After last year, when Oregon St. was coming off the worst loss in program history to Washington, the Beavers did everything but beat the Ducks, eventually losing 36-35, so even though the Beavs are again coming off a embarrassing lack of performance to the Huskies, it is possible that they could come out on top Saturday night at Reser. Or at the very least, be in it at the end, instead of being on the short end of what's a 20 point spread in the eyes of the odds makers.
But how likely is that to happen? And if it does, what will have to have happened to lead to such an exciting outcome? Or was Oregon St.'s 35-27 win 2 weeks ago against then 6th ranked Arizona St. be the extent of Mike Riley magic this season? Is a 7th consecutive loss in the Civil War, and a 3rd year in the last 5 with no bowl game inevitable?
And will Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariotta win the Heisman Trophy on Terry Baker's field, and join Baker as the only winners of said trophy from a northwest school?
A tweaked Royce Freeman ankle with Thomas Tyner already banged up would help. Mariota is the most dynamic, and possibly the best, player to come through the Pac-12 in years, and that's quite the accomplishment in this conference. But the Ducks are best when they run well, and any chance of an Oregon St. upset, or a win by anyone else for that matter, is probably accompanied by a sub-par performance for some reason in the run game by Oregon.
To that end, Oregon St defensive coordinator Mark Banker might want to dial up some specific run blitzes. The Beaver defense has back-slid in the latter portion of the season, and their performance against the run has been the biggest part of that problem.
Jabral Johnson, D.J. Alexander, and Michael Doctor are all coming to the end of what have been pretty good individual careers at Oregon St. Spending extra time in the Oregon backfield might just extend that career a game, and maybe extend Banker's career as well.
Similarly, Sean Mannion needs to be aggressive. Oregon St. has to run, but nothing makes the fly sweep and runs out of the shotgun effective like some of the completions Mannion had in Seattle to Rahmel Dockery on deep seem routes, and Jordan Villamin on the receiving end of a rifle shot.
I'm not saying Oregon St. should get totally reckless, or abandon the run, but the Beaves have got to be willing to try to attack the Quack, rather than try to hang around and get lucky.
But don't chase points! That's what ultimately lost the Civil War last year, and Coach Riley made that mistake again last week in Seattle.
Arizona St. came aggressively at Oregon St., and the Beavers beat the Sun Devils because they countered with aggressive play and very few missed opportunities. That's what beats top 10 teams. And even if it doesn't, an all-out effort will go a lot further with a frustrated fan base than a non-competitive lack of performance like what happened in Seattle.
Beaver Believer's Keys to the Game:
1. Do not let Mariota out of the pocket. The Beavers struggle against running quarterbacks, and Mariota is an exceptional runner. OSU cannot afford to let him run off big play after big play, and so they need to keep contain and just crush the pocket. If they rush upfield and open up lanes for him it will result in big plays. He is a good passer as well, but they can't be left with the option to pass or run. Oregon State needs to work at making them one-dimensional. This will put a lot of pressure on the secondary to work even harder, but that is the challenge they face.
2. Be prepared for up-tempo. OSU loves to rotate, but sometimes they need to recognize that there is not enough time to sub out. There have been several cases this year where players barely get off the field and it has been an issue in the past. When the Ducks are moving the ball the defense needs to hold their personnel, and those guys need to be ready for long stretches on the field. They also need to quickly prepare. One of the things that UO does well is getting a play run before the defense is set and using a speedy receiver on a go route, which normally burns the defender. They need to be prepared well in advance of each play, the Ducks are formidable enough without offering up free points.
3. Run the ball. The Duck defense has some darn good players in the defensive backfield and the Beaver receivers are still extremely young. I expect them to struggle to get separation, leaving the run game to get the job done. Storm Woods is still available (thank goodness!) and Haskins has a chance to show what he's got. It was successful last year and they will need that to keep Mannion upright and to control the ball.
This has been a bad matchup for the Beavers since Chip Kelly first brought the high speed attack to Eugene. Schematically OSU is set up to struggle on defense, as they get torn up with quick attacks and that is what UO features. The running quarterback is also an extra challenge as the Beavs focus on the rushers getting there sometimes at the expense of losing contain. If this offense were more potent it would be easier to believe, but as the Beavers have struggled all year, it seems like a tough time to turn things around while playing the Pac-12 leader.
No way to get around it, it has been a long season and it is coming to the end. For the most part it has been a frustrating journey to go on with this season's Oregon State football team. There were a couple good games against San Diego State and especially Arizona State. But the flip side is that the majority of the games have demonstrated a frustrating potential that never became fully realized this season.
Now here we are with the 2014 edition of the Civil War. No way around this and the UO is going to be favored to take this one quite easily. And you will not hear me arguing this point of view in the least. They need to show off on the national stage to send a message to all kinds of committees (Is this playoff deal really that much better than anything we had before? Another day, another commentary I guess.), and the depth of the teams is once again lopsided in the Green and Yellow (or the Black and Silver, Silver and Green, or whatever is the flavor of the week color) favor.
So that all said, can the Beavs win this game? Well just quite maybe if we find that vortex of synergy found in last year's Civil War game and in the performance we saw against the then 6th ranked Sun Devils. I am afraid reality is going to dictate otherwise. But if the synergy finds itself going to the Oregon State, side how do I see it specifically happening?
Sean Mannion = Sean will be overshadowed in this game by the leading Heisman candidate Marcus Mariota, but this could well be Mannion's last game in the Orange and Black. He needs to let it fly with confidence and as someone who wants to show off that he is indeed the record breaking QB of the Pac-12 that he is. I like more roll-outs and mixing it up for Sean. This is a game to mix it up and show something new (uptempo anyone?). Nothing to lose, so don't have Mannion stand around in the pocket waiting to get sacked on every third snap of the ball.
Rushing Game = Like last year's Civil War game, to beat/compete with the Ducks one has to rush the ball. I don't think we need a monster game out of the backs, but Storm Woods needs at least a solid 100+ game and Damien Haskins needs to get some good yards too.
Huge Receiving Game = If Mannion is going to cut it loose for 350+ yards (which he will need if the Beavs are going to win this one, and again they will also need the rushing yards mentioned above), he is going to need Victor Bolden and Jordan Villamin to have huge games, which they have the potential to do. Additionally the TEs need to become stronger presences in the passing game than they have lately to allow for a more balanced attack here.
Offensive Line = Needs to play it like it is the last game of the season and against the #2 team in the county. If Mannion and the rushing game both get going like outlined above, the big guys need to leave it all on the field Saturday, and they need to do this in a smart and mentally tough manner.
"Control" the UO Offense and Mariota = Look there is no way the Beavs defense (or anybody) is going to completely shut down the UO offense. But if the offense is clicking, the defense can give up a couple big plays and play a smart bend-but-don't-break game. This could well be enough to keep the scoring in the 30s, or even better, the high/mid 20s (especially if we can get some wet, rainy, and maybe even cold weather help). If the OSU offense is clicking the Beavs could keep it close enough to sneak out a win.
In the end this is a TALL order for a team that has struggled all season to find any spark and any balance. It can happen, but will it? Last season it looked bleak as heck coming into the Civil War game on the heels of the worse defeat in OSU football history to Washington, the Beavs then went into Autzen and should have won that game. Maybe they can find that spark again and this time get the timely Michael Doctor interception on the UO last minute drive. Although, I believe the synergy is well placed on the other side of the ball in this game, this is not the same UO team from last year, but it is the Civil War and stuff happens!