OSU vs. Utah: Position breakdown

CORVALLIS – Next up for Oregon State (5-0, BCS No. 8) is unranked Utah (2-4) – a squad reeling from three straight Pac-12 losses, quarterback battles and a winless road record. The forecast for Saturday is wet, with a chance of more wet, and high winds. Here's the analysis, position by position, plus a prediction.

Quarterback – Turn your heads toward the mess Kyle Whittingham has on his hands when it comes to his quarterbacks. ‘Jon Hays or Travis Wilson? Hays for now, but Wilson on the backburner. Okay, back to Wilson, Hays we're sorry, but you don't exist anymore.' From this chair, it has the whole offense screwy and has prevented both Wilson and Hays from finding a groove on the field. Cody Vaz, meanwhile, looked like a star in just about every area against a tough BYU defense in his first collegiate start. What will his sophomore start look like?
Edge goes to OSU

Running BackStorm Woods and Malcolm Agnew traversed the BYU defensive front seven to a reasonable degree against BYU, with increasing success coming in the fourth quarter. After Woods suffered a bone bruise, Agnew took over and posted 44 yards on five carries (Woods had a total of 57 yards and a TD). Singularly, neither has been miraculous, phenomenal, what have you. There is work that can be done – but they both fight for every yard and can break tackles, a recipe for success as long as both can stay healthy. Add improved ball control since fall camp to that equation, and Utah could be in for some surprises. Woods and Agnew pose a faster, slightly more consistent threat than the combo of Kelvin York (Junior) and John White (senior). But the two squads are pretty evenly matched in this department overall, and Woods may not see as much action if Riley and crew want to resist further aggravation of his bruised bones.
Edge: Tied

Tight Ends – You won't hear much about Utah TE Jake Murphy, who has quietly notched 18 receptions for 197 yards and two scores. Murphy doubles the statistics of both Connor Hamlett and Colby Prince in nearly every measurable category when you take a look at the tree bark. BUT Hamlett and Prince have become capable weapons for the OSU offensive attack. We predict more of the same from these two, as Utah has struggled against tight ends defensively this season. Receiving-wise, the tight end corps did not start with a boom – Prince and Hamlett were virtually silent when it came to the passing game against Wisconsin and UCLA. The last three tilts for OSU have seen Prince (89 yards and one touchdown on 11 receptions) becoming a weapon in the short passing game and Hamlett (98 yards and one touchdown on eight receptions) a fair compliment of size and speed. Still, Murphy has very good hands, a little bit more speed and is capable of making plays all over the field. He could do some damage in the Beaver secondary come Saturday.
Edge goes to Utah

Offensive Line – Utah's offensive line has not had a chance to adjust to one quarterback on the field due to all the QB rotation, and it has overshadowed the talent of right guard Miles Mason – and it's going to take more than Mason to hold off a stiff OSU pass rush. Oregon State's front five worked some kind of magic against the vaunted BYU front seven to give Vaz the amount of time in the pocket last weekend – and Vaz picked BYU apart. The biggest improvement this season has been the protection OSU provides on the edge – tackles Colin Kelly and Michael Philipp should find success against a Utah defensive line that has not been as dynamic as they were expected to be this year.
Edge goes to OSU

Wide Receiver – Between Brandin Cooks (659 yards, two touchdowns) and Markus Wheaton (564 yards, six touchdowns), OSU has two of the top five receivers in the Pac 12. Both are averaging over 100 yards a game. Compare that with Utah – their top three receivers (Dres Anderson, De Christopher and Jake Murphy) are averaging less than 40 yards a game, and have 68 receptions collectively. Wheaton and Cooks alone have 75 receptions, and more receiving yardage between the two of them than the combined 1,193 passing yards of Utah's Wilson, Hays and Wynn. Barring a disaster, Cooks and Wheaton will put on another show.
Edge goes to OSU

Defensive Line – Regardless of choppy performances against WSU and BYU, Oregon State still boasts one of the most dynamic corps of linemen in the Pac 12. Scott Crichton has been a beast, hard to argue otherwise. Eleven of Crichton's 16 tackles have gone for a loss – he has eight sacks and one forced fumble. He will be the guy to watch against an improving yes, but struggling Utah front five. Dylan Wynn, Castro Masaniai and Andrew Seumalo have all been effective in keeping opposing offenses guessing, with Rudolf Fifita subbing in smartly.

