Oregon State Preview

Trap game or just another game? We will all know that for sure late Saturday night, or early Sunday morning for those watching in Arizona, if a struggling Oregon State team can hinder Arizona State’s chances to repeat as Pac-12 South champions and end their playoff dreams. Can ASU break its four-game losing streak in Corvallis? Joe Healey examines ASU’s next opponent .

Oregon State Offensive Personnel

A tall, powerful thrower that should remind Sun Devil fans of Andrew Walter, earlier this year Beaver quarterback Sean Mannion passed a record once held by Walter by becoming the Pac-12 Conference’s all-time leader in career passing yards.

Mannion’s senior season, however, has been a noted drop-off from his junior year when he was among the national leaders in touchdown passes, as through nine games he has 2,437 passing yards with only 10 touchdowns and six interceptions.

Despite the decrease in statistics—heavily influenced by the loss of last year’s Biletnikoff Award winner Brandin Cooks—Mannion still has the tenure and tactics to assault defenses and historically has done well against blitzing teams like Arizona State.

Different from many quarterbacks ASU has faced of late, Mannion brings absolutely zero threat of running from the pocket as on the season he has a grand total of -250 net rush yards with a season-long of seven yards.

Oregon State brings a pair of solid if unspectacular running backs to the fold in Terron Ward and Storm Woods. On the year, Ward has totaled 548 rushing yards on 114 carries with and impressive nine touchdown runs, while Woods has 466 yards on 77 carries with three scores but has missed the past two games. Woods is likely to return Saturday against ASU, an addition that would give OSU a much needed boost on the ground.

Both players are active in the pass game, with Ward ranking third on the team in receiving (27-228-0), while Woods has added 14 catches for 100 yards and one touchdown.

At receiver, with the departure of all-everything superstar Brandin Cooks, Victor Bolden has emerged as Mannion’s favorite target of late.

Bolden comes into Saturday’s game on an incredible hot streak, having caught 10 passes for 119 yards against California before notching another 10 receptions for 126 yards against Washington State last week.

In all, Bolden is the head-and-shoulders receiving leader for Oregon State, having totaled 51 receptions for 568. However, in very “Chris McGaha 2007” fashion, Bolden has only caught one touchdown pass to date.

Behind Bolden, Jordan Villamin is emerging into a solid number two receiver. A physical freak at 6-foot-4, 240-pounds, Villamin leads Oregon State with three touchdown catches and ranks second on the team with 384 receiving yards on his 25 total receptions.

A team known for frequent use of tight ends, Connor Hamlett is trending toward All-Pac-12 honors as he has totaled 27 receptions for 306 yards with two touchdowns. Caleb Smith, a player who almost signed with Arizona State out of high school, also sees frequent action with his 15 receptions for 168 yards and one score from his tight end position.

Hunter Jarmon (17-298-0) and Rahmel Dockery (4-116-1) also contribute at wide receiver for the Beavers.

Oregon State has struggled with continuity on the offensive line this season as the Beavers have had eight players start in the front five. The Beavers have not started the same five players in any of the past four games, though the projected starters for Saturday are the same first-string that began the Washington State game last weekend.

Against ASU Saturday, Oregon State figures to line up with an offensive line consisting of (left-to-right) tackle Sean Harlow, guard Fred Lauina, center Josh Mitchell, guard Gavin Andrews and tackle Dustin Stanton.

Oregon State Offensive Summary

The all-time leading passer in conference history, Oregon State needs every bit of the aerial acumen from Mannion as the Beavers have rushed for only 197 net yards on 76 carries over the past three games.

Despite the one-sided nature of Oregon State’s recent games, Mannion certainly has all the tools to beat teams when opportunities arise. Mannion has the experience and measurable skills to capitalize on any openings defenses provide.

Mannion, however, does not have the spoils of talent at receiver this year as he has in recent seasons in current pros such as Brandin Cooks and Markus Wheaton, though Victor Bolden and Jordan Villamin are talented and will certainly not be disregarded Saturday.

Oregon State loves to use its tight ends and does so as well or better than any team in the conference, but of late the Beavers have had to use its tight ends more for blocking purposes limit the receiving roles of players like Hamlett and Smith.

The absolute key in Saturday’s game will be for the Sun Devils to effectively pressure Mannion and not allow the senior quarterback to toss for big gains in the face of pressure. If ASU can do that, the dominoes fall the Sun Devils’ way and Oregon State will have to adjust its offensive game plan in a way that has proven to drastically limit the Beavers’ productivity.

Oregon State Defensive Personnel

Up front, Lavonte Barnett and Obum Gwacham both see time at left end, with Gwacham, a former wide receiver, having evolved into a pass rush specialist. Jawsha James is slated to start on the right side.

Gwacham has collected a team-high 4.0 sacks as part of his 21 total tackles, with Barnett chipping in 14 tackles and 2.5 sacks, while James has 10 tackles to his credit this year.

The Beavers have a few talented interior linemen including projected starters Dylan Wynn and Siale Hautau, while former blue chip prospect Jalen Grimble is expected to return to duty after missing several games due to an injury.

Wynn leads Oregon State with 7.5 tackles for loss and ranks second on the team with 3.5 sacks as part of his 37 overall tackles, while Hautau has nine stops on the year. In limited action, Grimble has four tackles overall.

One of the most accomplished defenders on the Beaver roster, Wynn has seen action at tackle as well as his natural position defensive end.

The defensive line has endured a great deal of shuffling over the course of the season as eight different players have started through the first nine games.

With a trio of seniors positioned to start at linebacker, WILL D.J. Alexander and SAM Michael Doctor are two of the most active defenders on the roster, with Jabral Johnson between them at MIKE.

