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BY KERRY EGGERS/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Major opportunity awaits Oregon State this week at Arizona

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins and the Oregon State Beavers hope to snag a win over the Arizona Wildcats this week.  A major opportunity awaits Oregon State on Saturday, when the Beavers visit Tucson to take on Arizona at 1:30 p.m.

The Wildcats (4-4, 2-3) have lost three games in a row, yielding 51, 41 and 41 points in succession, the last in a 41-31 loss at Stanford on Saturday.

The Beavers (3-4, 2-2) have had two weeks to prepare after a 21-17 victory at California on Oct. 19. They have a chance to win three straight Pac-12 road games for the first time since 2013, and could put themselves in position for a bona fide run at bowl eligibility.

Arizona is like a good hit/bad field baseball team. The Wildcats rank second in the Pac-12 in run offense (202.0 yards per game) and total offense (492.0), third in pass offense (290.0) and fifth in scoring (32.3 points).

The Wildcats rank last in the conference in scoring defense (35.0) and 11th in total defense (426.9). They've given up more than 40 points to five opponents.

Oregon State ranks fifth in the league in run offense (167.1), seventh in scoring (30.4) and pass offense (243.7) and eighth in total offense (410.9). The Beavers are ninth in scoring defense (31.6) and seventh in total defense (426.9).

Arizona moved the ball consistently in a balanced attack against Stanford, amassing 29 first downs, 495 yards total offense, 222 yards rushing and 273 yards passing. Khalil Tate, the fleet 6-2, 215-pound senior quarterback, was especially effective running the ball, carrying nine times for 103 yards and a touchdown. He completed 17 of 33 passes for 205 yards and two scores.

Second-year coach Kevin Sumlin also used Grant Gunnell — a 6-6, 225-pound true freshman who threw for a state-record 16,108 yards and 195 touchdowns during his high school career in The Woodlands, Texas — for several series against the Cardinal. The 6-6, 225-pound Gunnell was 7 for 7 for 68 yards and a TD, but was also sacked twice. The second one resulted in a 24-yard loss and a lost fumble after Arizona, trailing 38-31 in the early fourth quarter, had advanced to the Stanford 22.

Tate and Gunnell spread the ball around. They threw to 11 receivers against the Cardinal.

Running back J.J. Taylor, a 5-6, 185-pound junior, rushed 16 times for 110 yards and had five receptions for 53 yards in the Stanford game. Taylor has rushed for 488 yards (5.7 average) and three TDs this season.

Tate hasn't run as often as he did during his celebrated sophomore season, but he has accounted for 309 yards and three TDs on the ground this season. His legs are the Wildcats' biggest weapon. He keeps pass plays alive and scrambles for first downs and touchdowns. Oregon State's defense will task a linebacker as a "spy" to account for Tate at all times.

Tate is only an OK passer — he has thrown for 1,528 yards and 12 scores with eight interceptions — which is the biggest reason Sumlin has chosen to employ Gunnell, a more prototypical passing QB.

Defense is a different story for Arizona. The Wildcats gave up 26 first downs and 472 yards total offense to Stanford. Oregon State has had its defensive issues, too, but is an improving product at that end of the field. That's not the case for Arizona. And things got to the point on Monday that the Wildcats fired coordinator Marcel Yates and linebackers coach John Rushing.

This one is going to be a shootout if Oregon State's offense, slowed considerably by the outstanding defenses of Utah and California the past two games, is able to click back into gear. Reinforcements could help make that happen.

It's possible that Trevon Bradford — who has missed the entire season with a foot injury — will return to action at Arizona. Bradford, the No. 2 receiver a year ago with 56 catches, is redshirting this season, so he can play only four of the final five games. But OSU coaches may choose to use him Saturday and sit him in one of the final four contests. His return could be a nice boost to the Beaver receiving corps.

And Jermar Jefferson, also slowed with a foot injury through much of this season, is expected to play Saturday and divide duties with Artavis Pierce at running back. If Jefferson can return to the form he showed in winning Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year honors a year ago, it's another big weapon O-coordinator Brian Lindgren can employ.

One major discrepancy between the teams: Arizona has 15 turnovers this season, Oregon State 2. Ball security is always at a premium. If the Beavers can get two or three takeaways — they have only six all season — it could swing the outcome their way.

The Wildcats consider this a game they have to win if they're going to a bowl game. They'll be playing at home on an 80-degree afternoon. If Oregon State's defense allows Tate to get loose in open space, look out. The Beavers will have their hands full with Arizona's offense, anyway.

Oregon State is very capable of winning this one. It's a close enough call that the Beavers' instability at the place-kicking position — true freshman Everett Hayes appears to have won the job over floundering senior Jordan Choukair — could play a role in the outcome. Arizona junior Lucas Havrisik is 6 for 10 on field goals this season, but has made one from 53 yards and has missed only once inside of 50.

I sense a frustrating finish for members of Beaver Nation who travel to the desert.

The pick: Arizona 38, Oregon State 35


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