Oregon State (6-3, 4-2 in Pac-12) at No. 19 Arizona State (7-2, 5-1 in Pac-12)
Kickoff: 7:30 P.M. MST/9:30 EST
Location: Sun Devil Stadium
Point Spread: Arizona State (-14)
TV: Pac-12 Network (Ted Robinson, Glenn Parker, Drea Avant)
Radio: 620 KTAR AM (Tim Healey, Jeff Van Raaphorst, Doug Franz)
Weather Forecast: 65 degrees with a 20 percent chance of rain
Series History: Arizona State has dominated the series against Oregon State compiling an overall record of 26-12-1 in 39 matchups. However, the Beavers have won four of the last five meetings between the schools including last year's game in Corvallis in a 36-26 final. The Sun Devils will have home field advantage in their favor and they've won 18 of 19 against the Beavers in Tempe, according to the ASU media relations department.
Oregon State's Season to Date: The Beavers are 6-3 on the season and up until a loss to USC two weeks ago, Oregon State still had legitimate Pac-12 title game aspirations.
The Beavers began the season with one of the worst losses in program history as the nation's 25th ranked team dropped its season opener to FCS opponent Eastern Washington. The loss stunned the Beavers and dropped them from the national rankings, but it also served as motivation to improve and that's exactly what Mike Riley's squad did.
Oregon State reeled off six consecutive wins after falling to EWU including victories against Utah, San Diego State, and Washington State. The 6-1 Beavers were beginning to pick up steam, and had a chance to skyrocket up the national polls with a home game against the Stanford Cardinal three weeks ago.
The often-maligned Beavers' defense stepped up against the Cardinal, but the normally reliable offense mustered just 12 points in a 20-12 loss. The secret to Stanford's success was containing superstar wide receiver Brandin Cooks who still corralled nine passes for 80 yards and a touchdown. Stanford limited Mannion to 271 yards passing and kept its spot atop the Pac-12 North.
After suffering their first Pac-12 loss, the Beavers traveled to the Coliseum in hopes of getting back on track against USC. The Friday night affair didn't go as planned, as USC held the Beavers to 14 points in a 31-14 Trojan victory. Cooks failed to top 100 yards for the second consecutive game as Oregon State fell to 6-3 on the season and saw its hopes of winning the Pac-12 North significantly decline.
The Beavers have had 15 days off in between the loss to USC and Saturday's game against the Sun Devils and they're hoping that the opportunity to regroup will pay off come game time.
Arizona State on Offense
Heading into the Sun Devils' showdown in Salt Lake City, Arizona State was averaging 46.6 points per game and had scored at least 50 points in each of its previous four conference matchups. Then, reality sunk in as Arizona State was reminded exactly how it feels to play offense in a hostile environment on the road.
The offense looked out of whack for the first three quarters, and the normally efficient Taylor Kelly threw for just 144 yards in the game. The Sun Devils' saving grace was the play of running back Marion Grice, who rushed for 136 yards including 84 in the fourth quarter. Grice's drive and determination helped keep Arizona State atop the Pac-12 South and provided a much-needed lift to an offense seeking a hero.
Though Grice didn't score a touchdown for the second consecutive game, he remains second in the country with 18 total touchdowns on the year. Grice's outstanding play has helped keep the Sun Devil offense balance, and it's a major reason why Arizona State is still in the top 20 nationally in total offense.
Against Oregon State, the Sun Devils will likely turn to a heavy dose of Grice. The strength of the Beavers' defense is the secondary, a group that has locked down prolific passing attacks like Washington State and California. Though the Cougars and Golden Bears aren't nearly as successful as the Sun Devils, they do present opposing defenses with unique challenges through the air.
Grice has surpassed 100 total yards in the last eleven games he's played and he has already racked up 1,136 yards from scrimmage on the season. In an ideal scenario, the Sun Devils would like to rely on Grice for 200 yards from scrimmage against the Beavers who should have difficulty stopping him out of the backfield as a receiver as well.
If Grice is to lead the Sun Devils to victory against Oregon State, he'll need an improve performance from his offensive line. The Sun Devils' front five gave up six sacks against Utah and looked slow getting off the ball. Perhaps it was the crowd noise or maybe it was the brutes the Utes have up front, but Arizona State's offensive line had its weakest performance of the season.
Taylor Kelly was pressured throughout the afternoon against Utah and that's reflected in the numbers his receivers put up. Kelly completed 19 passes, but only managed 144 yards as most of his completions came on quick deliveries for short gains. Slot receivers D.J. Foster and Rick Smith led the Sun Devils and combined for 80 yards, so opening up the passing attack will be critical this week.
If Kelly can work Jaelen Strong into the offense in the early going and even utilize Kevin Ozier or Cameron Smith, the Sun Devils' chances of hanging 50 on the Beavers will greatly increase. The Beavers' front seven isn't nearly as intimidating as Utah's or Washington's, and the Sun Devils will have plenty of chances to exploit Oregon State early. If the ground game gets rolling, Mike Riley's defense could be in for a long night.
Arizona State on Defense
While the offense struggled throughout the first three quarters of the Utah game, the defense kept the Sun Devils in the thick of things throughout the contest. Arizona State put together another sensational effort and many players enjoyed their career best outings on the defensive side of the ball against the Utes.
Linebacker Chris Young recorded 14 tackles and defensive end Gannon Conway also set a career-high with five tackles, but the standout star was Sun Devil defensive tackle Will Sutton who emerged from Salt Lake City with nine tackles and a game-sealing interception.
