Only two games remain for Arizona State in what has turned out to be a roller-coaster of a season. The Sun Devils sit second-place in the Pac-12 South, and still have potential to qualify for some impressive postseason events if a series of things fall their way.
This week, the Sun Devils (7-3, 5-2 Pac-12) are away from Tempe once again. Back in Corvallis for the third straight year against a rejuvenated Oregon State Beavers (6-4, 4-3) squad that is undefeated at home.
Ahead of the matchup, we caught up with Marcus Russell of our companion site at Oregon State Building the Dam for a Q&A on what to expect from the Beavers and what has been the catalyst for their reemergence.
Jack Johnson: The Beavers just became bowl eligible for the first time since 2013. What has made the difference this year?
Marcus Russell: It’s tough to pinpoint one thing in particular, it just seems like the Beavers have steadily improved each year under Jonathan Smith. This season two big improvements have shone through on the field. First the Beavers offensive line and run game has been elite. Even with an up-and-down passing offense, the rushing attack has been strong enough to keep Oregon State in basically every game this season.
On the other side of the field, despite recently firing the Defensive Coordinator, the defense has improved (specifically stopping the run occasionally). For years opposing offenses could do basically whatever they wanted against Oregon State, this year they offer a little bit of resistance.
JJ: Oregon State seems like they have found the right guy in Jonathan Smith as head coach. What has been the key to his success since taking the job?
MR: Jonathan Smith is a fantastic offensive-minded head coach. He’s also done a great job of utilizing the transfer portal to bring in impactful players, while honing in on under-recruited high school talent.
Corvallis is a tough place to bring in four/five star recruits, but Smith and company have found a way to rebuild from the ground up and once again be competitive in the Pac-12.
JJ: What makes running back BJ Baylor so tough to stop?
MR: BJ Baylor is a tough-nosed, downhill runner, but I think the offensive line deserves a lot of credit for his 1000 yard rushing season (and counting). Credit to BJ Baylor for establishing himself as the lead back despite the presence of Trey Lowe and DeShaun Fenwick, but a lot of the Beavers success on offense can be traced back to their play at the line of scrimmage. PFF graded the Oregon State offensive line as the 2nd best in the nation.
JJ: The defense just allowed their lowest yard total in the Smith era. I normally don’t put Oregon State and defensive powerhouse in the same thought bubble, but I’m starting to change my mind. Is OSU becoming a defensive force?
MR: To put it simply, NOPE. While they looked good against Stanford there were some extenuating circumstances. The Cardinal started a true freshman at QB (Ari Patu) and are dealing with a bunch of other injuries. Oregon State controlled the clock and ran the ball more than twice as much as they threw it.
While Beaver fans are thrilled the defense looked good last week under new interim D.C. Trent Bray; it doesn’t erase the memory of the horrible defensive performances against Cal & Colorado in back to back weeks that lead to the D.C. change in the first place.
JJ: Mother nature normally wins these games, but one team will also score more points than the other. Which one is it, Marcus?
MR: This game is a tough one for me to predict. Oregon State has brought their ‘A+ game’ at home in 2021 (5-0 record). Arizona State on the other hand is probably the more talented team and is road favorites for a reason. I’m nervous this one is going to be a shootout and ASU will light up the scoreboard, but I’ll be a little bit of a homer here. OSU 41-38.
Arizona State vs Oregon State will kick off at 8:30 p.m. MST. The game can be seen on ESPN.