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ASU Football: Stopping Oregon State’s rushing attack

The last dance

NCAA Football: California at Oregon State Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

No Pac-12 football team is in higher spirits than Arizona State heading into this weekend.

Just a week removed from a 70-7 suffocation of the Arizona Wildcats during the 94th Territorial Cup, the Sun Devils want to keep their momentum after a COVID-19 outbreak shortened their season to just three games.

The firepower displayed in Tucson last Friday proved ASU was more deadly than their 1-2 record suggests. They had already played two games in December.

Why not one more?

ASU travels to Corvallis, Oregon this weekend to take on Oregon State (2-4) on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. The matchup with the Beavers is a late addition to the 2020 schedule and was not part of the original seven-game conference-only slate.

Here is how OSU stacks up against the Sun Devils.

The Playmakers

The Beavers started the season with redshirt junior Tristan Gebbia slinging the rock, but he recently underwent season-ending surgery for a hamstring injury.

Redshirt sophomore Chance Nolan, a dual-threat quarterback who transferred from Saddleback College in January, will be at the helm of OSU after appearances against Utah and Stanford.

Both of those games were decided by one score, with Nolan completing 37-68 passes for 423 yards, four touchdowns, and an interception over that span. He also rushed 21 times for 86 yards.

OSU’s offense is centered around junior running back Jermar Jefferson, a 5-foot-10, 217-pound bell cow who has rushed for 755 yards and seven touchdowns on the season while averaging 6.9 yards per attempt.

Considered one of the best running back prospects in college football, Jefferson validated those claims by opening the season with four straight 100-yard rushing performances, including a 196-yard romp against Cal and a 226-yard detonation a week later on Oregon.

A scary mix of speed and strength, the Sun Devil front will have their hands full keeping Jefferson contained.

On the receiving end, Oregon State lost 2019 Biletnikoff Award semifinalist Isaiah Hodgins to the NFL Draft last offseason. As a result, the Beavers lack a true No. 1 threat in 2020 and have opted to spread the ball around.

The weapon the Sun Devils will focus on is redshirt senior Trevon Bradford, who has recorded 24 catches for 239 yards and a score this year.

Kolby Taylor, the team’s second-best receiving threat, medically retired before Saturday’s game, leaving tight end Luke Musgrave (11 catches, 129 yards) as the team’s next most-accomplished pass catcher.

The Coach

It is Jonathan Smith’s third year coaching the Beavers and last season’s five wins were the most by the program since 2014.

One of those victories was a 35-34 defeat of the Sun Devils at home, a shootout that was ended after ASU went for the win and failed to convert a two-point conversion try following a touchdown pass from Jayden Daniels to Brandon Aiyuk on 4th and 8.

Smith has coached OSU to a 2-4 record in 2020. The Beavers are currently averaging 28.2 points per game and have scored 22 touchdowns on the season.

The Game Plan

It’s no secret that the life and blood of the Beavers offense are the legs of Jefferson. Through three games, the Sun Devils are allowing an average of 161 rushing yards per outing.

Only two years ago, Jefferson tore up Sun Devil Stadium for 254 rushing yards, the second-best single-game total in OSU history. The run defense will need to be at its best if ASU hopes to slow down one of the conference’s biggest stars.

The Sun Devils scored twice within the first minute of the Arizona game, which allowed the team to maintain aggression throughout the remaining playtime.

If ASU can score early at Reser Stadium, the offense should operate with more flexibility and confidence, a necessity for an attack chock full of young players still adjusting to playing college ball.

Piecing together a few touchdowns toward the beginning would also place pressure on OSU to lean more on the arm of Nolan and less on Jefferson. That would be a favorable game script the Sun Devils would welcome.