Oregon State, after a bye and a 15 day break, thanks to the Friday night scheduling of the Stanford game, returns to the desert today, taking on Arizona in Tucson at 1 PM AST & PDT.
The Beavers will face a totally different type of team that the bruising Cardinal that tromped on Oregon State to a 42-24, as the 'Cats feature a finesse 3-3-5 defense, and a true spread option offense. They will also face an Arizona team that's taken back to beak big losses, 56-30 to UCLA, and then 55-17 at Stanford.
My first thought is its hot. Very hot, and Oregon State really isn't acclimated to the triple digit field level temperatures. We have seen Oregon State wear down against physical opponents at Michigan and against Stanford in the second half. Everyone was looking forward to the fact that the Beavers won't face that kind of physicality again, but when Fox decided they wanted this game played during the day, at a time that Arizona would never have scheduled a game, depth and conditioning became uber-important again.
The Oregon State staff will have to manage player minutes and scheme rotations with this in mind very well, or the results, though obtained in an altogether different manner, will look shockingly similar.
That's unfortunate, because a banged-up Arizona team that's missing Scooby Wright on defense. Quarterback Anu Solomon will be back, but will he be 100%? And allowed to run to full extent? This game represents a crucial opportunity for Oregon State to get their first Pac-12 win. With a run of 3 ranked opponents and 4 more road games to go, this comes close to a must win game if the Beavers are to get to bowl eligibility, a reasonable goal for this season. Getting the win will be harder in the heat of the afternoon than it would have been in the evening.
Oregon State has absolutely owned Tucson though, not having lost there since 1997. Of course the cast of characters has mostly changed.
One that hasn't since the Beavers epic, 3 comeback win 3 years ago though is Storm Woods, who ran for over 160 yards, and put up over 40 more yards on catches, and that was against the Rich Rodriguez 3-3-5 defense, which has caught a lot of criticism this season.
That's somewhat unfortunate, as the 'Cats problems have had more to do with missing Scooby, and others as well (which plays against itself, hurting Arizona's ability to actually do well whatever they try to do) and making mistakes than the scheme, though it is vulnerable to efficient offensive play. Some of UCLA's best plays though came against a 3-4-4 look that seemed to have the Arizona secondary uncertain about who was supposed to cover which area, and so no one did.
That 1-2 punch of room for Woods to run, and room for Seth Collins to operate, be it with his running or, preferably, for his receivers to operate in, will have to be the other key beyond player management to ensure Oregon State still has players not suffering from heat exhaustion come the 4th quarter.
Jordan Villamin should have a field day, and Victor Bolden should be able to find some space between the second level and the Arizona back line as well. Oregon State getting out with the win probably requires Hunter Jarmon and Datrin Guyton to contribute too.
It will also be the first chance to see what Coach Gary Andersen and his staff can do with extra preparation time, accentuated by the fact that Arizona did not have any extra time, coming off a road night game. The situation should see Oregon State perform relatively well, and will tell us a lot more about the new coaching staff.
And the fact that road teams are 9-2 in Pac-12 games so far, including Thursday night's 17-12 upset of the Trojans by the Huskies (on the back of a young but better than anyone realized defense and a freshman quarterback, with extra time to prepare - not that any of that might be relevant to Oregon State, would it?) should remind everyone that this task isn't in today's Pac-12 the impossible mission it once would have appeared to be.
Beaver Believer Believes The Keys To The Game To Be:
1. Let Seth Collins bomb it! So far Collins has demonstrated two major strengths, deep balls and running. The running is obvious as every Beaver fan has been making the same "woah a quarterback running out of the pocket? What a crazy idea" joke since the season started (not that I find it irritating or anything...). The deep balls are less obvious as the offense doesn't always call for it while featuring the running game, but the Collins to Jordan Villamin pipeline has been strong.
I believe I've stated it before but any time that Villamin is singled up in man coverage that should be an advantage, just let him high point the ball as he has done well most of this season. That can help take the top off the defense with Villamin as a deep threat and further help open up the poor Wildcat defense.
2. Execute the fundamentals. OSU was holding their own against Stanford in the early going last game, really up through the beginning of the 2nd half. Things started to spiral out of control after the deep strike to Michael Rector that really should have been broken up or picked off by Cyril Noland-Lewis. Up to that point it had been Stanford pressing their advantages and the Beavers doing the same, with both sides playing pretty solid football.
