The Oregon State Beavers have defeated only one FBS team with a record above .500 record: the San Diego State Aztecs. And the odds makers in Vegas expect Arizona State to prevail by around two touchdowns on Saturday.
Todd Graham doesn't care about the Vegas lines or opinions, as he dished out some lofty praise toward the Beavers.
"We obviously have one of the best coaches [Mike Riley] in the Pac-12 conference coming in here. We have got the No. 1 passer [Sean Mannion] in the country. The No.1 receiver [Brandin Cooks] in the country," Graham said. "One of the best teams in the Pac-12 coming here. A team that beat Utah. A team [Utah] that we just went down to the wire with. Our guys know it's a big challenge. We've had a good week of preparation, probably the best Thursday I know we've had from a defensive preparation stand point. But we better, because these guys have a lot of weapons and explosive potential."
Mannion and Cooks are the headline acts for the Oregon State offense. The combination could arguably be one the best in the nation. Therefore, it's common to forget about the capable running backs in Terron Ward and Storm Woods.
Despite the tendency for Mannion and Cooks to put the Beavers on the scoreboard, Graham refuses to scoff at the Beavers' ground game.
"Obviously everybody looks at the yards they have passing and all that. You absolutely better not overlook [the running game]," Graham said. "They have two really solid running backs. You definitely make sure you put the running game first. So many plays of their plays, like the screen, is like a run play. It's the No. 1 play that their running backs run. They are going to run power, they are going inside zone, 13-personnel, three tight ends."
Game planning for the vast variations of the Oregon State offense has been demanding. From marking Cooks to slowing down Ward and Wood on the grounds, the job at hand won't be easy.
"They [the offense] are a very multiple, very unique, innovative group that makes you work," Graham said. "This week I've had to spend more hours than any week up to this point since Stanford. To me, it reminded me a lot of Stanford and how well coached they are offensively. And how hard they play."
Throughout each week of practice, Jackie Shipp and the defensive line partakes in drills to help with the recognition of screen passes. Those daily should pay huge dividends against Oregon State, which relies heavily on the screen. Paul Randolph loves to bring the blitz, but doing so against screen reliant teams can be problematic.
"We have accountability. We work that [defending the screens]. If you're going to be a pressure team, we practice year round the reaction to screen," Graham said. "Obviously we emphasized that this week but you just got to be assignment oriented. Because we are going to bring pressure."
Other practice notes
- The team didn't wear pads, which is unusual for Thursday practice.
- Jaelen Strong took first team kick returns in place of Deantre Lewis. Strong would be lined up next to Marion Grice.
- De'Marieya Nelson special teams contributions are getting noticed. Graham called him the MVP of the unit.
- Anthony Jones got repetitions with the starters at SPUR linebacker in place of the injured Laiu Moekiola.
- Alex Garoutte and punting game are starting to show signs of progress, according to Graham. The new nickname for Garoutte is slash.