On the flipside, Star Lotulelei (senior) and Nate Fakahafua (sophomore) aren't pushovers. Combined they boast 50 tackles – more than Seumalo, Wynn and Crichton together. Lotulelei and Fakahafua are a powerful complement to the consistent aggressiveness of linebacker Dave Fagergren (senior). Lotulelei can command two blockers at once, and that is when some blitzing lanes may be born. But all that said, Utah's defense has not been very explosive this season.
Edge goes to OSU

Linebackers – Fagergren and junior Trevor Reilly are the proverbial glue holding together the Utah linebacker corps, as well as a rush defense that has managed to keep opposing offenses under 1,000 total yards rushing through six games. With L.T. Filiaga in the mix, Utah should be able to give Vaz and the OSU front five a run for their money. BUT… Michael Doctor, D.J. Welch Alexander (formerly Welch) and Feti Unga Taumoepeau have been lighting quick into opposing backfields, and stingy when it comes to letting tailbacks squeeze through the middle of the line into the secondary. They may have not had their best game against BYU – they missed some tackles and had a hard time reading screens -- but I think that's anomaly more than trend. Beaver ‘backers will make their presence known early – perhaps with Alexander blitzing a lot early.
Edge goes to OSU

Secondary – Jordan Poyer and Rashaad Reynolds are both having top shelf seasons. Poyer's effectiveness in man coverage and Reynolds' terrific closing speed out of a zone defense have frustrated opponents. While on paper they would appear to have a clear advantage considering the dilapidated state of Utah's offense, we remind you that Beaver secondary has been nowhere near perfect this year. Sometimes, Tyrequek Zimmerman, Ryan Murphy, Poyer and Reynolds show no mercy in their coverage, other times it looks a bit like Swiss cheese. Still, this game would seem to provide an ideal matchup for Oregon State.
Edge goes to OSU

Coaching – Offense is not Whittingham's favorite drink. He is a defensive specialist, leading a team riddled with offensive problems – not to mention a possible plummet into obscurity if the season continues to go downhill for Utah. This is why Utah could be a trap game – look for Whittingham and offensive coordinators Brian Johnson and Aaron Roderick to pull out all the stops Saturday night.

Riley's MO has often been to use some precision passing to open things up, get the wideouts warmed up so they can set blocks, and then it will be time to run both Agnew and Woods, and often. Hit Utah's strengths quickly in order to weaken them moving into the second half. Frankly, this may be Riley's strategy whether or not the rain falls Saturday night. Riley likes the play action, and running the ball frequently and early on in the bout should set up some deep looks on play fakes from Vaz.
Edge goes to OSU

Intangibles – A wet field means a wet ball, and a wet ball is a catalyst for fumbles, bad throws and more fumbles. Agnew and Woods have had a pretty good track record when it comes to holding onto the rock this season. All that could change in windy, rainy conditions. The implications exist for both teams, anticipating how the weather could affect strategy on game day is not a new trend. That being said, how might the Beaver offense differ come Saturday? Will the Beaver's run more than they did against BYU? Or will they play to Vaz's strengths and try to score big early on?

Final Thought – No. 8 OSU is the clear favorite in this game, and even with a backup QB pack a credible offensive punch. But the OSU defense, in particular the performance of the front seven for the Beavers, will be the key to victory. Seeing as how Utah will probably be sticking with Wilson until Whittingham sensing a disturbance in the force, OSU's defense will have to deal with him on a few levels. On the one hand, you have a true freshman quarterback going up against a talented defense that has a knack for making QB's spend time in the turf. On the other hand, Wilson poses a scrambling threat, and he's pretty decent at it too. OSU's front seven proved susceptible to a scrambling QB at BYU. Containment will be the name of the game if OSU wants to control the tempo of the contest.
OSU walks away with a W by a score of 35-17.

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