After an up-and-down season in 2012 impacted by injury and inconsistency, Beaver quarterback Sean Mannion started 2013 on fire with five 400-plus yard passing games among the team's first seven outings.
In all, Mannion stands as the nation's leader in passing yards with 3,450 on 67.9% passing with an excellent ratio of 31 touchdowns to only six interceptions.
A strong-armed thrower with solid targets including the nation's premier wide receiver, Mannion can do Andrew Walter type things in the pocket for Oregon State. However, similar to the aforementioned ASU star, Mannion is unable to do much to evade tacklers due to an overall lack of athleticism.
In similar form to ASU's recent opponent Washington State, the Beavers' dominant passing attack works to outshine an ineffective ground game. One of the nation's poorest rushing teams, Oregon State averages just 69.4 rushing yards per game this year.
Terron Ward and Storm Woods have been used equally—both have recorded 75 carries thus far—though neither has been able to create a major impact. On the season, Ward has totaled 277 yards with four touchdowns, while Woods has 234 yards with four scores.
Sun Devil fans will remember Ward's breakout performance against ASU in which he ran for a career high 146 yards in OSU's win in Corvallis. The effort that day by Ward was one of few true standout efforts as the junior has only one other career game with more than 65 rushing yards.
Despite not being predominately impactful on the ground, Ward and Woods bring dynamic qualities to the offense as Woods ranks third on the team with 35 receptions for 320 yards with one touchdown while Ward has caught 24 passes for 223 yards and two scores.
As a team, Oregon State averages a mere 2.7 yards per carry in the run game, largely impacted by the immobile Mannion having subtracted a net of 174 yards from the team's overall total due to yards lost by way of sacks.
Tyler Anderson is listed as the team's top fullback and has seen limited opportunities to touch the ball in 2013.
An excellent receiver last season partnered with Markus Wheaton, Brandin Cooks has absolutely exploded in 2013 and has to be the odds-on favorite at this point to take home the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top wide receiver.
Cooks' numbers are off the charts this season as he leads all FBS participants with 91 receptions for 1,344 yards and ranks second with 14 touchdowns. An all-purpose receiver with little to no weaknesses in his game, Cooks is the clear-cut number one option that will require the best focus from ASU's defensive backs. One of the top overall players ASU has faced all season, Cooks is has the ability to make a game-changing impact anytime he has the ball.
Also a threat on the ground in similar fashion to former Beaver wide receiver James Rodgers, Cooks ranks third on the team in rushing with 23 carries for 174 yards with two touchdowns.
Though Cooks has received all the attention due to his amazing numbers, Richard Mullaney has quietly contributed at a high level as well. At 6-foot-3, Mullaney brings solid height to complement the shiftiness of Cooks and through nine games Mullaney has caught 43 passes for 659 yards with three scores.
Kevin Cummings ranks third among wide receivers on the team with 23 receptions for 254 yards with two scores but he was sidelined for the remainder of the regular season after suffering an injury against Stanford.
In Cummings' absence, Malik Gilmore has stepped into the staring lineup. On the year, Gilmore has four receptions for 58 yards.
In addition to the usage of backs and receivers, Oregon State has enjoyed solid contributions from its tight ends. Connor Hamlett leads the pack with 27 receptions for 210 yards and four touchdowns. At 6-foot-7, Hamlett is a substantial mismatch and figures to be frequently targeted against ASU, especially if the Devils are able to generate a pass rush against Mannion.
Caleb Smith, a player ASU pursued heavily as a high school recruit, has totaled 17 receptions for 229 yards with three scores while Kellen Clute has registered 16 receptions for 107 yards and two touchdowns.
The left side of the Beaver line consists of a pair of seniors in tackle Michael Philipp and guard Josh Andrews. Isaac Seumalo starts at center with guard Grant Enger and tackle Sean Harlow to his right.
Offense in a Nutshell
The entirety of Oregon State's offensive success depends on Mannion's ability to freely sling passes to Cooks and others without persistent pressure from defenders. The Beavers' obviously disproportionate attack creates no guesswork for the Devils in terms of what will be coming more often than not, so it is up to ASU to create and maintain pressure on Mannion.
Oregon State is very much a feast or famine offense and ASU will need solid pressure up front and sound coverage on the back levels to prevent Cooks, Mullaney, Hamlett and others from taking advantage of short to long-range openings.
Oregon State operates out of a base 4-3 defense with star Scott Crichton (34 tackles, 12.0 TFL's, 4.5 sacks) at left end and standout Dylan Wynn (42 tackles, 4.0 TFL's) at right end. Mana Rosa (40 tackles, 3.5 TFL's) and Edwin Delva (nine tackles) are slated to start inside at left and right defensive tackle, respectively. Delva enters the starting lineup after first-string John Braun suffered as season-ending injury against USC before OSU's bye week.
Devon Kell (12 tackles, 2.0 sacks) is the team's top performing reserve lineman and is slated behind Wynn at right end.
Reserves Caleb Saulo (25 tackles), Cyril Noland-Lewis (16 tackles) and Joel Skotte (16 tackles) see ample time at linebacker as well.
Oregon State has used multiple starting combinations at linebacker this season, partly due to the loss of would-be starter Michael Doctor early in the year.