Doctor (54 tackles), Alexander (52) and Johnson (46) rank second, third and fourth on the team in tackles, while Alexander ranks second on the squad with 7.0 tackles for loss.

In the secondary, Oregon State has some of the more underrated defenders in the league including a fine pair of safeties in free safety Tyrequek Zimmerman and strong safety Ryan Murphy. At cornerback, Steven Nelson has shown great ball skills since coming over from the junior college ranks prior to last season, while Larry Scott has also had a solid season as a starter opposite Nelson.

On the year, Zimmerman leads the team with 68 tackles, while tying for the team-high with two interceptions. Murphy adds 39 tackles and a team-best nine pass deflections. At cornerback, Nelson has registered 45 tackles with two interceptions, while Scott has 33 tackles and shares the team lead of eight pass breakups.

Justin Strong also sees a great deal of action in nickel situations and has totaled 43 tackles including 3.5 for loss this season.

Different from the defensive line, Oregon State has enjoyed great continuity in the secondary as the aforementioned quartet has started every game this season together and figures to do so again against Arizona State.

Oregon State Defensive Summary

In all, Oregon State’s defense is somewhat enigmatic in that the Beavers rank second in the Pac-12 in total defense (384.7 ypg.) but stand ninth in scoring defense (29.8 ppg.).

The Beavers do well against the pass, ranking third in the league (232.3 ypg.), but do not generate a great deal of conclusive quarterback pressure as OSU ranks ninth in the Pac-12 in sacks (22).

In its recent win streak, ASU has survived the toughest defenses and individual defenders it will face all year in Stanford, Utah and the future pros on Washington and Notre Dame’s defense. On an individual and collective scale, Oregon State is good but not great—the Beavers have allowed at least 38 points in each of the past three games (all losses), including a 38-point effort by Stanford, the Pac-12’s lowest scoring team.

Barring severely limiting weather conditions like what ASU encountered in Seattle against Washington, it stands to reason that the Sun Devils should be able to score in the 35-to-40 point range—a total, if met or exceeded, would be difficult for Oregon State to content with.

Oregon State Special Teams Preview

At kicker, Garrett Owens and Trevor Romaine split duties this year and both have been highly accurate with Owens connecting on 10-of-12 attempts and Romaine making 8-of-9.

Punter Keith Kostol averages 39.5 yards on 50 punts, making his one of the poorest averages among full-time Pac-12 punters.

Rahmel Dockery averages 6.1 yards on eight punt returns, while Victor Bolden averages 11.0 yards on his four punt returns.

Ryan Murphy averages 22.7 yards on 13 kick returns with a 97-yard touchdown to his credit, while Malcolm Marable averages 27.0 yards on 10 kickoff runs.

Final Analysis

A typically competitive program, the black and orange Beavers limp into Saturday’s meeting black-and-blue as OSU’s current four-game losing streak is the longest active stretch of losses in the Pac-12 Conference behind only Colorado, while Arizona State is the league’s hottest team with its one and only loss of the year coming on Sept. 25.

This isn’t to say Oregon State can’t play spoiler on the Sun Devils. In fact, ASU has had marked difficulties in Reser Stadium over the course of the last decade as the Devils have lost four straight in Corvallis and five of the past six dating back to 2003 with the only win coming in 2005.

Saturday’s contest appears to have the perfect recipe for a heart-wrecking trap game for ASU – cold temperatures, a veteran coach with a struggling team willing to rally around him and not the least of which, a Sun Devil squad with plausible control of its College Football Playoff destiny riding high off one of the most monumental wins in the past two decades.

In most cases, such “trap” games can filter to poor coaching, a scenario just not probable with Todd Graham at the helm of Arizona State. At the rate ASU is playing, Graham should very well find himself as a top three-to-five option among most National Coach of the Year polls and has to be presently considered the odds-on favorite to repeat as the Pac-12 Conference Coach of the Year.

Also, the fact that the Beavers are in desperation mode entering this game cannot be dismissed. Sure, that mentality can lead to memorable “win one for The Gipper” type situations – but it can also lead to mistakes, early depletion of momentum and frustration.

Oregon State’s main weapon will be to have the 6-foot-5 Mannion stand tall in the face of ASU’s blitzes and chew up chunks of Reser Stadium real estate. If ASU is able to pressure and distract Mannion beyond the point of accurate throwing, the Sun Devils could make quick work of the Beavers.

The Beavers have some solid defensive players—ones who can make a difference—but , barring substantial intervention from Mother Nature, Taylor Kelly should be able to utilize the likes of Jaelen Strong, D.J. Foster, Cameron Smith and Demario Richard to a level tough to match by the home team.

Make no mistake of it, Todd Graham and ASU know the magnitude of every game and the human component—which generally doesn’t favor west coast teams—that is involved with the fate of top-tier programs, so the Sun Devils aren’t in “get outta Dodge” mode for these games just to survive and slide into the College Football Playoffs, Arizona State will be on the attack.

Familiar Faces

• Oregon State linebackers coach Trent Bray coached at Arizona State from 2009-11

• Oregon State graduate assistant Keaton Kristick is an Arizona native and attended St. Mary’s High School

• Oregon State OL Trent Moore is an Arizona native and attended Chandler Hamilton High School, as did ASU DL Jaxon Hood and LG Christian Westerman

• ASU DL Connor Humphreys is an Oregon native and attended Portland’s Central Catholic High School, as did OSU’s Ryan Nall and Mitch Seeley

• Oregon State WR Rahmel Dockery previously attended Washington State University, as did ASU’s Jordan Simone

• Oregon State DL Jalen Grimble attended Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, as did ASU’s Armand Perry

• Oregon State OL Bobby Keenan attended American River CC, as did ASU’s Nick Kelly

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