It's already the last game of the season at Reser, and it's a big one. It's "Husky Week", with Washington coming to town for a game that could go a long ways to salvaging a strong finish for the winner, while the loser could be in for a cold winter, with most of the heat reserved for their coach's seat. With the Civil War, and for Washington, the Apple Cup, next Friday in a double-header of sorts, it should be the biggest week and a half or so of the season.
Oregon St. will look to snap a 3 game losing streak, while Washington will also be trying to bounce back from a road loss.
With more Pac-12 teams probably bound for the post season than the conference has bowl tie-ins, its an important game that will send the winner to a decent bowl game, while the loser could be scrambling for an at large berth, especially if next week's respective rivalry games go awry.
Day Night (the word "day" no longer goes with Oregon St. football) will only heighten the energy level, something that last year's testy confrontation in Seattle already ensured would be high. (How odd is it we are talking about reasons to get excited about "Husky week"? That used to be automatic, even when one or both teams weren't stalking bowl berths.)
It doesn't seem like it should be the end of the season already, but it nearly is, and as such, there is precious little time left to take care of unfinished business. Perhaps its the unbelievably imbalanced schedule that meant only 1 home game in nearly 7 weeks time, or the mind-numbing march through an endless string of night games that cheapened the experience of game day, effectively eliminating any post game.
Both are disappointing components of a mis-managed season that proved to be distractions from what could have been. It's hard to believe these distractions haven't hampered performance on the field as well, and the proof is in the inability to develop the offense as the season went along.
Given that the defense actually managed to make sizable strides (even though they shouldn't have needed to be that sizable), the uninspiring efforts offensively over the last month are all the more frustrating. Coach Mike RIley needs to reevaluate things (again) in the off-season, and come up with some answers.
But in the meantime, there is a playoff-grade game at hand. One win in the last 3 games would have taken much of the pressure off, but that's as far in the rear view mirror as those adjustments Riley needs to make are in the future.
It's as simple as executing against the Huskies, and notching a season saving momentum changing win that will end bowl uncertainty, and avoid what will likely be a 5 game losing streak. No one is conceding the Civil War, but lets be real; the Beavers would be underdogs going into Autzen had they won 2 of the last 3, and the Eastern Washington game too.
I'm not worried about Sean Mannion, but I am worried about an offensive line that hasn't taken the next step, surprising given that there are 3 seniors who hopefully want their last game at Reser to be a good memory, and the members of the receiving corp not named Cooks or Hamlett.
Washington is in a similar position, except they might actually fire Coach Steve Sarkisian if they lose, and even the most purple blooded Husky IS worried about Keith Price, health wise.
Tonight will be about finding out who steps up when the going gets tough (and on a cold night against a desperate opponent, it will get tough). The Pac-12 North championship isn't at stake, but the stakes might actually be higher than if it were.
It's time to carve up the Washington defense, one which has been shown the game plan to beat Oregon St., on top of being the conference's leading defense against the pass. It will take a good xs and os game, and also a high emotion and desire game. A deficiency in any of these areas won't suffice.
Beaver Believer's Keys To The Game:
1. Stop the run. The Beavs got shredded on the very first drive of the game last week and they never were able to keep up. Overall in the game they did fairly well on defense, limiting Taylor Kelly well, although the Sun Devils still managed 4.0 yards per carry, 4.3 if you don't count the sacks. For the Beavs to win they need to stop the Huskies from gaining yards on the ground and force whichever quarterback is playing for the Huskies to beat them through the air, especially if Keith Price can't go.
2. Win the turnover battle. The Beavers are not talented enough to win while making mistakes, and they made several bad mistakes against Arizona State last week that was really what made it impossible for the Beavs to overcome a solid performance by the Sun Devils. Mistakes like the muffed punt by Brandin Cooks can't be repeated, and the defense needs to continue to force turnovers, which they have done a great job of doing this year.
3. Protect Mannion. I believe my keys to the game have either been the same or similarfor the last few weeks, but that has been in line with the performances that the Beavs have delivered lately. Mannion has been under fire lately, but he is still having to step and shift too frequently. The offensive line needs to let him get settled back there. The Beavs do not have a mobile quarterback with Mannion, and they need to let him set his feet and step into throws. If they keep allowing defenders into the backfield, his performance will continue to suffer.
Despite how badly the Beavs have played the last couple games I still think they can come out hot on senior night and beat a northwest rival. Washington is certainly capable, but I think the Beavs come out with a little more vigor and just beat the Huskies. 37-36 Beavs
This is a hugely important game for the Beavers, and they have a chance against a wounded Huskies squad. Despite how the teams have looked for the past month and a half, I think football rules say that somebody *has* to win this game. Sure UW has picked up wins over Cal and Colorado, but there's hardly a velvet rope at the entrance of that club.
