The Washington State Cougars (2-3, 0-2 Pac 12) are coming off a solid showing where they looked like they were going to hang with the Oregon Ducks, or at least they did up through halftime. Mike Leach and the Cougs did not come through the first month of the season as well as they had hoped, but see some positive things starting to happen. They hope they can continue that positive trend on the road and steal a win in Corvallis.
Standing in their way is the surprise team of the Pac 12 season, the Oregon State Beavers (3-0, 2-0) who have impressed with their first three-game winning streak to open a season since 2002. For a team that finished 3-9 last season, the bar was set pretty low and rumblings about Mike Riley’s job security had started to pick up steam. All of that negativity has gone by the wayside, however, as the Beavers have been one of the most impressive teams in all of college football.
Keys for Washington State:
Mike Leach is going to throw the ball, and Connor Halliday is continuing to grow in Leach’s passer-friendly offensive scheme. However, Halliday has been inefficient so far this season, completing just over half his passes (54 percent), throwing six interceptions and getting sacked 12 times in just over three games worth of work in relief of Jeff Tuel. He will need to tighten up his play if the Cougars hope to pull off the upset.
He will need plenty of help, though. The offensive line has not played well, allowing 18 sacks this year, and Leach has been tinkering with the lineup since the opening game trying to find some combination that will slow down opposing defenses. The running game has been non-existent, averaging just 45.6 yards per game, second to last in the country. The receiving corps has been inconsistent, with drops in key situations from everyone, Marquess Wilson in particular. And the defense. Oh, the defense.
Keys for Oregon State:
The Beavers have found success this season because of a tough defense, particularly against the run where they rank second in the conference. They likely won’t be tested on the front by Washington State, who seem content to let their running game be a figment of imagination while throwing the ball 60 times a game. The Beavers pass defense, on the other hand, has given up some big plays, and averages surrendering 312 yards per game through the air, ranked 113th in the nation. They will need to make some plays and get help from their pass rush, anchored by defensive end Scott Crichton (provided Mike Leach doesn’t get his hands on him first).
The Beavers offense will need to keep their balance, as they have through three games. Freshman Storm Woods has been a huge find for OSU, rushing for 293 yards in three games. That contribution has taken pressure off sophomore quarterback Sean Mannion who has taken advantage of play-action pass to become one of the more efficient quarterbacks in the Pac 12. The emergence of the dual wide receiver threat of Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks, who are both averaging 134 yards receiving per game, give the Beavers threat at every level.
The difference maker: Oregon State’s balanced offense and Washington State’s horrendous defense
The Beavers have shown themselves to be an offensive threat, able to score quickly or drive the ball the length of the field. For the most part, the Cougars haven’t shown to ability to stop much of anybody yet, surrendering 472 yards per game on average. They’ve been gouged by the run (161 yards per game, 69th in the country) and the pass (310 yards per game, 112th). They’ve surrendered big leads as the whole team seems to fall apart in the second half, as the Cougs have been outscored 75-17 after halftime this season.
The WSU offense gives the Cougs a puncher’s chance in this one, but their inability to keep swinging for four quarters has been, and will continue to be, their undoing. Oregon State is too balanced, and pulls off the home win. Oregon State 35, Washington State 21.