Or the Darkness Devils, since no sun will shine on yet another Oregon St. game.
The Beavers begin the final quarter of the season with a trip to Tempe. In the 60's some pretty good Arizona St. teams had a fair amount of trouble with some even better Pumpkin Patch kids from Corvallis, but after that, Tempe became a house of horrors for Oregon St.
The Beavers didn't win again in Sun Devil Stadium until 4 years ago, when Coach Mike Riley broke the jinx with a 28-17 win. And while Oregon St. has dominated the series lately, winning 4 of the last 5 meetings, including last year's 36-26 win at Reser, the one blemish in that time was 2 years ago, when Arizona St. downed Oregon St. 35-20.
It wasn't enough for former Oregon St. head coach and then Arizona St. coach Dennis Erickson to keep his job though, and Todd Graham took over last season.
There was a benefit to the Beavers in that; LB coach Trent Bray was only in the unemployment line for the briefest of time before Riley brought the former Beaver back to Corvallis.
It's likely to be another tough challenge, as Graham has the Sun Devils, who are 14 point favorites tonight, playing at an elite level, at least at home. Arizona St. had blown everyone else who has visited off of Frank Kush field except Wisconsin, and regardless of inept Pac-12 officiating of the end of game timing, the Sun Devils still won, and over a ranked opponent.
Taylor Kelly and Marion Grice represent what Beaver Nation were hoping Sean Mannion and Storm Woods would be; a 1-2 pass/run combination that would produce balanced offense, and lots of it. Mannion has held up his end, throwing for enough more than Kelly to make up for the rushing production Kelly brings to the field. (It's appropriate to begin panicking now, here comes another mobile quarterback!)
But Woods and the rest of the Oregon St. running backs haven't been able to live up to hopes, though there are other factors involved.
If that doesn't improve in the 3 games in the next 3 weekends though, its going to be difficult to get a win, never mind enough to match last year's success.
And without Kevin Cummings, its going to take a Brandin Cooks like effort out of Cooks to get the WR production back to first half of the season standards.
The ace in the hole could be Connor Hamlett getting healthy again, and Caleb Smith too. Oregon St.'s tight ends are usually a key component to Coach Mike Riley's rabbit out of a hat good use of a bye week. And the Beavers have matched up pretty well with the Sun Devils lately.
Beaver Nation is going to see some great Pac-12 tight ends in the next 3 weeks, beginning with Arizona St.'s Chris Coyle; Hamlett and Smith could hold the key to a winning season for Oregon St. instead of a 6-6 season.
Beaver Believer's Keys To The Game:
1. Stop the run. In the second half of the Stanford game, and the whole game against USC, the Beaver defense was shredded on the ground. One contributing factor to the struggles was the injury to D.J. Alexander; without him on the edge, the Beavs really struggled. It is a poor excuse to blame the loss of one player for the struggles of an entire unit, but his absence was clearly a factor. Oregon State needs to toughen up and not give up easy yards.
2. Limit yards after contact. In the last two games the Beavers have been exceedingly poor tacklers, allowing extra yards even when they actually managed to be in position. I was tracking it against USC before the number got so large it was just getting too annoying to keep track of. Once again, Alexander will help with this, but everyone has to make the tackle on first contact. OSU does not have the athletes to make up for mistakes.
3. Protect Sean Mannion. The Beavs have been most dangerous when opening up for middle to deep routes chewing up large amounts of yardage in a few passes. When the pass rush repeatedly gets to Mannion, it affects the plays, forcing short routes and making it hard to get first downs. The Beavs need to give Mannion enough time for Brandin Cooks and Richard Mullaney to actually get open, which they have failed to do for the last couple of games.
Arizona State is a good Pac-12 team; they are fairly balanced and Kelly is just mobile enough to give the Beavs fits. I want to pick OSU, but playing against a mobile quarterback does not exactly inspire hope for Beaver fans. 34-24 Sun Devils.
I like the Beavers in this one. An extra week to get healthy and get right mentally should do wonders for the team, and the results should show under the lights in Tempe. I'm guessing they are particularly upset about the USC game, and with everyone picking ASU, this seems like a trap game for the Devils. Especially being played in Tempe, and with a trip to UCLA looming.
But for the Beavers to escape the desert with the upset, there are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Playing physical and establishing a running game will be key. Look at how Utah stayed with the Devils last Saturday, and how Stanford dominated them a while back. And even Notre Dame, to some extent. North and South football will be critical, especially on the third and fourth and shorts.
Same thing on the defensive side of the ball. If the defensive line stands tall against the run and forces Kelly to throw, good things will eventually happen. Similar to the Beavers, Kelly and Grice like to connect for short plays through the air. Stopping Grice in both facets of the game will be huge.
This will be another typical late night, Oregon State nail-biter. Both teams trade touchdowns in the first quarter before Rashad Reynolds channels his inner-Jordan Poyer and picks off two Kelly passes on back-to-back drives. The offense stalls inside the 25 each time, but Trevor Romaine bounces back from a rough outing 15 days earlier and knocks through both field goals. It's 13-7 Beavers at halftime.