There's still no word on Keith Price, but I'm not sure it matters much, because I don't think Price, if he does play, will be at 100%. Still, I've pretty much lost any confidence or faith in this Beavers team. They've yet to beat a real team, got flat out throttled by ASU, and not even the subsequent 6-game win streak erased the memory of the EWU debacle.
Nonetheless, the Beavers have the talent to beat the Huskies. I just don't think they will. I expect more suspect play-calling, Sean Mannion jitters, and sad Mike Riley press conferences.
I like bowl games. I really don't care if two awful teams are playing each other, I look forward all year to watching college football, on any night of the week, while ignoring the traditional family holiday festivities. You say 70 teams going bowling is too much? I think all 125 should go. And no matter what happens tonight, we will be playing in one of those games next month, and that is something to be thankful for. But with that being said, this is a huge game.
This is the difference between San Francisco and Albuquerque, or whatever obscure city we may go to if we drop tonight's contest. This is the difference between BYU and San Jose State. Or Syracuse. Or Bowling Green. You want a playoff? The playoffs start today, and it makes me scratch my head when I hear that ticket sales are down because of the forecast or late kickoff. This is the final home game of the season, and just because we come in on a three game skid doesn't make it any less big.
Both offenses, Washington minus Keith Price, Oregon State minus the good Sean Mannion, struggle early adjusting to the cold temps. But a costly Cyler Miles interception sets up the Beavers at the Husky 30, and three plays later Richard Mullaney hauls in great throw from Seany Football to give OSU the lead. With less than two minutes remaining in the first half, Mannion is once again given a short field to work with after a huge punt return by Brandin Cooks. And once again, they capitalize, this one on an eight yard fly sweep to make it 14-0. But just as Beaver Nation ventures into the cold parking lots celebrating a near-perfect first half, the defense folds like it did three weeks ago going into the half against USC. The Dawgs go 75 yards in 70 seconds and cut the deficit in half.
That would be the last dose of momentum UW tastes, however. The Beavs take a 21-10 lead into the fourth quarter, and when a 40 yard boot from Trevor Romaine that would have been good from 55 splits the uprights with three minutes remaining, the Beavers lead 31-17 and wave goodbye to New Mexico, and hello to six extra days of practice and their third meeting with BYU in three seasons. Mike Riley's mood in the post game press conference is a 360 degree turnaround from last week's, but the smiles quickly fade when Steve Preece reminds him he has six days to prepare for Oregon.
Things are winding down for this tale of two seasons for the Beavs so far, and things are coming to a head in looking towards this very big game against Washington. Will the Beavs finish the season strong with a win this week and a decent showing next week? Will the Beavs kill all of those good things shown in the earlier part of the season and end without a Bowl invite? Dare we say it? Is this a must win?
Offense, offense, offense, my kingdom for that offense of old? Again to beat this one over the head yet again: Where is that offense we were getting so spoiled with in the first seven games? I know those games were not against powerhouse defenses, but even if it was early in the season the Beavs' offense did light up a pretty decent Utah defense at their place.
It is going to be a tense game with two pretty desperate for a win teams, and as such it could get sloppy and turnovers could well be the story for the winner and the loser. But that said, I really think OSU's offense needs to open it up earlier. I don't know if it needs to be everything in the first quarter goes down field for 40 or 50 yard shots, but at the least the ball needs to get to the tight ends and to other receivers to take the pressure off Cooks. Then Mannion and Cooks need to find their chemistry again.
And yes we need some rushing game, and yes we need to get Cooks involved, but really I believe it comes down to Mannion and the offensive line to recapture their pass offense swagger. I have no issue with Mannion throwing for 45 to 50 (or more) times in this one if that translates to a win. All in all this is OSU's championship game for the season, let's see them play a bit more open, like it is all-or-nothing.
Defense? Funny enough, I think the defense will be fine in this one (if they don't have short fields to defend and don't spend a ton of time on the field). Am I going to be proved correct or is this going back on dangerous assumptions path again?
UW? Will Washington bring it to this big game? Will they play like it is their championship? What will their once potent offense bring to it all? Do they still have enough in the tank to give the Beavs all they can handle and more? In summary, which UW team is showing up Saturday night and how will they match up to the mystery of which OSU team will show up?
In conclusion, I personally believe this is a game that pretty much is going be the one that can make or break the season for Oregon State. I do almost wish the season matched up the Beavs against ASU or Stanford earlier to get even more ‘battle tested' early on, for this schedule has been a tough contrast, and the Beavs have not adjusted well of late.
That said this is one game that may match up at a good time for a struggling OSU team against a struggling UW team. And I may be settling for mediocrity here, but going to a Bowl game, no matter how low on the pecking order the game is, versus not going, is a big deal right now. The team has struggled and let some fans down of late, but also the team played with a lot of spark in those early games and needs to finish strong to have those wins not go to the wayside. Wining this game, playing the UO semi-tough, and playing in a Bowl will be a big deal for coming out of this season and going into next year. And I must say it; this IS a must win game!
Go Beavs! Kill The Huskies!