Oregon State at Oregon: Predicting the unpredictable
It's an overused cliche to throw out the records for college football rivalry games. But, that cliche seems to apply this week.
Oregon enters the annual game with Oregon State at 9-2, one win from another 10-win season. Oregon State is a solid 7-4, but just 1-4 away from Reser Stadium.
And yet, Saturday's 12:30 p.m. game at Autzen Stadium (ESPN television) sure feels like Oregon State's chance to make another statement.
The Beavers are the team entering the 125th renewal of the Willamette Valley football rivalry with momentum, having secured a bowl game and an undefeated home season with consecutive wins.
The Ducks are wounded, emotionally and physically, after they and their playoff dreams were pounded into birdseed at Utah last weekend.
From Oregon's perspective, this week's physical test is probably more challenging than overcoming the emotional toll from last weekend. The Utes did to the Ducks what Oregon wants to do to opponents: physically imposed their will. Now comes another physical challenge against arguably the best offensive line in the Pac-12. That's a tough one-two punch for Oregon's defensive line, even with the uber-talented Kayvon Thibodeaux demanding extra attention.
Does anyone doubt the Beavers will use multiple tight ends and dare the sore Ducks to stop B.J. Baylor?
On the flip side, one has to wonder how much firepower the Oregon offense is bringing into this game. The lack of healthy UO receivers and tight ends is well documented. So thin are they that the Ducks have running back Seven McGee listed as a backup receiver. The offensive line is expected to again be without Ryan Walk.
One factor to watch is the health of Oregon quarterback Anthony Brown Jr. He took some hard hits at Utah and appeared to tweak a knee at one point. Be it wear and tear or a lingering injury, if Brown is not willing and able to be a threat running the ball it is difficult to imagine Oregon finding consistent joy on offense.
The Beavers haven't had consistent QB play, either. Especially on the road, where Chance Nolan has thrown seven of his eight interceptions. And he'll be facing a Ducks' defense with 14 interceptions, tied for ninth nationally. Safety Verone McKinley III, expected to play Saturday after leaving last week's game with a first-half injury, is tied for the lead nationally with five picks.
While momentum favors the Beavers, it's easy to forget that the Ducks are playing for a division title. Until last week, Oregon was good enough to win every game except an unlikely overtime loss at Stanford (a game the Ducks had won, but lost; a game they almost certainly would have won with offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead calling plays).
That things snowballed on them last week at Utah is fresh in our minds, but this team has been resilient and found ways to win close games.
Oregon's one clear advantage is that it's the home team. That should be significant. Yes, Oregon State won at USC this season, a nice accomplishment, but the 4-6 Trojans are hardly a powerhouse. The Beavers had chances to win road games at Purdue, at Cal, at Colorado and at Washington State, but lost all of them. None of those venues is as difficult for opposing teams as a charged-up Autzen.
But, that is one of the big questions about Saturday: Exactly how revved up will Oregon fans be?
The stakes are significant. A win puts Oregon back into the Pac-12 title game with a shot at revenge against Utah and another Rose Bowl appearance. Nothing to sneeze at, for sure. But, given the focus on the College Football Playoff, it's fair to wonder how excited the Ducks or their fans will be this week.
That is the key to this game.
Oregon was undone in part last week by its inability to communicate up front because of the noise Utah fans, to their credit, produced. Ducks fans have a chance to do the same this weekend. Their engagement, especially if the Beavers take the lead, will go a long way in determining whether Oregon is playing for another conference title or waiting for a second-tier bowl berth.
Maybe being allowed to yell without a mask will add a little volume from the Oregon fans to make it difficult on OSU.
A few other intangibles to consider: Oregon State's roster has more than 30 Oregonians, Oregon's roster has fewer than 20. … OSU is trying to beat Oregon in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2006-07. … This will be the last home game for some Ducks, but not for center Alex Forsyth out of West Linn, who has said he intends to return for his COVID bonus sixth season in 2022. … How will Oregon State respond to the result of the Apple Cup? If Washington wins on Friday, the winner between Oregon-Oregon State battle will represent the North Division in the Pac-12 title game.
And, that winner will be … Oregon State 30, Oregon 28.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.