A win over Arizona tonight in Tucson would get Oregon St. off to their best start in a decade, since a 4-0 start in Dennis Erickson's last season. With 2 wins over at the time ranked opponents, including UCLA last week on the road, even with a loss, it will still be a successful September.
And history this century supports the Beavers, who have been dominant in the series, beating the 'Cats 11 of the last 13 times they have met, including the last 5 times at Arizona Stadium.
But can Oregon St. actually win twice on the road in September? They have only won twice on the road in September ever under coach Mike Riley.
Arizona has a big question to answer as well, trying to bounce back after being bounced 49-0 by Oregon last Saturday night. Can the 'Cats build on a defensive effort that was only down 13-0 deep into the 3rd quarter? Or will their offense's inability to score on any of 6 trips into the red zone reoccur when faced with the Oregon St. defense?
And what of the heat, and the 'Zona Zoo? How much will they affect the Beavers? Predictions are for temperatures to get down into the 70's as the game wears on (Tucson typically is cooler than Tempe). That's fine for viewing, but still warm for football. But not HHHAAAUUUGGGHHHTTT! The increased depth on the defensive line Oregon St. has utilized will still be a critical factor.
Both of the Beavers first games were both surprising and suspenseful, as Oregon St. overcame being the underdog, which despite being the ranked team in the match-up they are again against Arizona. All the same attributes apply again this week. It could well come down to an on-side kick at the end again.
Oregon at least controlled Ka'Deem Carey, limiting him to 79 yards rushing, but the real key to the Duck defense's dominance was to completely neutralize the 'Cats' Matt Scott as a rushing threat (Scott ran only 5 times, and for just 9 net yards), which took the run out of the RichRod run spread option.
Oregon made Scott have to beat them in the air, and he couldn't. Scott completed only 50% of his passes, connecting on just 22 of 44, and 3 of them were picked off. The only touchdown pass Scott threw was to Oregon's Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.
Oregon St. has thrived this season using a lot of nickel and dime packages and still being one of the best rush defenses in the country, due primarily to the speed they put on the field. That's the perfect recipe to frustrate the still relatively inexperienced Scott, who had a number of opportunities to make plays against the Ducks, but frequently hurried the play or otherwise got over-excited, making it unnecessarily difficult for his receivers to make plays.
It's tempting to think the odds will catch up with Oregon St., but that was the case with the last two games as well. This team, especially the defense, doesn't react to the odds, or anything else, though; they set the tone. And the offense, twelfth in the country in passing yards per game behind a much improved Sean Mannion, should be even better able to generate points as it continues to improve with experience.
If the Beavers play as they have in the first two games, they should be able to take command before the desert heat or RichRod's preferred game pace can wear them down.
Beaver Believer's Keys To The Game:
1. Stop the run. Another game, same need. The Arizona attack under Rich Rod will use the quarterback as a runner as well, and Matt Scott fits that role pretty well. The Beavs have more speed at linebacker than in recent years, and that should help prevent Scott and the Zona running backs from gaining too much yardage. This is very achievable, since OSU currently has the number two ranked run defense in the nation (behind Stanford) and has been terrific up front.
2. Continue the composure. Part of OSU's success is not making a lot of mistakes, there were some unnecessary fouls in the UCLA game, and a couple turnovers, but the defense kept form and held. There have been very few drops and the defense really has not made a lot of bad plays either. This needs to continue for the Beavs to improve to 3-0.
3. Start a run game. For the play action pass to work as well as it did last week, the running game needs to improve. It has been passable, but if the offense can start gaining yards on the ground, it will open things up even more for Brandin Cooks and Markus Wheaton. Riley has been using a platoon approach, but I do believe Storm Woods needs more touches, he has looked explosive so far.
The Beavs are rolling, but Arizona is mad and at home. I still take the Beavs this week, 27-20."
Beavers playing in Tucson? No problem! But seriously, this is a game Oregon State should win. Hopefully the Beavers can stop the run early and force the Wildcats to be one-dimensional, and put pressure on Scott, forcing him into turnovers -- basically, do what the Ducks did.
I'm not trying to undersell or look over the Wildcats; ranking 11th and 34th in passing and rushing yards respectively is impressive, but the Beavers have been even more impressive. Ranking 12th in passing yards in just 2 games speaks to that.
What would help Oregon State massively this week is having a running game. It wouldn't surprise me to see the Wildcats empty out the box early and challenge (invite?) Storm Woods and co. to establish the run game. However, I also think this is a winnable game without a very effective run game. The Beavs have done it twice before, and Sean Mannion, Markus Wheaton, and Brandin Cooks really are that good.
I thought the first two games were winnable for the Beavers, but I didn't think they'd be won. This week's game, however, is is a game that should be won, and will be won.
Last week I had a breakdown of possible conclusions I would have about this OSU team going into this second tough conference game and right now I'm placing my thoughts in this area:
1) The Beavs are as good as they looked against, at the time, 13th ranked Wisconsin team. They have a defense that plays smart and aggressive and is a well-rounded OSU defense that we haven't seen for a few years now. And their offense looks posed to give teams fits with some dynamic receivers, a smart and confident QB, and a solid running game. I'm still holding off judgement until this team goes to the desert.
I really was again impressed by this team's pose and control of a game against a pretty good UCLA opponent. But last weekend it was even more impressive I think because it was on the road too AND on the road against a UCLA program that has given us fits at their place for years now.
Where does this then leave me for going into this game against what I thought was a really good UA team (though not so sure now)? Well again my thoughts turn to the basic idea of can the Beavs play as good as they have against Wisconsin and UCLA? Will they continue to show improvement (deep and mid-passing routes and punting anyone)? And are we actually going to have a 3 and 0 start for the first time since the Erickson era? And that was 2002 to be precise and by the way after that start that Erickson team did go 0 and 3 in Pac games so an improvement already in that area this year.
I actually don't have much of impression of the Wildcats right now beyond they seem to be a work in progress and obviously better at home than on the road. But in general I like the Beavs match up going into this game again. And match up wise especially if our offense can establish some overall ball control and redzone finishing potential that has been lacking in the first two games so far.
In conclusion this could be a huge possible win for this program and one that could light a pretty big fire into Reser Stadium October 6th. I think even if the Beavs lose this game we still have a ton of excitement to be tapped into for this team (for I believe even a loss will be a very competitive performance), but we could well be looking at a team coming back home after two tough conference road wins to play a WSU team in front of a loud and excited crowd on the verge of one of the best starts in over a decade. Who would have thought?