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Week 4 Matchups to Watch: Pac-12 Season Starts with a Pac-2 Showdown

NCAA Football: Oregon State at Arizona State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It’s appropriate that the two remaining members of the Pac-12 meet as ranked opponents to kick off the Pac-12 season for each. Washington State will be the toughest test the Beavers have seen so far this year. Wazzu brings a similar offensive style to teams Oregon State has seen this year, and combined with an advantage in the trenches that is becoming a refrain, OSU will look to move to 4-0 this Saturday in Pullman.

Beavers on Offense

There are two things on this side of the ball that favor Oregon State in particular. The Cougars’ defense has not generated disruptive plays (sacks, tackles for loss, interceptions, pass breakups, etc) at a high rate so far this year, and the Beavers have not been prone to giving them up (2nd half against SDSU notwithstanding). Assuming the Oregon State offense continues to protect the ball as they have, this should allow the Beavers to extend drives and keep the WSU offense off the field. In addition, the WSU defense has only been run on 38% of the time this year. Oregon State has run the ball about half the time in each of the first three games, and is one of the better teams in the country doing so. More ball control, fresher defense, advantage Beavers.

WR # 13 Jesiah Irish vs S # 25 Jaden Hicks (91.4)

Hicks is Washington State’s highest graded defensive player per PFF, and one of the top 4 safeties in the nation so far this year. The second year starter will alternate playing towards the line of scrimmage and deeper downfield, and will be used as a pass rusher when the situation dictates it. His interception against Colorado State in the opener shows off his quick reactions. He is covering a different route on the play, but finds the ball headed to the receiver farther down the field and takes it back for six.

TE # 88 Jack Velling vs LB #52 Kyle Thornton

The weakness in the Cougar pass defense is very much their linebackers. Thornton has been targeted 15 times this season and allowed receptions on every one of them. Of the 100 yards allowed those receptions, 75 have been after the catch as well. This feeds right into the strengths of the Oregon State offensive scheme, and I would expect to see Velling along with the slot receivers looking to exploit both Thornton and his linebacking mate Devin Richardson.

Beavers on Defense

Washington State has averaged 44 points per game so far this year, and has done that throwing the ball over 60% of the time. Luckily for Oregon State, that is a similar trend to what the Beavers have seen from San Jose State and San Diego State earlier this year. Washington State has more talent than SJSU or SDSU and will certainly find holes in the Oregon State secondary if QB Cameron Ward is allowed time to sit in the pocket. A disciplined pass rush combined with the ball control offense discussed above is a winning combination for the Beavers.

OLB #6 John McCartan vs QB # 1 Cameron Ward (81.3)

The Beavers have faced two quarterbacks this year with similar skill sets to Ward in Chevan Cordeiro of San Jose State and Jalen Mayden of San Diego State, but neither is as talented throwing the ball as the Cougar signal caller. The Incarnate Word transfer has stepped up his downfield passing this year, with averaging 9.1 yards per attempt, nearly 3 yards more than his total last season.

OLB #10 Andrew Chatfield Jr. vs OT #76 Esa Pole (44.8)

Ward and his receiving options are the stars of the Cougar offense. The offensive tackles are weakness. Expect to see Oregon State bring pressure on the outside and force quick throws and disrupt timing. The Beavers have done well at not getting overly aggressive up field and exposing running lanes for the QB, but disciplined rushing by Chatfield, McCartan and crew, along with some well timed blitzing should give Oregon State the opportunities to create disruptive plays.