The Beavers hit the road as they trek up to Seattle to face the Cougars at CenturyLink Field. Oregon State is looking to rebound from a tough home loss to BYU.
WSU has a 3-3 record overall with wins over Idaho State, UNLV and on the road against Colorado. In their 3 losses, they were blown out by San Diego State and Stanford while UCLA barely eked out a 3-point victory. It should be a good match-up come Saturday, here's my 6-keyes to the game for a Beaver win.
1. Find a way to Shore up the Middle of the Defense
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Injuries have riddled the middle of the Beaver defense since spring camp. After the BYU game last weekend, things were downright ridiculous. By the end of the game, the Beavers had lost their starting DT Castro Masaniai, both the starting MLB, Feti Unga, and his back-up, Tony Wilson, all watching the game from the sidelines due to injuries.
Masaniai appears to be lost for the season as he broke his fibula. Unga is out with a minor knee injury and Wilson's status is unknown at this point. Couple those injuries with the lingering abdominal issues that slow down S Lance Mitchell at times, and the middle of the Beavers defense is extremely vulnerable.
With the injury to Masaniai last week, the Beavers rotated in just 3 different DTs from the middle of the 1st quarter on. By the end of the game, Andrew Seumalo, Kevin Frahm and Ben Motter were gasping for air.
If the Beavers continue to trot out their base 4-3 defense every play, Beaver fans be prepared to see WSU gash the defense just as the BYU Cougars did the week before. A change in the defensive front is needed simply to keep the guys up there fresher.
The logical choice is to operate mainly out of their 3-3-5 package, while also using more than just the three aforementioned players at DT. Look for Mana Rosa, Mana Tuivailala, and John Braun to see some playing time this week and from here on out.
At MLB, more than likely Rueben Robinson will slide back inside after starting there a majority of last season. Backing him up will be true freshmen Josh Williams. Shaydon Akuna could also see some time on the inside.
Along the backside of the defense, we'll have to see how Mitchell is morning of. He's a gamer so more than likely he'll play but how effective will he be out there? If the Beavers decide to operate out of the 3-3-5, that means that RS FR Ryan Murphy will join Mitchell and Anthony Watkins in the line-up.
If Mitchell is hobbled, more than likely true frosh, and converted WR, Ty Zimmerman will see a lot of the field. In the end, the Beavers will need to figure out the right line-up to slow down a potent
2. Don't Turn the Ball Over
Through the 1st half of the season, costly turnovers have killed what had looked to be promising drives. Countless times already this season, the Beavers have been moving the ball downfield only to get close to the red zone and throw an interception or cough up the pigskin.
Sean Mannion for the most part has looked much better than a redshirt freshman. However, he has thrown 9 INTs on the season to just 5 TDs. And a majority of his picks have been really bad throws, which makes easy pickings for opposing defenders. For the most part, he has been good, but he needs to be better at reading the defense and not throwing costly interceptions, especially in the red zone.
The Beavers have also put the ball on the turf/grass in what seems like more times this year than the previous 3-4 years combined. Already on the year, the Beavers have fumbled the ball 14 times and lost 6 of them. All around, the ball-carriers need to do a much better job of securing the ball at the point of contact.
It's pretty simple really; win the turnover battle and generally the Beavers win the game (35-8 record when committing fewer turnovers than their opponent, 9-26 when they commit more).
3. Tackle and Wrap up
Last week the Beavers did not do a good job of wrapping up and tackling the BYU Cougars. Again, countless times Cougar ball-carriers were able to either make the first guy miss or break through a weak arm tackle to get big yardage after contact. Like the BYU Cougars, the Cougars of WSU have 3 capable RBs with each bringing a slightly different running style, a big-play WR, and a mobile QB.
Rickey Galvin is their starting running back; he's a small scat-type back who can make people miss in open space. Carl Winston is his back-up and he checks in at 5'8" and 200 lbs. Winston has the combination of speed and some bulk in a compact frame.
He's fairly good between the tackles and can hide behind his offensive line. Lastly, their big back is 6'1" 223 pound Logwone Mitz. He's a big bruising back that they will use in short yardage situations. All 3 backs have over 25 carries on the season and 115 yards.
On top of the three running backs, QB Jeff Tuel is a solid all-around athlete. Last year against the Beavers, Tuel didn't pick up big numbers passing; instead he ran the ball 18 times for 79 yards. Most of his carries resulted in the chains moving, extending WSU drives. He was his team's leading rusher.
To round off WSU's offense is WR Marquess Wilson, one of the Pac-12s most underrated wideouts. On the season, Wilson has 36 receptions for 688 yards and 5 scores. That's good for nearly 20 yards per reception, and a good amount of that yardage comes after the catch.
The Cougars are averaging 453 yards of total offense per game this year, so they're going to get theirs. The key will be for the Beavers defense to not allow yardage after contact. Win the 1-on-1 matchups and make sure tackles.
4. Find Balance on Offense
Coach Riley strives that his offense is most effective when it has the threat to run the ball. Too often this year however, the Beavers rushing attack has completely disappeared in ball games as the offense has turned more into an all out air attack.
On the season, the Beavers have dialed up 168 running plays compared to 269 pass attempts. The balance that has been a tradition of Beaver offenses of the past is not present. The Beavers need to get back to being closer to a 50/50 split to find more success offensively.
5. Cut Down the Penalties
This is an area that can easily be fixed and is extremely uncharacteristic of a Mike Riley team. On the season, the Beavers are giving opponents almost 71 yards per game in penalties. Even more deflating is that opponents have picked up 17 1st downs via penalties.
Compare that to the 20 that Oregon State gave up all of last year, and you see that this is a very troubling statistic. Last week against BYU, the Beavers drew 8 yellow flags accounting for 55 yards.
The week before against Arizona, it was 6 flags for 75 yards and the week before in Tempe it was 13 flags for 139 yards. Again, like the yardage after contact, the Beavers can't afford to give the Cougars extra yardage, especially that of the free variety.
6. Get James Rodgers & Joe Halahuni More Involved
The two senior skill position players have been somewhat quiet since returning from their respected injuries. Rodgers is arguably the best all-around player to ever suit up for the Beavers, as he is the school's all time leader in all-purpose yardage.
On the year, he has 18 receptions, good for 4.5 per game, but has only run 5 fly sweep plays and has yet to play on special teams. The coaching staff needs to do a better job in getting our most dangerous player the ball in his hands more often.
The same can be said about Halahuni. He has been one of the most productive TEs ever at OSU, and while he might have 16 receptions on the year (4 per game); the offense is not targeting him enough. He's a playmaker, again get the ball to him and let him make plays.