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KERRY SAYS: Beavers may have just enough in Hawaii Bowl

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Richard Mullaney (right), going for a pass against USC, could be one of Oregon State's receiving weapons in the Dec. 24 Hawaii Bowl against Boise State.It will be interesting to see if the unsettled situation at Boise State affects the performance of the Broncos against Oregon State in the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve.

Arkansas State coach Bryan Harsin -- a former Boise State quarterback and assistant coach -- has been named as the Broncos' head coach, replacing Chris Petersen, who defected to Washington.

(Harsin, incidentally, began his playing career under former Portland State coach Pokey Allen at Boise and coached one year at Eastern Oregon.)

Most of Petersen's assistants, including ex-OSU QB Jonathan Smith, have remained on the scene to coach the Broncos through the bowl season. Even so, there has to be a bit of a disruption on the coaching end as they prepare to play in Honolulu.

Oregon State isn't sure which Boise State quarterback it will face. The starter, senior Joe Southwick, broke an ankle on the first play of the Oct. 19 game against Nevada and was replaced by junior Grant Hedrick. Southwick returned to play the first series on Senior Night against New Mexico on Nov. 30, but wasn't completely healthy at that time. He is back practicing and it seems likely he'll start, though Hedrick is waiting in the wings. Together, the pair threw for 3,097 yards and 27 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. If it's Hedrick, the Beavers will face a QB with more scramble-ability than Southwick but not quite the passing accuracy.

Then there is running back Jay Ajayi, a 6-foot, 220-pound sophomore who has gained 1,328 yards (5.9 average) and 17 touchdowns, second in the Mountain West Conference. He's a load, and Oregon State's front seven will be hard-pressed to keep him in check.

The Oregon State offense will have to contend with the Broncos' DeMarcus Lawrence, a 6-3, 245-pound junior defensive end who has 67 tackles, including 19 1/2 for loss with 10 1/2 sacks.

The Broncos will try to run first. The Beavers will try to plug the middle and force their foes to be one-dimensional.

On offense, Oregon State will attempt to build on a run game that netted a season-high 231 yards in its 36-35 Civil War loss at Oregon. Sean Mannion will go often to Biletnikoff Trophy winner Brandin Cooks, but he'll try to spread it around, getting Richard Mullaney -- who has caught only six passes in the past three games -- more involved.

It helps that both tight end Connor Hamlett, who injured a knee during the first offensive series against the Ducks, and wideout Kevin Cummings, who had wrist surgery after the Stanford game on Oct. 26 and has missed the last four games, will be available. It gives the Beavers more weapons in the passing game.

Oregon State will miss linebacker D.J. Alexander, who had neck surgery last week and will not play in Honolulu. Freshman Caleb Saulo will start in his place.

The teams seem evenly matched. It should be a battle. I think the Beavers, rejuvenated after a heartful, if not artful, performance again at Autzen Stadium, get it done and secure the eighth winning season in 11 years of Mike Riley Coaching Era II in Corvallis.

THE PICK: Oregon State 33, Boise State 30