The Arizona State Sun Devils will look to end their two-game losing streak by scoring a major upset victory on the road this Saturday when they take on No. 13 Oregon State.
To help get you ready for this huge Pac-12 battle, we talked with Andy Wooldridge, the editor of BuildingTheDam.com, the excellent SB Nation Oregon State website. He gives us an insider look at the Beavers' season, what to expect Saturday and the keys to a win.
With the preseason outlook in Corvallis being less than stellar, how surprising was the team's 6-0 start?
It was very surprising. Even the most optimistic Oregon St. fans were thinking 6-7 wins was probably the high end, with missing a bowl game a distinct possibility. And there wasn't any history to support such a strong start; Coach Mike RIley's teams have had a long pattern of slow starts. Prior to the two wins this year at UCLA and Arizona, Riley as a collegiate head coach had only ever won one road game prior to October.
I think it is. Mannion was not sharp in his return after missing 2 games against Washington, and the 4 interceptions were what lost the game. Vaz is capable of making all the throws about as well as Mannion is; he was second string mostly because he's four inches shorter, and doesn't fit the mold of the typical "pro style quarterback".
What he also brings is ball security. In the two games he started while Mannion was out, plus the 4th quarter against Washington, he hasn't thrown any interceptions or fumbled. And he is more mobile than Mannion.
Wheaton and Cooks have been electric. No one has the speed to be able to run with them. And Wheaton is also a very effective down field blocker. They are legitimately among the best pairs of receivers in the country.
If you were ASU offensive coordinator Mike Norvell, how would you gameplan to attack the Beaver defense while trying to neutralize Scott Crichton?
What has worked the best against Oregon St.'s defense has been mid-range crossing routes, and multiple receiver routes through the middle, things that require the still young and relatively inexperienced safeties in the Beavers' nickel and dime schemes to have to hand off coverage responsibilities as the play develops. Some times those exchanges haven't been so smooth, and opposing receivers have found some holes.
As far as controlling Crichton goes, Washington did the best job so far, and they did so a lot of the time by influencing him one way or the other, rather than trying to take him head on, and then having someone help once he was committed to a lane.
Who are some under-the-radar players on each side of the ball that could be X-factors in the game?
Offensively, I'd expect one of the tight ends, either Colby Prince or Connor Hamlett, to make a critical catch at some point. Also fullback Tyler Anderson has come up with a big play several times, and he was totally under everyone's radar, even the Oregon St. coaches, at the start of the season.
Defensively, safety Ryan Murphy has a nose for the ball. The cornerbacks, Jordan Poyer and Rashaad Reynolds, get more of the attention, but watch for Murphy to get an interception or a big pass break up at some point.
Also keep an eye on linebackers D.J. Alexander, who has exceeded all expectations, and Michael Doctor, who is having a very good season, and often in situations where the nickel and dime packages mean there is only 1 or 2 linebackers on the field, putting a lot of pressure on him.
What is your prediction for Saturday?
The weatherman says we might not have another deluge like last Saturday in Seattle, which should help the offenses. I expect it will be something on the order of a 34-28 type of game, with it going down to late in the 4th quarter. The team that commits the fewest turnovers will probably be the one on the top side of that score.