Inside Slant: Oregon State vs. WSU

IT WASN'T so long ago that Oregon State was dominating the series against Washington State. The Beavers won five of six meetings ending in 2009, the last three of those by scores of 52-17, 66-13 and 42-10. Then came last season.

The Cougars posted a 31-14 victory, which ultimately cost OSU (5-7) a seventh consecutive bowl game. The teams meet again Saturday in Seattle, and this time around, the Cougars (3-3, 1-2) are favored over the Beavers (1-5, 1-2).

"It's a tale of the two records," OSU coach Mike Riley said of the perceived changes in the series. "It's exactly what it is right now, with the way they've been laying and the good wins that they've had."

While the Cougars have hopes of a winning record, the Beavers are left to salvage what they can from this season. Injuries to the defense will prompt more action for several younger players, giving that unit the feel of playing for the future.

The offense will be looking to reduce its turnovers, which so far number 16, the most in the Pac-12.

The coaching staff will keep preaching improvement, and hope that equates into positive results, even as the schedule takes a turn toward more difficult.

Of OSU's final six games, none of the opponents have a losing record, and three are nationally ranked. What hope can the Beavers see in that kind of a future?

"Success is built off of confidence, but how do you get confidence if you don't have success? That's a big part of our job right now," Riley said.

--OSU's average punt return of 18.1 yards is on pace to better the school record of 17.9 yards set by the 1949 team. The Beavers have returned two punts for touchdowns, an 85-yard return by Jordan Poyer and a 41-yard return by Clayton York on a punt that he blocked.

--OSU is one of the most-penalized teams in the nation and conference, averaging 70.8 yards per game. Those penalties have led directly to 17 first downs for opponents, who had only 20 first downs by penalty in the entire 2010 season.

--The Beavers have converted on their past six attempts on fourth down. That came after OSU failed to convert on its first four attempts on fourth down.

SERIES HISTORY: Washington State leads the series 48-44-1.

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Beavers will attempt to regain some of the balance in their offense with the expected return of freshman RB Malcolm Agnew to the starting lineup. After rushing for 223 yards in the opener, Agnew missed the next four games due to a hamstring injury. He came back against BYU to lead the Beavers in rushing with 49 yards on 10 carries, and he is expected to be used more extensively early against WSU.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Beavers had to resort to using more of their nickel package against BYU with injuries that took out three linebackers, including two starters. There could be the need for more of that against WSU, which uses four receivers extensively and spreads out a defense.

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Oregon State vs. Washington State, Oct. 22 -- The Cougars chose to move the game to CenturyLink Field in Seattle in their continuing move to recruit more support from the west side of the state of Washington, and the Beavers surely don't mind avoiding a trip to the Palouse, especially with the opportunity to play at an NFL venue. Plus, as the schedule turns more difficult, this might be one of the best chances for an OSU victory.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Can the Beavers at least slow down the WSU offense, which is averaging 453 yards? The OSU defense continually has problems with mobile quarterbacks, and WSU's Jeff Tuel showed last year he could take advantage of that, even if he doesn't often run on designed plays.

LB Rueben Robinson -- He's listed as the primary backup at all three linebacker positions due to injuries to others and his versatility. Robinson filled in as the middle linebacker against BYU and was in on six tackles. He figures to be needed at one of those linebacker spots against WSU, and the Cougars can make it a challenge with their spread offense. Two starting linebackers, Feti Unga and Cameron Collins looked to be questionable early in the week.

WR James Rodgers -- With 18 receptions in his first four games back from two knee surgeries, the senior flanker has been in a supportive role. He's gradually appeared to gain confidence that he can make the cuts necessary for his position, and also seems more comfortable on the fly sweep runs that were once a staple of the offense.

RB Malcolm Agnew -- He's pronounced himself finally healed from the hamstring injury that kept him out of four games after his opening game outburst of 223 yards. He had 10 carries against BYU for 49 yards, and if the hamstring stays healthy and he can show more ability to handle his role as a blocker on pass plays, he figures to be heavily used early in the game against WSU.

--With Castro Masaniai out for the season due to a broken leg bone, the Beavers will dip into their depth at defensive tackle. It means more duty for Ben Motter in the rotation, and possibly action for Mana Rosa and Joe Lopez.

--Josh Andrews is apparently fully recovered from a knee injury that kept him out of three games, so how do the Beavers use him? He was the starting left guard, but in his absence, Grant Enger has generally graded out well. Andrews was previously a center, while Enger has played both guard and tackle.

--OSU may have to take a look at a couple more of its safeties. Starter Lance Mitchell has been ailing all year with an abdominal injury, which meant he was used only in the nickel package last week. Both Ryan Murphy and Anthony Watkins, the starting safeties last week, are hampered by injured shoulders.

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