Under head coach Mike Riley, the Oregon State Beavers have developed a reputation for starting seasons slowly before mounting a strong finish down the stretch. This year, however, they could be in line to flip the script.
This Saturday's match-up between Arizona State and Oregon State is loaded with implications for both teams as they look to reverse recent setbacks and stay in the race in their respective divisions.
Oregon State's Season to Date: Oregon State stunned many when they shut down the mighty Wisconsin rushing attack in their opener, and then toppled UCLA, ranked 19th at the time, two weeks later. Wins over Arizona, Washington State, BYU and Utah had Riley's squad 6-0 and ranked No. 7, despite an injury to starting quarterback Sean Mannion. All was great for the Beavers until last week...
Oregon State's Last Game: Taking on the enigmatic Washington Huskies on the road, the Beaver defense did an effective job in limiting Washington to just 293 yards while OSU gained 427. However, four interceptions by Mannion gave the Huskies a huge edge as they handed Oregon State their first loss of the year, 20-17.
Oregon State's Statistical Leaders:
Rushing - Storm Woods: 540 yards, 4.6 ypc, 6 TD
Passing - Sean Mannion: 1,578 yards, 61.6 completion %, 8 TD, 8 INT, 132.0 rating
Receiving - Brandin Cooks: 44 receptions, 790 yards, 3 TD / Markus Wheaton: 50 receptions, 679 yards, 6 TD
Tackles - Michael Doctor: 46
Sacks - Scott Crichton: 8.0
Oregon State's National Ranks (Among 124 FBS Teams):
Rushing Offense: 111th (108.4 ypg)
Passing Offense: 15th (311.7 ypg)
Scoring Offense: 84th (24.9 ppg)
Rushing Defense: 5th (83.4 ypg)
Passing Defense: 94th (260.7 ypg)
Scoring Defense: 12th (17.0 ppg)
Oregon State on Offense: The big story here is the Beavers' change at quarterback. During Monday's press conference, Riley announced the junior Cody Vaz would take over for Sean Mannion, following the latter's four-interception game. Vaz has been terrific this season, and after replacing Mannion against Washington, he nearly led them to victory. They 6-foot-1, 198 pounder is a very accurate passer and the passing game should continue to be a force.
The Beavers are a pass-first team, and with the talent they have, it's easy to see why. They have a dynamic duo at wide receiver in senior Markus Wheaton and sophomore Brandin Cooks. Wheaton is a sure-handed speedster who has now reached 50 receptions for the third consecutive season. The 5-foot-10 Cook has emerged as the newest version of James Rodgers, as he has used his great speed, quickness and agility to amass a team-best 790 yards and a dangerous 18.0-yards-per-catch. Those two have hauled in 94 of the team's 168 receptions (56%). Should a team be able to cover both, Vaz has 6-foot-5 tight end Colby Prince and 6-foot-7 H-back Connor Hamlett to look for underneath.
Oregon State ranks among the worst rushing teams in the nation, but that doesn't mean they are without talent at the position. Freshman Storm Woods won the job during camp and has been an effective playmaker with 540 yards and six touchdowns on the ground while his 23 catches are third-best on the team. Woods has seen the lion's share of the work, but last year's starter Malcolm Agnew has chipped in with 156 yards on 38 carries, and the team likes to give some carries to the explosive Wheaton and Cooks.
The Beavers return four starters along the offensive line, which is both a blessing and a curse. Last year's unit was sub-par in both pass protection and run blocking, and they've only been marginally better this season. Top-recruit Isaac Seumalo has become the starting center and has given the unit a nice lift, but overall, this is a group that can aspire to be average.
Oregon State on Defense:
The strength of the team this season has been the Beavers' 4-3 defense, which ranks fifth in the nation against the run and 12th in scoring, giving up just 17 points-per-game.
Up front, Oregon State has a one of the nation's best in left end Scott Crichton. The sophomore already has eight sacks and 12.5 tackles-for-loss, far and away the team leader in each category. He's capable of single-handedly disrupting an entire offensive gameplan. Fellow sophomore end Dylan Wynn has become an effective blue-collar complement to Crichton, and has 30 tackles. One of the keys to their great run defense has been the a pair of huge lane-cloggers OSU has at tackle in 354-pounder Castro Masaniai and 295-pound Andrew Seumalo. Neither will make plays in the backfield, but will be very difficult to move off the ball.
The linebackers are a quick and steady group that don't make a tremendous amount of big plays. Weakside linebacker Michael Doctor has great speed and range and leads the team with 46 tackles and has five tackles-for-loss. Doctor's counterpart on the strongside, D.J. Alexander has been effective with 31 tackles, five for loss.
Oregon State's secondary has another of the nation's elite, with cornerback Jordan Poyer. The senior is a top-notch over corner and already has five interceptions. He's paired with Rashaad Reynolds, who is an effective tackler (43) and has notched two interceptions thanks to his great athleticism. OSU has a pair of sophomores—Ryan Murphy and Tyrequek Zimmerman—at safety who are still growing into the position, and can be exploited.