Sutton took plenty of heat early on in the year after adding weight to his frame in the offseason, but the senior has responded as the Sun Devils hit the stretch run.
"This is my senior year so it's starting to hit home," Sutton said. "You want to go out there and just try to make every single play you can."
Sutton may not have made every play against Utah, but he was around the ball all day and helped the Sun Devils limit Utah to a measly 2.7 yards per carry.
At the beginning of the year, Arizona State was desperately looking for playmakers to contribute along the defensive line. Now, the Sun Devils can seemingly go six deep with Sutton, Carl Bradford, Jaxon Hood, Davon Coleman, Gannon Conway and Marcus Hardison. Coleman and Hardison have emerged over the last month as reliable players and Conway has become a force at defensive end.
Conway's 20 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss was production the Sun Devils were hoping to get at the beginning of the year. Now that Conway has established himself as a run-stopper, the coaching staff hopes he can team up with Sutton to form a more effective pass rush duo for this week's contest against the pass-heavy Beavers.
Even with Oregon State's prolific passing numbers (the Beavers are second in the country at 404.8 passing yards per game), Sutton said he and his line mates are still focused on stopping the run.
"They're the No. 1 passing offense in the Pac-12 but they will run the ball," Sutton said. "We know from last year that they ran the ball on us so our No. 1 goal again this year is to stop the run."
Last year, the Beavers racked up 233 yards on the ground against Arizona State and averaged 4.0 yards per carry. The Beavers rank 121st in rushing offense this year, but Terron Ward is still in the backfield at Oregon State and he remembers his 146-yard outing.
Sutton said the defensive line will have to stay disciplined against Oregon State because their base running plays are different than the ones Arizona State has faced against other teams this year.
"They're balanced because their lead run play is the lead draw and it's kind of uncommon for a team to have the lead run play as lead draw," Sutton said.
The lead draw works like a play-action play in the hesitation it can cause for a defense. With linemen initially showing a pass protection look, linebackers and defensive backs have to bite on the actions of downfield receivers. That means if a running back is able to slip through the cracks on the defensive line, there's daylight ahead.
Expect Oregon State to utilize the lead draw against Arizona State to neutralize the play of Osahon Irabor and Damarious Randall. Both defensive backs have a propensity for making plays at the line of scrimmage, and the lead draw will prevent that from happening. As such, edge players like Carl Bradford and Gannon Conway need to shut down their gaps and the linebackers must have excellent pursuit.
With so much focus on forcing the Beavers to be one-dimensional, you can expect the Sun Devils to have a game plan devised to limit Brandin Cooks. The nation's leading receiver has proved time and again that he can't be fully curtailed, but Stanford and USC have given Arizona State a blueprint for stopping his connection with quarterback Sean Mannion.
Arizona State will give Cooks the same treatment it gave Utah wideout Dres Anderson in the fourth quarter when the Sun Devils finally shut down Utah. Expect Osahon Irabor and Robert Nelson to press at the line of scrimmage with either Damarious Randall or Alden Darby sitting over the top to bracket Cooks. The Biletnikoff award favorite will still make plays, but this should allow Arizona State to stay balanced on defense.
Overall, this defense knows the difficulties that Oregon State presents. The UCLA and Arizona games are far easier to get excited about for fans, but the players recognize the importance of beating the Beavers. Will Sutton said the Sun Devils realize what's at stake, and they won't be denied in their quest for a Pac-12 title.
We're studying for Oregon State and that's who we're thinking about," Sutton said. "Oregon State's the team in our way to stop us form what we're trying to reach."
The Final Breakdown: Arizona State is one of only five teams in the country to rank in the top 20 in total offense and total defense. The Sun Devils are in elite company, and their play in recent weeks proves that this team is deserving of the No. 19 ranking in the BCS.
Few teams can match the strength of schedule that Arizona State has played, and Oregon State isn't one of them. The Beavers finally understand what it means to be battle-tested after games against Stanford and USC, and Oregon State looks worse for the wear because of that.
The Sun Devils are 5-0 at home and have looked virtually unstoppable at times this season. In its last three home outings, Arizona State has amassed 169 points while knocking off USC, Colorado and Washington.
Even with so much going in Arizona State's favor, it's hard to discount the Beavers heading into this week. Oregon State's offense can sling it with the best teams in the country, and the Beavers haven't been this well rested since fall camp. Furthermore, Oregon State sucked the life out of Arizona State's offense the last time these two teams met, and Mike Riley is an exceptional coach when given the time to game plan properly.
Oregon State can have success against Arizona State if the Beavers find a way to slow the Sun Devils on the ground. The Beavers' secondary shouldn't be intimidated by Arizona State's receivers, but it should take into account how different the Sun Devil offense looks when it achieves perfect harmony. When Marion Grice finds success on the ground, it's usually because Taylor Kelly has found holes in the defense through the air first.
Last week's performance from Grice counters the previous point, but the Sun Devils can't expect to win without balance two weeks in a row.
The main issue for the Beavers is that their defensive line isn't nearly as strong as the units that have given Arizona State's offensive line troubles this year. Wisconsin, Stanford, Notre Dame and Utah are the only teams who have consistently given the front five fits this season, and Arizona State split those four games. In the other five games, the Sun Devil offensive line has dominated and contributed to easy victories.
Without an every down threat on defense waiting to break into the backfield, the Beavers will have trouble stopping the Sun Devils. That's why I like Arizona State at home this week and why I think the Sun Devils will travel to UCLA with a spot in the conference title game on the line.
Prediction: Arizona State 45, Oregon State 31