a few snaps.
I'd also like to see improvement in the return game. I have no idea if this is something the team is working on, but Victor Bolden's kick returns have left a lot to be desired, and we haven't seen one decent punt return from Brandin Cooks, either.
Alright, prediction time. In sloppy conditions, both defenses look better than they actually are and the game is tight heading into the fourth quarter. Finally, Mannion begins picking apart the CU secondary, and two touchdowns in the final 15 minutes gives the Beavers a 31-17 victory.
This should be a fun one! No matter what happens, fans get the treat of watching the top two receivers in the conference, and two of the top 10 receivers in the nation.
Feel like I'm a broken record at this point, but boy would it be great to see the defense show up this week! Seriously we appeared to make some huge progress last week with some personnel changes, with players like Ruben Magio and Larry Scott playing a more prominent role in the defense.
If those improvements can be sustained, and some simpler things like pursuit angles can improve, the defense really could actually be...not awful.
Combined with the electrifying Beavers offense, Oregon State might be able to put it together at the right time, and that starts right about now.
I don't see why we should expect anything but more of the same from the Beavs: a close game that comes down to the final drives.
So who is ready for another 4th quarter heart-attack inducing drama-fest? Well, maybe not me. I like fun and exciting football games as much as the next fan, but really can we have a bit of a break from it for OSU and have the Beavs focus and bear down and control this one from start to finish? I think the mass of returning students may enjoy a nice confident win that keeps the excitement always in the Beavs favor. What do I think needs to happen for this to come true?
Offense? = Well the passing game needs to find its full game swagger again that it lacked against San Diego State. One has to feel that Mannion and company will be fine overall, but they did struggle a bit more than was needed last weekend. The offensive line though is a patchwork deal for sure, and as such. let's talking running.
Okay, no questions for me here I just think SOME sort of running game needs to happen. I really don't know if it will happen up the middle, so why not some other plays to keep the Colorado defense honest? Get them out of the pattern of focusing only on lots of different pass rushes. Not sure it does need to be a lot here, but something more than we saw last week for sure.
Defense? = I don't know, it comes without saying coming into this game that the defense needs to find itself this weekend. I do think though that with the home crowd energy in their support the defense can do more than we are expecting. Maybe. We shall see.
Home Field Advantage? = Are we going to have a nice feedback loop here? Lots of coming back to school student energy behind the Beavers sideline feeding into some big time OSU plays on both sides of the ball, thus feeding back into the crowd's energy. It can happen. and if it does look out Colorado.
Colorado? = Colorado has an unknown edge to it right now. They have already won more games than last year, including a pretty impressive W against a Colorado State team that played Alabama fairly well. In the end though, one has to wonder with this being their first conference game of the season if it may be a tough match up against a dynamic OSU passing offense, and in an environment that might be deceptively energetic for them first coming into the small town venue. As noted elsewhere, I wish they had been able to play that Fresno State game, for that would have been a very good indicator game I think. I also wonder if the layoff from getting onto the gridiron might be a bit too much. It will be interesting for sure.
That all said, I am not naive, and OSU games have not gone quite as planned for OSU this season (except for Hawai'i). Heck, our defense could still go out there struggling to find its identity, and as I joked before, the offense might find itself nervous in front of the home crowd, and not fully execute enough of the time. It could rain a ton, etc. etc etc., All of which leading to another barn-burner adventure-time down to the wire game where Colorado gains more confidence as the game progresses.
But at the same time I do think this game has the potential on both sides of the ball for Oregon State, and especially the offense, to be a "let's get back to business focus" type of game for the Beavs. But as we have seen so far, we have to just wait and see for there is no telling.