BF.C KEYS: Oregon State vs. Utah

THERE IS A feeling within Beaver Nation that Oregon State has done what they do so often under Mike Riley -- find their stride in the month of October. The solid dismantling of Washington State in a quasi-hostile environment would point to a "lightbulb game" but yet, Vegas remains unconvinced: The Beavs are 5 point underdogs to Utah on Saturday.

And frankly, deservedly so.

The Beavers this season have shown flashes of promise – mostly at the hands of a few extremely dynamic freshmen in Dylan Wynn, Scott Crichton, Sean Mannion and Malcolm Agnew. But they've also struggled mightily against teams with good rushing defenses, and make no mistake, Utah is a good rushing defense.

While the Utes are thin at linebacker, they feature one of the best defensive lines in the conference. And the bad news for Oregon State is the offensive line is again not at full strength, and flat-out mistake-prone at times to boot.

Center Grant Johnson has been struggling with an ankle injury, and o-line coach Mike Cavanaugh's star pupil, LG Josh Andrews, is slowly working his way back to full strength after suffering a rather frightening knee injury at Wisconsin when he was leg-whipped by a falling teammate. Grant Enger has filled in admirably in his stead, but the Beavers face a whole new level of challenge at Utah trying to contain 6-3, 325 pound Utah DT Star Lotulelei. Beaver head man Mike Riley noted he was shockingly agile for a 325-pounder.

For the Beaver Hogs up front, it's a pick-your-poison type of situation because OSU won't be able to just double team Lotulelei every down. Doing so ensures Utah DE Derrick Shelby will run wild.

Just ask Matt Barkley what he thinks about Shelby, the 6-3, 271 pound senior end. The USC QB was constantly harassed by Shelby as the Trojans barely edged out the Utes in the conference opener this year, with USC blocking a 41 yard field goal attempt as time expired to preserve the win.

This Utah defense is no bunch of cupcakes Offensively, the Utes are a different story – they're in complete disarray.

Much like Oregon State, they feature a banged up and patchwork offensive line but unlike the Beavers, Utah's issues are not with finding a healthy running back, but rather a healthy quarterback.

Utah's starting QB on Saturday came from a defunct D-II Nebraska-Omaha program, and his backup is a converted linebacker. To say that Utah's QB situation is dire right now would be an understatement.

But with all that said, Oregon State is a young team, playing a record number of freshmen. And this is a road game. There's a reason why Vegas sees the Beavers as 5-point underdogs. They've got something to prove. Here's how they get it done:

1 – Is It Thanksgiving Yet? Because I Smell Stuffing. Cal provided the blueprint for the defensive effort against the Utes. The Beaver D needs to stack the box and absolutely smother the run, daring QB Jon Hays to beat them with his arm. If Jordan Poyer and Rashaad Reynolds do their jobs, there will be plenty more interceptions from Hays to be thankful for.

2 – That All-Important Balancing Act. At times this season it's been painfully clear that Offensive Coordinator Danny Langsdorf hasn't had a lot of confidence in the Beaver rushing offense. This is the best defensive front that the Beavers have faced since playing in Tempe – when Sean Mannion threw for a school record 66 passes. That just doesn't work in Mike Riley's offense -- there's a direct correlation between Beaver wins and Beaver rushing.

3 – When Pulling Out The Big Guns, Stop Aiming Them At Your Own Feet. Like many teams that are loaded with youth, the Beavers have kept the zebra crews busy flinging laundry all over the field. That's to be expected – but when you're leading the nation in penalty yards, generally speaking, that is not going to equate to a lot of victories. Offensive tackle Mike Remmers in particular has been responsible for a healthy chunk of those yards via holding penalties and he draws the proverbial short straw being matched up with Shelby. The Beavers need to get that under control.

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