What: No. 20 Utah (4-1 overall, 1-1 Pac-12) at Oregon State (4-1, 1-1)
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Reser Stadium
TV: Check your local listings for this one (It’s all over the place due to the MLB playoffs.)
Series Record: 11-6-1, OSU. Last season, the Beavers escaped Utah with a 51-48 OT win. After the Utes struck first in overtime by converting a 41-yard field goal, OSU responded by winning the game on a 6-yard touchdown catch by Brandin Cooks, who turned in one of the best performances of his career. He finished with 210 yards on nine catches and three TDs. Sean Mannion completed 27 of 45 passes for 443 yards and five scores. Defensively, Sean Martin had 27-yard pick for TD return.
Notes: Just like the Beavers, Utah is coming off a bye. In their last game on Oct. 4, the Utes stunned then No.8 UCLA, 30-28, in the Rose Bowl. Andy Phillips kicked a 29-yard field goal with 34 seconds remaining. OSU likely won’t know who they’ll be facing at quarterback until game time. Against the Bruins, Kendal Thompson took over at QB for senior Travis Wilson during the fourth series of the game. The junior finished 10-for-13 for 95 yards and a TD. He also rushed for 83 yards on 19 carries. Utah coach Kyle Wittingham, as of Tuesday night, hadn’t named a starter. Speaking of coaches, Utah’s running backs coach is very familiar to Beavers fans: Dennis Erickson. He’s spent the past two years as an assistant coach for the Utes.
5 Keys to Victory
Stop Devontae Booker. The junior college transfer has been one of the biggest surprises of the season not just for Utah, but in the Pac-12. He rushed 156 yards and a TD against UCLA, his second straight 100-yard effort. Erickson said that Booker reminds him a lot of former OSU standout Ken Simonton, who was tough to bring down. At 5-11, 203 pounds, Booker, however, is bigger than Simonton. The Beavers’ No. 1 priority needs to be limiting Booker’s effectiveness.
Be prepared for anyone at QB. Whether Thompson is rewarded for his effort versus UCLA or Wilson holds onto his starting job, the Beavers need to be ready. Wilson is tough as they come and can make big plays with his arm and feet, but is also prone to turnovers. And while the Beavers have struggled against running QBs such as Thompson in the past, they’ve done a solid job so far this season. The key here is to get to whoever Utah’s QB early is and hit him hard.
Protect Mannion. The Utes are strong up front, led by senior Nate Orchard who has 11 sacks, four of which came against UCLA. So it’s crucial that whoever lines up across from him makes him work hard to get to Sean Mannion. Or better yet, stops him all-together from recording a sack. If Mannion has time to throw, he could have another field day against Utah’s secondary (see Series Record section above). Utah is always a tough matchup on defense, so the Beavers need to be physical.
Continue running ball. The Beavers moved the ball on the ground very well against Colorado. Terron Ward had 102 yards and two TDs, while Storm Woods added 69 yards and a score, More impressively, they averaged 8.5 and 5.3 yards per carry respectively. If they can repeat just 75 percent of that performance against Utah, that could force the Utes to adjust their defensive game plan and prevent them from bringing as much heat on Mannion as they’d like.
Go vertical. Much has been made of OSU’s inability to go downfield. But with Victor Bolden a week healthier, Richard Mullaney showing great hands, and Hunter Jarmon making big plays, why not stretch the field against the Utes? If Bolden can get loose, that will open things up for the other WRs and the tight ends. I think Mullaney will benefit most if the vertical passing game gets going. Also, very few things get a home crowd into a game like the deep ball.
Game prediction: 26-20 Beavers.
What do you think? Will Thursday’s game be a high-scoring affair, or a defensive battle?