Last year's Washington-Oregon St. game was one no Husky will ever want to forget, and also one no Beaver will easily forget, though most have given it a good try. It was documentably the worst loss in the history of the Oregon St. program, setting records of the wrong kind that even the dark ages never approached.
And since the majority of the current Oregon St. players were there in Reser that night exactly 1 year ago, it would be reasonable to expect an effort intended to extract some measure of revenge. But so much has changed, for both teams, even though the bulk of the Huskies on hand a year ago are still around too. Most notably, Washington has a new coaching staff, led by Chris Petersen, who got out of Boise before the Beavers beat up on what were his Broncos last Christmas eve in Hawaii.
With the coming of Petersen, in place of Steve Sarkisian, now at USC, and Petersen's staff, which are as diametrically different than the crew that mostly followed Sark south as the head coaches themselves, came different schemes as well. Radically different, in fact. And so too have been the results, except of course when the Huskies play the Ducks, or in the desert, 2 scenarios that they are as consistent in as Oregon St. is when playing Arizona St. at Reser.
So a lot of variables will have changed since last year, or the Beavers' last trip to Seattle, or the last trip to Montlake, for that matter, all games at the bottom of the list of memorable moments for Coach Mike Riley.
This game just got a lot more interesting. Enough so that there's enough more than just a first look (after almost 2 whole seasons) at renovated Husky Stadium to make what's likely to be a physically punishing, and very late, night on Montlake worth the trip, and the postgame traffic jam.
While a lot has changed since the chainsaw massacre last year in Corvallis, 2 things haven't. Danny Shelton is the biggest human being the Beavers will encounter this season (and that's saying something given the talent on the lines in this conference), and Hau'oli Kikaha, who wreaked havoc on Sean Mannion last season, has continued to do so against all manner of opposing quarterbacks, better than anyone else in the country. Kikaha is the Huskies all-time leader in sacks, and Washington is #2 in the nation in getting to the opponents' quarterback.
The Oregon St. offensive line, which had their best game of the year against Arizona St., will need another similarly solid night against them, or Mannion won't have an opportunity to take apart a freshman-laden Washington secondary. And Storm Woods and Chris Brown (in place of Terron Ward, who will be a cheerleader for the 2 rivalry games to end the regular season, after surgery this week to repair a torn meniscus in his knee) won't find the rushing lanes that opened up through Arizona St.
Mannion must also be wary of the Husky linebackers, a better group than Oregon St. has seen since the Stanford and Utah games, and account for converted WR John Ross's speed at CB. But if the Oregon St. offensive line, which won't have to make a personnel switch for a change this week, can remain as fundamentally sound as they were against the Sun Devils, there are points to be had, and enough to overcome a Washington offense that shouldn't overtax the Beaver defense.
Coach Petersen, and despite what some unhappy Husky fans may think, Offensive Coordinator Jonathan Smith, are getting the pieces slowly put together for the Washington offense. But its not an inherently high flying offense, and is one the Oregon St. defense should be able to at least control. That was the case last year, with most of the same players, too, but a similar effort to what the Beavers put forth against Arizona St. should keep the Huskies somewhat under control.
Finally, these are 2 of the most penalized teams that there are, which is part of the reason why this is a bowl eligibility play-in game, instead of a tune-up for the post-season between 2 teams that should already have qualified. The team that cleans up their flag problem the best is probably the one that will become bowl eligible first. And maybe, at all.
Beaver Believer believes the keys to the game are:
Stay disciplined in the rushing lanes. The Beavers get caught overpursuing quarterbacks far too often, and Cyler Miles is a mobile qb, with the 2nd highest rushing attempts on the team. OSU needs to keep contain on the quarterback and force him to throw. He is completing 65.9% of his passes, but he has only thrown 229 passes this year. With Steven Nelson playing in the secondary, the Beavers should be equipped to handle the passing game as long as they can keep Miles in the pocket, even though Miles has been very good at avoiding throwing interceptions.
Go max protect on offense. The Beavers need to mix pass and run, but with some of the defensive talents for the Huskies, Oregon State needs to make keeping Mannion upright a priority. This has not been the greatest year for Mannion, but he proved last week that when the offensive line can get him a little time he can drop in dimes, like he did for Villamin on the touchdown pass. If the offensive line can protect, a young crew of Husky cornerbacks should not be able to cover the Beavs for too long.
Tackle on first contact. One of the things that OSU executed well last week was not allowing yards after contact. They were fighting back the Sun Devil offense all game, and that was a big reason why. OSU is often struggling to wrap up, but if they can prevent UW from getting extra yards, they can get stops.
OSU is coming off a big win, UW is coming off a game they should have won. This concerns me, as the Beavers may get complacent, but I am trusting that they will not. The return of Jalen Grimble should help shore up the defensive front as well, so it will come down to the Beaver offense sustaining some drives to give the defense enough time to rest. I see OSU coming out hard though, and with Grumble as reinforcements the defense should be good enough to win. 23-20 Beavers.
Ah, hmm, well we are coming into this one in a different spot than I thought we would be over a week ago. Oregon State now has a big win under their belts with the chilly night defeat of the Arizona State Sun Devils. I guess the big question is can the team carry over the momentum from that game to this one?
It does pose some interesting drama too, with two teams playing each other in a pretty different situation program wise (UW with their new coach), but at the same time having interesting parallel under-achieving seasons. So what are some possible keys to this one?
More of the same? = Can the Beavs carry over the fire they were able to muster against a very good, and red hot, ASU team, and play solid and inspired defense along with some inspired big play offense? The offense will be without Ward, but I think if they make the play calls at the right times, and the line continues to make the blocks like they did last week, that Storm Woods could have another good night rushing. And Chris Brown has shown he can run well when he is given the openings. One has to think this will open up Mannion too. At the same time UW is not as aggressive of a team as ASU, which the Beavs were able to take great advantage of. Where will be the opportunities to take advantage of the Washington defense?
Cut down on the mistakes? = Oregon State did win and did play very well last week, but at the same time they were not perfect. There were badly timed turnovers, and the penalty gremlin arose, in the second half especially. In what probably will be another poor weather condition game, and a hard fought match up, the Beavs need to limit their mistakes even more.
Weather? = It does not look to be near as cold, and looks as if the forecast is calling for NW average rain, but even if the conditions might be a bit more "pleasant" than last week in Corvallis, it is still November in Seattle. Weather could play enough of a factor to favor the team who makes fewer mental errors.
In conclusion, I am pleasantly surprised by the Oregon State team coming into this game at 5 and 5 with a very good chance to go above .500. That said, this is still a game where the team needs to build on their success and not rest on their laurels, for one has to only look back to last season to see what the Huskies can do against a struggling OSU football team. I said last week the Beavers are playing not only for a possible bowl and for the season, they are playing to get this program kick started again to where it should be. Winning two in a row tough conference games would be a big deal, and also would be the perfect recipe for any possible success going into the biggest game of the season next week.