The Beavers boast one of the better cornerback duos in the Pac-12 in Steven Nelson (43 tackles, five INT's) and Rashaad Reynolds (38 tackles, four INT's), while its pair of safeties is talented as well with Tyrequek Zimmerman at strong safety and Ryan Murphy (49 tackles, three INT's) at free safety.
Sean Martin also sees substantial time (26 tackles, two INT's) as Oregon State's top reserve defensive back.
Defense in a Nutshell
Though the pass yardage allowed is ranks lowly on a national scale, OSU's defensive backs can make opposing passers pay with a starting cornerback combo adding up nine total picks in nine games on the year.
Injuries in the front seven have created limitations for the Beavers and Oregon State ushers in a new defensive tackle starter Saturday.
The Sun Devil offensive line will absolutely have to battle back from its atrocious performance against Utah last week, though Oregon State's defensive front doesn't have the national résumé that Utah's brought to last week's contest.
Special Teams Preview
Trevor Romaine handles field goals for the Beavers and has had an up-and-down year, connecting on only 9-of-14 attempts. He has missed three of his last five attempts dating back three games including both kicks he tried in Oregon State's most recent game. Romaine also kicks off for Oregon State.
Brandin Cooks handles punt returns but is not nearly as lethal as he is on offense, averaging only 6.5 yards on 11 returns with 41 of 71 total punt return yards coming on his longest run back of the year.
Victor Bolden is OSU's primary kick returner, averaging 18.9 yards on 33 returns, with Terron Ward and Arizona native Jovan Stevenson seeing limited duty on that special teams unit as well.
Keys to a Sun Devil Victory
Mess with Mannion
Critics all seem to agree that the most effective way to neutralize Oregon State is to hound Mannion in the backfield and limit the pocket time he has to throw to Brandin Cooks and company. Mannion, an entirely immobile player in the pocket, has put up unbelievable numbers through nine games in 2013 but his efficiency drops dramatically when pressured.
Of late, the Sun Devil defense—specifically its front seven—has played tremendously well and Mannion's inability to escape the pocket as Travis Wilson did last week is a major benefit for ASU. Best of all, perhaps, is that the pressure is coming from numerous providers as Marcus Hardison is showing late season progress, Gannon Conway had an excellent outing against Utah, Will Sutton last week played at a level that has been expected all season and Davon Coleman is quietly putting together a potential all-conference season.
Oregon State has the nation's best wide receiver in Cooks, a tight end in Connor Hamlett with a combination of size and athleticism similar to what we saw from Notre Dame's Troy Niklas, a solid pass-catcher in Richard Mullaney and talented receivers out of the backfield. If the Beaver line keeps ASU's defenders at bay, Mannion has no shortage of options from which to choose and the Devils' pass defense will be mightily challenged.
TK Back on Track
Taylor Kelly's numbers and overall performance last week were clearly the poorest of the season, but thankfully he was able to help provide a late kick start to the offense and engineer a come-from-behind victory at Utah.
Moving the page forward a week, it is important for Kelly to come out firing against a shoddy Oregon State pass defense and play at the level he has virtually all season long prior to ASU's road trip last weekend. This sort of bounce back is integral not only to ASU's success this Saturday but also in the Devils' crucial final two regular season games to follow thereafter.
Beavers, Not Bruins
ASU's matchup with UCLA at the Rose Bowl next week is one fans, players and members of the media have had circled from day one. Since the start of the season, that game had been pegged as one that could determine the Pac-12 South champion and that will be the exact scenario for the Sun Devils with a win Saturday against Oregon State.
That said, ASU can't afford to in any way overlook Oregon State with thoughts of a main stage performance a week from now in Pasadena. In an odd way, ASU's tough test against Utah last week can prove to be a major blessing in this context as the Sun Devils should be fully refocused after the near loss in Salt Lake City.
Oregon State unquestionably has a high power offense that can strike ASU down if Mannion is given ample time to throw and if Cooks is allowed to roam free throughout the secondary.
The main knock against the Beavers is the fact that of the six wins OSU has accrued thus far, only San Diego State currently holds a winning record—though Oregon State took Stanford down to the wire, making this a highly unpredictable OSU squad.
ASU enters this game with the accelerating idea that the Pac-12 South title is well within sight, but the immediate task is to take care of business against the Beavers and not skip focus to UCLA next week or the Territorial Cup battle the week thereafter.
The potential exists for this to be a high scoring affair, though if ASU can frequently harass Mannion then the Devils can push the Beavers out of scoring opportunities.
History favors the Sun Devils, too, as only once since 1969 (2009) has ASU lost to Oregon State in Tempe.
After ASU's wake-up call in Salt Lake City last week, the Sun Devils can be expected to not overlook Oregon State and should be properly prepared to play an efficient, dynamic game and potentially continue the trend of dominant football the Devils have showcased at home all year.
Oregon State assistant coach Trent Bray coached at ASU from 2009-11.
Oregon State graduate assistant Keaton Kristick attended Phoenix's St. Mary's High School.
Oregon State OL Justin Addie (Mesa Skyline HS) and RB Jovan Stevenson (Tucson Sunnyside HS) are Arizona natives.
Oregon State WR Malik Gilmore attended Lakewood (Calif.) High School, as did ASU CB Rashad Wadood.