As usual, Oregon State struggles in the third. The Sun Devils keep the ball on the ground and it doesn't take long for Grice and ASU to take the lead; and extend it. It's 21-13 with the Beavers driving halfway through the fourth when Brandin Cooks shakes a would-be tackler and runs the 40 more yards to cut the deficit to two on a fly sweep. With everyone in Sun Devil Stadium expect some sort of pass, wily old Riley gives the ball to Terron Ward on a straight give. It takes a good 20 seconds to uncover the pile, but when the bodies are torn off, the ball is across the goal line. Beaver Nation has only started its celebration however, and things continue less than a minute later when Reynolds picks off his third pass of the night, with nothing but natural grass in front of him. He waves goodbye to the Arizona State offense, and the New Mexico Bowl, as he strides into the endzone.
This would be a very nice win to steal back some confidence heading into the final two weeks of the season. I expect this will be a close game that looks a bit like the last two games. I except Will Sutton will be all over Mannion considering how suspect OSU's pass protection has been against the competent front sevens of Stanford and USC.
However I also think we'll see a return to the successful pass offense we saw earlier in the year, thanks to a heavier dose of Terron Ward running the ball than we saw during that 6-game winning streak. I do see the Beavers getting a win in this one. Go Beavs.
We are back to football again, and let's hope the team is back to playing some football too! This looks once again to be a pretty interesting match up between Oregon State and Arizona State. Additionally, both teams have pretty high stakes in this game in terms of their division standings.
As such, here are my questions and thoughts for this game (and I will avoid complaining about the night game deal, for I don't want to spoil all those riches coming to us):
Can the OSU offense get back on track? I know all season we have been on pins-and-needles about the defense, and can it hold up enough to finish strong this season, but of late I fear a bit more of a troubling issue has arisen: the once seemingly unstoppable OSU passing game has been "stopped."
Granted, the earlier in the season games were against teams that are not as athletic on defense as Stanford and USC, but still, even without a true rush game the offense looked dangerous enough to be the mainstay. Injuries are not helping the issue for sure, and so the questions of how healthy this offense is physically and mentally are key to this game. Specifically has Mannion shaken off his worst game, and has he found that mental toughness we had seen up until USC forced him into 3 INTs, which was the total number he had coming into that game two weeks ago?
OSU defensive mismatch against the ASU offense? Ah, one of the games we have been dreading, with how on paper this looks to be a full and complete advantage to the ASU and their balanced offensive attack, led by a mobile and dynamic QB in Kelly. I still have personal questions/concerns about this aspect of the game, but do feel Utah's performance against ASU last weekend has shown a bit of what the Beavs need to do to slow down the Sun Devils.
Can OSU play physical and smart as Utah did when the Utes held Kelly to only 144 yards passing and -9 yards rushing? I don't see this as quite the match the Beavs had with the Stanford offense, but there is some potential here for the OSU defense to weather some hits to keep the scoring low. If ASU's scoring is kept low enough and the OSU offense can find its stride it could bode well for the team.
Turnovers? The last games for both teams have had some key turnovers. Arizona State fumbled once, but more importantly were able to force two key Travis Wilson interceptions to seal the ASU squeak-by win at Utah. OSU on the other hand, as noted above, were on the flip side of what they have done to teams this season. Mannion turned the ball over on three key INTs that helped keep the high-powered OSU offense in check. Can OSU flip the switch here and recapture that spark of opportunistic defensive play and smart holding onto the ball offensive play?
ASU? The Sun Devils has been a team that had a bit of hype coming in to, and very early on in this season. There were some question marks around the team though, and then they lost a good amount of that swagger after getting clobbered by Stanford in their third game of the season.
They bounced back and rattled off an impressive coach destroying win against a down USC team, but then lost pretty unimpressively to Notre Dame. I personally thought they could well be done for the season basically after that ND game, but an easy match up game against Colorado seemed to get them firing on all cylinders again. This led to an impressive sweep of the Washington schools.
But the Utah game last week did seem to show that ASU is not a total 50+ point offensive monster. Funny enough, it seems like we have a game with two offenses that could have both fan bases asking the same question: Which offense will we see from each team this Saturday night?
I think I have fully, well as much as I can, recovered from that loss to USC. Granted 'SC has found a spark of late, and that game's timing for the Beavs was not favorable at all. I am looking forward to a physically and mentally well rested OSU football team. This is a very important game. The Beavs still have two pretty winnable games left and this is one of them; the problem of course is these next two games are also winnable for the other teams. Indeed this ASU team is a very good one and is very well coached. As such the Sun Devils are rightly favored to win this game. I will also go out on a limb to say that the next three games ALL have openings for OSU wins (however big or small those opening are, they are still there I believe).
But for that last regular season game to stay even open as a small possibility I believe the Beavs need to shake off their previous two losses as aberrations and look to this as a "new" last quarter of the season. As such to finish strong this season it all has to start Saturday night in the desert.