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By Kerry Eggers/Portland Tribune/Beavers need strong defense to head off Rainbow Warriors

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Oregon State quarterback Jake Luton takes off with the ball during the season opener last week against Oklahoma State.When I first glanced at Oregon State's 2019 schedule, Hawaii was an opponent that stood out as one the Beavers had a great shot at beating.

I'm not so sure after the results of each team's opener.

Hawaii outscored Arizona 45-38 at home on Aug. 23 in a wild affair that ended with Wildcats quarterback Khalil Tate tackled at the Rainbow Warriors' 1-yard line after a 30-yard scramble on the game's final play.

Oregon State, meanwhile, looked as inept defensively as a year ago in a 52-36 season-opening loss to Oklahoma State at Reser Stadium.

Hawaii is in its fourth season under head coach Nick Rolovich, who employs a spread attack that finished ninth nationally in pass offense last season. The Warriors were 8-6 overall and 5-3 in Mountain West play, losing 31-14 to Louisiana Tech in the Hawaii Bowl.

The Warriors, picked to finish fourth in the Mountain West's West Division, run mostly to keep opposing defenses honest. They compiled 31 first downs and 595 yards total offense — 436 of it through the air — against Arizona, prevailing despite coughing up six turnovers.

Hawaii features a dynamite passing combination in quarterback Cole McDonald and receiver Cedric Byrd.

McDonald, a 6-4, 220 junior, completed 29 for 41 passes for 378 yards and four touchdowns, albeit with four interceptions, against Arizona. Byrd, a 5-9, 175-pound senior, had 14 receptions for 224 yards and four TDs against the Wildcats. The Warriors have an excellent kicker in senior Ryan Meskell, who hit 15 of 18 field goals and 46 of 47 PATs last season, and return all five starters from their 2018 offensive line.

Defense is another story. Arizona amassed 539 yards total offense in the Hawaii game, including 361 yards passing — that against an experienced Warrior secondary with four returning starters.

Oregon State's offense was crisp against Oklahoma State save for a second quarter in which the Beavers went three-and-out on three consecutive possessions. The Cowboys took advantage by scoring three straight touchdowns for a 31-10 lead, and boat-raced the Beavers from there.

Jake Luton was sharp at quarterback, throwing for 251 yards and three touchdowns, and favorite target Isaiah Hodgins had a big night with nine catches for 170 yards and two scores. Jermar Jefferson carried 16 times for 87 yards, and the Oregon State offensive line had a solid day, allowing only one sack.

Oklahoma State had a field day against the Oregon State defense, amassing 30 first downs and 555 yards total offense — 352 on the ground. It was shades of a year ago, when opponents ran roughshod on the Beavers, six times rushing for more than 300 yards.

That shouldn't happen Saturday night at Aloha Stadium. What could happen, though, is what we saw in Corvallis last season, when Washington State rushed for 100 yards and threw for 430 in a 56-37 victory.

Oregon State's secondary — missing injured safeties Jalen Moore and Jeffrey Manning — looked porous, but didn't get a lot of help from the front seven, either. Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders hurt the Beavers by arm and by legs, a continuation of the problem that has cursed Oregon State defenses since the glory years of Mike Riley. McDonald is a decent runner — he rushed for 359 yards and four touchdowns as a sophomore — but certainly not as adept as the dual-threat Sanders.

Oregon State got into the backfield often against Oklahoma State, registering nine tackles-for-loss, more than the Beavers had in all but one game a year ago. That's a positive sign. But only one sack — and no turnovers created — isn't going to get it done.

There is a lot of crossover in coaching staffs in Saturday's matchup.

With Hawaii, assistant head coach/outside linebackers Mark Banker was Riley's long-time defensive coordinator at OSU. Associate head coach/offensive coordinator Brian Smith was a grad assistant at Oregon State in 2006 and coached the offensive line at Portland State in 2007. Quarterbacks coach Craig Stutzmann coached wide receivers at Portland State in 2009. Mark Weber coached the offensive line at Oregon State from 1987-90. Outside linebackers coach Jacob Loro was defensive coordinator at Pacific (Forest Grove) from 2010-14. And in August, linebacker Isaiah Tufaga transferred from OSU to Hawaii, though he must sit out the 2019 season.

With Oregon State, special teams coach Jake Cookus, receivers coach Kefense Hynson and D-line coach Legi Suiaunoa all coached at Hawaii. And the Beavers' starting right offensive tackle, Brandon Kipper, began his career with Hawaii.

There there is the matter of the Beavers being handed a secondary violation by the NCAA during the summer of 2018 after sending recruiting packets to a current Hawaii player. That's a no-no that Rolovich brusquely admonished via Twitter, and he'll surely want to show recruits that his is the superior program.

OSU radio analyst Jim Wilson believes Oklahoma State is the best offense the Beavers will face this season, which could be true. He says the balanced offense the Cowboys employ was much more difficult to defend than the one-dimensional attack the Beavers will face in Honolulu.

Maybe, but I'm not convinced Oregon State's defense can get enough pressure on McDonald to make that matter much. The Beavers need more from what seemed to be a deep, talented group of linebackers who were underwhelming in the first go-round last Friday. They also need to do a much better job on third down and long. The Cowboys converted their first six opportunities when faced with third-and-six or longer. That simply can't happen.

Hawaii has an advantage with the bye week, though Oregon State gets an extra day of preparation due to playing its opener on a Friday.

It would help the Beavers' cause if Moore, Manning and receiver Trevon Bradford (foot) can play. So would something approaching six Hawaii turnovers and more carries for Jefferson, whose optimal work load would be in the 20-to-25-attempt range.

Even all that might not be enough to produce a win for a program that has dropped 23 of its last 24 outings away from home.

The pick: Hawaii 41, Oregon State 34


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