The last couple of years, it the Beavers who have Cuoged it, blowing a 4th quarter lead 2 years ago when the Cougars last visited Reser, and then getting run off the field in the first half of last season’s blowout loss in the Palouse.
And this year, Oregon State is catching Washington State at the worst possible time, after the start of the season, when Mike Leach’s Cougar teams are never prepared and start off struggling, but also after they have gotten on track, and before Luke Falk, or whomever else was the Cougar quarterback (it was Connor Halliday who got a broken leg and gave way just in time for then freshman Falk to lead WSU to the come from behind 39-32 win in his first start, the only win for the Cougs down the stretch in 2014), inevitably gets hurt.
Indeed, if Oregon State can hold Falk, above, to 400 yards passing, it will be their best job of controlling him yet.
Further, the Beavs are beat up defensively themselves, with CBs Dwayne Williams and LB Titus Failaugua out, and CB Jay Irvine now officially out for the year with his shoulder injury. Also of concern is CB Treston Decoud, arguably the Beavers’ best defensive player, being listed as questionable this week.
But Oregon State should get RB Artavis Pierce back, though Ryan Nall is questionable. QB Conor Blount is available to backup Marcus McMaryion, which means Mason Moran’s redshirt should stay intact for another week.
More importantly, the Beavers’ offensive line remained intact after the Washington game, and if they can continue the run blocking that helped Tim Cook crank out 108 yards against the Huskies, while allowing only 1 sack, as they did in Seattle, the Oregon State offense might be able to keep the Washington State offense off the field for a little longer than they could last year. And the “Air Raid” can’t strike while standing on the sideline.
The 101st meeting in the series, which dates to 1903 will also be Homecoming for Oregon State, and the 1941 team, which won the 1942 Rose Bowl, the Beavers’ only Rose Bowl win, will be honored at the game. That should provide an emotional boost for all of Beaver Nation.
It’s actually one of the most competitive series around, with WSU leading 50-47 with 3 ties. The Beavers have a 23-22 edge in Corvallis.
The 26th ranked Cougars (the first team outside the top 25 in both the AP & Coaches’ Assisstant SIDs polls) are already angling for a late-November showdown in Boulder, and then an Apple Cup in Pullman that will probably decide the Pac-12 North. A slashing (by Pirate sword or Cougar claws) win to wind up October is what they fully expect.
And Washington State, being similar in so many ways to Oregon State, is a good case study, possibly even more relevant than Colorado, for the Beavers in how to win from a small town in the big time, Coach Leach eccentricities not withstanding.
The Beavers are actually looking at a November schedule that isn’t nearly as daunting as it appeared in August, even with back to back road trips to start next month, and tonight’s game marks the end of what has been the toughest stretch on the schedule.
Surviving might be a good accomplishment, but one senses these Beavers are looking for more. And not just “covering” more, though they are 5-2 against the spread this season.
Cold and clear assessment of the talent differential, and the matchup problems last year’s game highlighted, and swung on, are why the Cougs are 2 touchdown favorites on the road, and likely to bring the Beavers back down to earth though. But probably not so much so that some success next month won’t become any less likely, unless the injuries pile up.
Indeed, this is a chance, even in a loss, should that occur (and its highly likely to), for Oregon State to lay some more groundwork for next month, never mind next year.
Decoud and Xavier Crawford are key members of the secondary, and Brandon Arnold’s experience against the Air Raid certainly helps. But any measure of defensive success Saturday won’t be keyed to any one individual. Crossing routes, combination routes, and screens and route progression are all staples of the Cougar version of the Air Raid, and it requires a composite defensive scheme, usually a lot of zone, to counter it. Handing off coverages were a big problem for the Beavers last year, but the experience at least showed the players and the staff what they are faced with.
If the coverage mistakes that made the game in Seattle an instant blowout aren’t repeated, and the clock and game management mistakes are cleaned up, then a good rushing night is possible, even against what has been a better than anyone expected Washington State defense.
And there might be a good reason to stay at Reser until almost midnight.
(Photo by Andy Wooldridge)