Oregon St. finds itself in need of 2 wins in their final 4 games in order to salvage bowl eligibility this season, and more for a better Holiday season experience, after a third consecutive disappointing loss last Saturday against California.
With the other 3 remaining games against Pac-12 South leading Arizona St., at Washington, and finally against Pac-12 North leading Oregon, who can lock up a berth in the conference championship with a win Saturday night in Salt Lake City, the best chance to get one of those wins appears to be against 2 win Washington St. Saturday afternoon.
Especially after the Cougars lost starting quarterback Connor Halliday for the season, and the rest of his college career to a broken leg in the first quarter of last Saturday's 44-17 loss to USC, which also ended their hopes for bowl eligibility, and assured an 8th consecutive losing season in the Palouse.
Washington St.'s offense isn't instantly inert with the loss of Halliday though, as red-shirt freshman Luke Falk came on and threw 57 passes, and more importantly, completed 38 of them, and for a pair of touchdowns.
Oregon St. will get some help in the form of injured linemen who have missed the last 2 games, as Gavin Andrews is expected to return to the right guard spot on the offensive line, and Jaswha James will hopefully be available, at least in the rotation, at DE.
While Washington St. has suffered a significant setback, its not that significant, in that Falk was the heir apparent anyway, and has been drilling in the "Air Raid" for a season and a half. And getting over 3/4 of a game against USC served as a great introduction to Pac-12 play.
So its still going to be something of a shootout, and Oregon St. will need to continue to improve on both sides of the ball, as well as in special teams, to balance things out.
That means run the ball AND pass the ball, and don't drop the ball on 3rd down! Or commit unforced penalties!
Had a couple of dropped balls been hauled in last week against California, not only would Sean Mannion's Pac-12 passing yardage record been an even bigger number, a lot of people probably would have been talking about the record this week, instead of talking about needing to replace Coach Mike Riley.
It also means the Oregon St. defense, must get pressure up field from their defensive ends, which will again include Dylan Wynn, who is going to be back outside at his normal position, after moving inside to DT in recent weeks, due mostly to the absence of Jalen Grimble.
It's going to be critical, as the lack thereof allowed Stanford too many options, and though the LBs (and there will again only be 2 of them at most, with the defense in nickel all night) won't have to focus on helping inside against the run as they did against California, they will be needed in coverage, and can't consistently be counted on for pressure, or containment of Falk, who is more mobile than Halliday. With James and Lavonte Barnett "questionable", Obum Gwacham will need to play a lot, and play well.
Beaver Believer's Keys To The Game:
1. Rush the passer. The Cougars are starting a new qb after the sad loss of Connor Halliday. The Beavers have to take advantage of this though, and force bad throws that can result in turnovers.
Run the ball. The offensive line has been shifted again and hopefully it opens up running lanes for the running backs. The Cougar offense with Holliday was a fast paced machine, I don't care to give them the chance to ignite now.
Limit yards on first down. The Beaver defense often gives up way too many yards on first down, which opens up the playbooks of opposing teams. The Beavers need to hold on first down, getting penetration and jamming receivers. That will set up more third and longs where they can really get after the passer, hopefully rattling him for the game.
With the way OSU has been playing it is hard to believe that they will win again. This is a Cougar team that just lost their best player though, and the Beavers have to be stable enough to at least get this win. The Cougar offense was their calling card, and with that if not gone, at least diminished, they should be exposed. Beavers 30-20.
The good news is that Oregon State should be able to get back in the win column against Washington State, after the current streak of 3 tough (for different reasons) losses.
Washington State's defense has been nothing short of awful. They rank 118th in scoring defense, and it's due to extended time on the field; the offense ranks a very respectable 34th in time of possession. You don't expect a team with a defense that bad to win (m)any games, and WSU only possesses wins over Portland State and Utah. Last week they were completely dismantled by USC, and unfortunately in the process lost
their whole team Connor Halliday.
There's nothing more to say about Wazzu's defense. Oregon State, even considering their offensive struggles, should put up over 30 points against Washington State. The only way Oregon State loses this game is if they completely blow up on defense.
It's year 3 for Mike Leach and the team has taken a step back after the supposed improvement that occurred last year, when they went 6-7. No blame can be given to the offense, who are scoring more points than they did in either of the last 2 seasons. That doesn't offer much solace to WSU fans looking for hope against Oregon State, however, as the Cougars have scored just 30 points against the Beavers over the last two seasons. Factor in the loss of Halliday and I'm not sure Wazzu really has much of a chance in this game, although it will probably be close in the first half.
This is one that should be a comfortable victory for the Beavers, and a crucial one for the Beavers to keep a sliver of hope to go bowling later this year.
Okay, so is this possibly one of the more "disappointment" match ups of the season? The Cougs have been playing some inspired air-attack ball at times and not so inspired of late, and now are without their star QB. The Beavs have just been plain roughed up on their lines and playing not so inspired ball that at times seems to verge on turning some corner.
I am not trying to totally demean the importance of this game, which still is very important for Oregon State actually, but at the same time in what looked to be a very intriguing match up in the early stages of the season now has come down to more of a desperation game for the Beavs, and a game in which both teams will need to try and break out of their current downward spirals.
The game itself means a lot more for Oregon State in terms of standings and gaining some momentum to have any glimmer of hope to close out the season on a more positive note. For WSU the question is what do they have in their tank? It was sliding a bit out of control even with Halliday in as QB, and now with that shocking loss of their leader will they find any spark and fire?
For OSU here is my KEY to the game:
Lines in the sand = Yes every week seems to get more and more narrow here for me in terms of what are the keys to the game, and let's just cut to the chase completely here and say this game comes down to the defensive and offensive lines. On defense it will be about how well the defensive line can bottle up the WSU rush game (a VERY struggling rush game that does not need ANY confidence), and how much pressure they can put on Falk (who came in against SC off the bench and threw it 57 times!). For the offensive line it will be about how well can they establish the line of scrimmage in both protecting Mannion and getting some sort of rush game going. Sure there are other story lines to be considered, but I am just going with this one in this game.
Last week's loss to Cal was a heartbreaking piece of supreme frustration for me, but when all was said and done the Beavs still have four football games to play. There is still time for the team that ran off 21 straight points against Cal to show itself, and this is a good game to find that confidence again in a more complete 60 minutes experience. At the same time, well let's just not go there, it is time to go out and support the Orange and Black in a game that could well put some much needed gas into a tank that seems to be running a bit on fumes of late.