There's no question about it. Oregon State's game against Arizona in Tucson on Saturday is a big one. And it's not because the Beavers are simply trying to extend their five-game winning streak, which would be the team's longest since they won seven in a row during the 2000 season.
A win would set the stage for another memorable Civil War with BCS bowl game implications on the line much like it did eight years ago, as the Beavers' 23-13 win in the 2000 game propelled them into the Fiesta Bowl.
"The result of this game has major ramifications," OSU coach Mike Riley said at Tuesday's press conference. "We all know that, but we aren't preparing any harder for it than we have for any game, because we try to do our best every week."
But for that scenario to unfold, the Beavers must get past the Wildcats. While they have won eight of their last nine meetings against Arizona, including three straight in Tucson, the Beavers will be facing a vastly improved squad from the one they defeated last year at Reser Stadium, 31-16.
Arizona coach Mike Stoops has finally got his team moving upward in his fifth season at the helm. At 6-4, the Wildcats are bowl eligible, however, they would love to improve on their 4-3 Pac-10 record and get to a marquee bowl. They will have plenty of motivation as well, having suffered a 55-45 loss to Oregon last week.
The key to Arizona's success this season has been its offense. No longer is it one dimensional and having to rely solely on quarterback Willie Tuitama. While the senior leads the conference in passing yard per game and has thrown 18 touchdowns against seven interceptions, sophomore running back Nic Grigsby is making plays as well.
He is third in the Pac-10 in rushing yards, yards per game and touchdowns, rushing for 941 yards and 11 touchdowns. Even more impressive is his 5.7 yards per carry average. And Grigsby isn't the only player the Beavers will have to worry about on Saturday. There's also the matter of containing the guy on the receiving end of most of Tuitama's throws.
Senior wideout Mike Thomas leads the conference in receptions with 56 and is second in yards to Sammie Stroughter. As a result it will be important that the Beavers contain Grigsby and put plenty of pressure on Tuitama, something they did very well the last time they faced him. The Beavers recorded eight sacks in that victory.
"They have a lot of weapons offensively and they have always played good solid defense down there," Riley said. They have two of the leading kickoff and punt returners in the conference. It is all the parts. It appears looking at them on tape, looking at their record and looking at us, it looks like a very good match-up."
And wouldn't you know, the OSU defense is coming off a five-sack performance in last Saturday's 34-21 victory over California. So hopefully, the momentum will carry over against Arizona. As always though, the Wildcats feature a solid defense too. They are ranked sixth against the run in the Pac-10 and third against the pass. So they are very similar to Cal in that regard.
The Wildcats, however, have let it be known they were disgusted by their defensive showing against the Ducks last weekend and want to take out their frustration out on the Beavers. But will that be enough to stop a team that's on its usual late-season tear? We'll find out Saturday.
"I think it is more of a challenge to all of us to make sure we are on top of everything, and not to overlook our game against Arizona this week, because if we lose this week, that opportunity is no longer there for us," offensive tackle Andy Levitre said. "So it is going to be a big challenge for us to stay focused and win this game this week."
BeaverBlitz's Five Keys To The Game:
1. Establish the run early: It took awhile for Quizz to get going last Saturday against the Golden Bears' staunch defense. That put too much pressure on Lyle Moevao, who was rusty after missing nearly two games, too early. As a result, the Beavers couldn't convert on several good drives that could have turned the game into a blowout. Lyle should be more ready to go, but getting the running game going from the get-go would be a relief.
2. Put Tuitama on his back during the first series: The Beavers need to feed off the effort they had against Kevin Riley last Saturday and do the same to Tuitama. They need to remind him who sacked him eight times last year. If they do that and disrupt his rhythm, the Beavers can focus on stopping the run.
3. Stretch the field: Yes, going deep isn't really Lyle's strength, but the Beavers need to try to mix it up more. Their passing game is getting pretty predictable. And the way Stroughter is playing, it's time to show him some more love downfield.
4. Keep the emotions in check: Don't be surprised if Arizona comes out overly aggressive and tries to stir things up in hopes of getting the Beavers off-track or to commit a silly penalty. So the players will need to focus on the only thing that matters: themselves and the win.
5. Waste no scoring opportunities: With so much on the line, makeable field goals, easy catches, or key blocks must be made. The Beavers can not afford to leave any points out there on the field.