After that touchdown was given up it seemed like a switch had flipped, and the defense wasn't playing with the same vim and vigor. Now they were simply bouncing off tackles, failing to wrap up and the game got out of hand. Against Arizona and their RichRod offense they are going to need to execute. When watching the Arizona runningbacks I was always very impressed with them and if the Beavers let them loose they are going to be buried. Sure tackling will be critical.
3. Keep the game boring. With Arizona struggling and an OSU team that is not well-regarded, it seems unlikely that Wildcat fans will be overly excited for the game. If you're going to take a crowd out of the game, what better way to do that than to make a game they won't even want to look at? If OSU can force short choppy drives (and they're likely to have some of their own) the fans will be even more likely to disengage and wander off at halftime, never to return (for a game I mean).
The Beavers need to get after it early and suck the life out of the stadium, leaving behind only the withered voices of the remaining few. That would set the table nicely for a late game push, limiting the boost the home side would get from their home-field advantage. If it remains close in the end that might help the Beavs keep their energy level around the same. Keep in mind this is no shot at Arizona fans, just a hope at whittling down the advantage of being at home.
Despite how bad the Arizona defense has recently been, the Oregon State offense has not been much better. Both have been over-extended despite their efforts. The Arizona offense will still get their points against the Beavers, andI doubt OSU can take points back at the same rate. The line is at 10 to Arizona and OSU has struggled to cover it yet, I don't see them doing it this time either. 38-20 Arizona.
After the bye week not sure I have a ton of introductory commentary so let's jump in on this one to the keys to the game!
Rested? = With the bye week the Beavs should be well rested, and also well versed in reviewing game film of what they did well and did not do well against Stanford. At the same time this goes the other way too, for even though Arizona has had a tough stretch so far they will be with QB Anu Solomon this weekend. But the thing here for Arizona is it cuts both ways, and how depleted will the Wildcats be, for they still have a good number of injuries to deal with, plus the question of just how healthy and rested will Solomon be?
Home Field Advantage? = Going off the thoughts above, will Arizona have any advantage playing at home, and enough to offset the injury issues?
Oregon State's Offense vs. Arizona's Defense? = Arizona's 3-3-5 scheme has come under a good amount of scrutiny of late, which giving up 56 points and 497 total yards to UCLA and then 55 points and 570 total yards to Stanford will bring out the questions for sure. At the same time, this is a defense Rodriguez in his previous seasons has employed to success against uptempo spread teams such as Oregon and Oklahoma State.
Again, adjusting to injuries seems to be holding the Wildcats back here, so is this currently maligned scheme going to find itself in what looks to be a possible decent match up against Oregon State's raw offense? Or on the other side of things, can the Beavers find that spark they had in the first half against Stanford and sustain it for a full game? If the Beavs can show that kind of spark I personally think they have a good chance to put this Arizona defense on its heels for much of the game.
Oregon State's Defensive Bounce Back? = The Beavs' defense had a bad game against Stanford, and they have had a lot of time to think about it and work on things. Arizona's offense is dynamic. Arizona has scored under 30 points once this season, and that was to a very good Stanford team, who completely kept the Wildcats' offense on the sideline. To me this is going to be a test for the Beavs, it would be great if Oregon State could replicate the Cardinal defensive performance and force multiple three-and-outs and keep their own offense fresh and rested.
I feel the better game to look towards was UCLA's win over Arizona, and the Bruins defense actually played a bit more of a bend-but-don't-break type of game, and was able to force 3 turnovers. What this could possibly do is open the offense up to score quickly and if the time of possession can be even slightly in favor for OSU, or even, I think both sides of the ball can stay fairly fresh. I also think that it will be essential to keep the score in the 20s or lower, for I just don't quite know if Oregon State is ready to score 30+ (yet) against a Pac-12 opponent.
Different Directions? = In conclusion I do have my concerns of course, as Oregon State still has not put together a fully solid game, and even if Arizona may be down right now, they still worry me for they have potential. At the same time though Oregon State is building, and has shown improvements on offense. Arizona is struggling right now, and to me I would not put Oregon State as an underdog in this one.
I see this is a more of up-for-grabs game; and I see that certain areas such as injuries/rested players, turnovers, and possible field advantage (or not advantage in this conference) will be the "small" areas that will swing this game into one team's favor or the other. Coming into this one, I don't think there is enough to show if one team truly has the advantage over the other. I think the opportunity is very much here for OSU to get Coach Andersen his first Pac-12 victory, and move his program to the next level, which maybe right now would be a small step forward, but it would be a step forward nonetheless.