Kerry Says: Beavers won't be intimidated at WSU
Saturday's 104th renewal of the Oregon State-Washington State rivalry comes Saturday in Pullman, on what is predicted to be a cold, crisp evening in the Palouse, with temperatures approaching freezing.
The brisk weather shouldn't put a damper on the teams' offenses. This figures to be a shootout, with plenty on the line for both teams.
For Oregon State (5-5 overall, 4-3 in Pac-12 play), a win would cinch a winning conference record for the first time since 2012. More importantly, it would assure bowl eligibility for the first time since 2013.
For Washington State (5-5, 2-5), it would increase its streak of bowl seasons to five and help the Cougars avoid their first losing campaign since 2014 (before that, they hadn't had a winning season since 2003).
Over the past four years under coach Mike Leach, Washington State has gone 37-15 and reigned as one of the Pac-12's best programs. This year has been different, primarily because the Cougars have been more porous at the defensive end. Wazzu ranks 10th in the league in total defense (453.8 yards allowed per game).
Washington State has lost three close ones in conference games — 67-63 to UCLA in a game in which the Cougars led 49-17 late in the third quarter; 38-34 to Arizona State, with the Sun Devils scoring the winning touchdown with 34 seconds remaining, and 37-35 to Oregon, as Camden Lewis' 26-yard field goal won it for the Ducks on the final play. Win those three and the Cougars would be 8-2 and ranked among the nation's top 20.
In Leach's high-powered, volume-passing spread attack, the system makes the quarterback. This year's recipient is Anthony Gordon, a 6-3, 210-pound senior in his fourth year on campus but his first season as starter. Gordon leads the nation with 4,314 passing yards, over 600 more than runner-up Joe Burrow of Louisiana State with 3,687. Gordon has completed 367 of 515 passes for a school-record 39 TDs with 11 interceptions and is sixth nationally in completion percentage (.713).
Gordon threw for 520 yards and five touchdowns in 49-22 victory over Stanford in Pullman last Saturday. The Cougars led only 25-22 late in the third quarter before outscoring the Cardinal 24-0 over the game's final 19 minutes.
Against Stanford, Easop Winston caught 11 passes for 107 yards and two TDs, Brandon Arconado had nine catches for 148 yards and Max Borghi rushed for 111 yards and two TDs. The Cougars, who did not punt in the game, piled up 33 first downs and 624 yards of total offense.
Stanford quarterback K.J. Costello was injured, so backup Davis Mills — who went the distance in the Cardinals' 31-28 win over Oregon State on Sept. 28 — threw for a school-record 494 yards and three TDs against Washington State. But the Cardinal had a net six yards rushing.
Gordon has six receivers with 34 or more catches this season, led by Winston, a 6-foot, 190-pound junior (70 for 826 yards and 11 TDs), 6-foot, 195-pound senior Arcanado (60 for 859 and six) and 5-10 195-pound sophomore tailback Max Borghi (60 for 468 and four). Borghi, arguably the most versatile back in the Pac-12, has 1,164 yards and 12 TDs rushing and receiving and ranks fourth nationally in rushing yardage per carry (6.9).
Washington State is sixth nationally in total offense per game (522.2 yards), leads the Pac-12 in scoring average (40.3 points) and boasts the nation's most accurate place-kicker in sophomore Blake Mazza, who is 18 for 18 on field-goal attempts with a long of 51 yards. Mazza has missed two of 47 PAT attempts, however.
The Cougars' offense has been tamed twice this season, in losses to Utah (38-13 on Sept. 28) and California (33-20 on Nov. 9). Gordon threw for 407 yards against Cal, but the Wazzu offense found the end zone only twice (George Hicks returned a blocked PAT 98 yards for a touchdown). Utah held Gordon to 252 yards and one TD passing with two interceptions.
The Cougars make no secret about what they're going to do offensively. They average 47.6 passes and only 77.8 yards rushing per game. They throw every kind of pass in the book at you and dare you to stop them.
Oregon State's defense will try to disguise the look of its schemes against Gordon, but you can bet the Beavers will bring pressure as much as possible. Come on down, Hamilcar Rashed Jr. The 6-4, 235-pound junior linebacker leads the nation in sacks (14) and tackles-for-loss (22.5), already both school single-season records. The Beavers will unleash Rashed on Gordon and see what damage he can do, but he's not a one-man gang. They lead the Pac-12 with 80 tackles-for-loss this season.
Oregon State's offense should have plenty of room to operate. Quarterback Jake Luton — who returns for the first time to the scene of his thoracic spine fracture two years ago — was poised and efficient in throwing for 296 yards and four touchdowns in last Saturday's 35-34 win over Arizona State. Junior receiver Isaiah Hodgins, who ranks second nationally in receiving TDs (13), tied for sixth in receptions (73) and seventh in receiving yardage (1,021), hopes to have a field day.
Opponents have rushed for 193.7 yards per game against Washington State. The Beavers hope Artavis Pierce and Jermar Jefferson can combine for that total Saturday.
If Saturday's game comes down to turnovers, Oregon State has the edge. The Beavers lead the nation in fewest giveaways (four); Washington State has 16.
With school out of session for the following week at WSU due to Thanksgiving, the student turnout could be sparce, meaning attendance could be down from the Cougars' average of 29,070 per game. That's one of those intangibles that could make a difference.
Another is the "want" factor. The Beavers' desire to get their sixth win is through the roof, although coach Jonathan Smith warned not to lean on that with this comment after the Arizona State game: "It's not really about desire — who wants to go to a bowl game more. It comes down to executing and playing."
None of the current Oregon State players have experienced victory over Washington State. Wazzu has beaten the Beavers five straight times (after OSU had won eight of the previous 10 meetings), games in which the Beavers have averaged 30.8 points but given up 46.8. The OSU seniors would love to be able to say they beat the Cougars at least once in their careers.
Borghi says that won't happen.
"We're going bowling," the WSU running back said after the win over Stanford. "I can guarantee that because we're going to win next week."
Could be, but the Beavers — with three Pac-12 road wins already to their credit this season — won't be intimidated.
I foresee a second straight one-point victory and another wild post-game celebration.
The pick: Oregon State 42, Washington State 41
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