OSU v. ASU: Position breakdown, who has edge?

CORVALLIS – It's hard to look at Saturday's game vs. ASU and not wonder if Cody Vaz will start. On one hand, Sean Mannion is the incumbent and did a lot of good things earlier in the season. But the sloppy, interception-riddled game in Seattle marking Mannion's return was a game that only really came to life when Vaz took the helm. We cover all of that and more in the weekly position breakdown…

Quarterback – Will Mike Riley install Sean Mannion, (now with eight TDs and eight INTs) as the starter, despite a four interception game at Century Link? Or will he give Cody Vaz (three TD's, zero INT's) another shot? Arizona State's quarterback situation is a world apart from OSU's – Taylor Kelly (2008 yards on the season) has posted 19 touchdowns, five interceptions and averages 251.0 passing yards a game. Kelly eclipsed Michael Eubank earlier in the season for the lion's share of the snaps – the sophomore's quick release throwing style is a good fit for the spread offense incorporated by Todd Graham and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell. Oh, Kelly can also run – he has 439 ground yards on the season.
Edge goes to ASU

Tailback – Oregon State has not had an easy time getting their ground game firing on all cylinders in 2012. Combined, Storm Woods and Malcolm Agnew have amassed 723 yards and six touchdowns. Those figures aren't terrible, but they pale in comparison to the running numbers that ASU has put up through eight games. It should be noted that Kelly has been the most effective runner on paper for ASU- but don't let it distract from the production put out by Sun Devil tailbacks. ASU's offensive focus centers on tailbacks who are agile and good at manipulating the smaller gaps in a defensive front seven - Junior Marion Grice (302 yards, six TD's), freshman D.J. Foster (388 yards, two TD's) and senior Cameron Marshall (361 yards, five TD's) fit the bill. And it's a dual-threat approach. Grice has 288 yards and six TD receptions, while Foster has accumulated a healthy 454 receiving yards and four TD's. On the flipside, Woods has a meager 184 yards on 23 receptions and no TD's. Arizona State has established a very effective run game, OSU has not.
Edge goes to ASU

Tight End - Chris Coyle (6-3, 230) has been the Sun Devil's most effective receiver. Coyle is big target, but he moves well and has shown that he is particularly adept at tracing the seams and picking up big chunks of yardage. Arizona State's preference toward certain tailback screen and bubble screen routes makes a guy like Coyle an absolute necessity. He can set quick blocks then sneak out into the flat and pick up an easy seven or eight yards – but don't be surprised when he displays those quick feet and enters track athlete mode.

But both Connor Hamlett and Colby Prince come ready to play. When the going got tough in Seattle (Markus Wheaton sidelined, Brandin Cooks double covered half the time and Woods fighting for every inch), both Mannion and Vaz looked to their tight ends to keep the chains moving. Hamlett is a little more apt to make those big catches -- the 29 yard TD pass from Vaz in the fourth quarter last Saturday, the final TD catch in the Arizona game to seal the victory are two key examples. But Prince is consistent, and moves with a lot of momentum when he gets the ball. Prince is the type of tight end that can turn a two yard gain into a twelve yard gain when given a little room to maneuver in the open field. On balance, they are a great compliment to one another, and both set strong blocks.
Edge goes to OSU

Offensive Line –Arizona State's top blocker Andrew Samson is questionable. Redshirt junior Evan Finkenburg and redshirt senior Brice Schwab have improved since last season – both have stepped up in the absence of Samson too. On balance, the ASU front five are experienced and mobile, capable of opening up wide running lanes and pushing defenders back toward the center of the field. However, this season has been difficult for the Sun Devil front lines when it comes to concise blocking in the clutch.

OSU's blocking platoon cannot be held entirely responsible for the less-than desirable numbers posted by the Beaver ground game in 2012. From this chair, they remain the most improved and certainly the most underrated component of the OSU football team. Opponents have only accrued 13 sacks on black and orange clad QB's this season – compare that to Washington (23 sacks against) and Arizona State (24 sacks against), and it becomes quite clear that the Beaver O-line is holding their own. But they will have their work cut out for them come Saturday, as they take on the likes of Will Sutton and Davon Coleman. Our gut says they will establish momentum in the trenches.
Edge goes to OSU

Wide Receiver –ASU's strength in the passing game lies in short out routes to speedy running backs and Coyle – they haven't really used a wide out in the traditional fashion for the majority of their regular season. The Beavers aggressive nature (on defense) within the first five hashes will likely stifle a lot of that creativity in the back field, forcing Kelly to actually throw to his wide receivers – Rashad Ross, Jamal Miles and Kevin Ozier – a group whose shared statistics equate to 779 yards and six touchdowns (five of which belong to Ozier).

Will Markus Wheaton return to action on Saturday? Stay tuned. Brandin Cooks and Wheaton (1,469 yards and nine touchdowns combined) are the playmakers. But a budding dynamo poked his head out of the cracks after Wheaton got plugged by Parker – Richard Mullaney. Based on his performance at Century Link, Mullaney should be in the driver's seat to fill in for Wheaton if the senior can't go. If Wheaton does play, Mullaney is still likely to be an effective and much needed slot receiver. Strong hands and great field awareness characterize OSU's receiving game.
Edge goes to OSU

Defensive Line – Who will have a bigger day, Scott Crichton or Will Sutton? Sutton leads the Pac-12 in sacks and tackles for loss (8.5 sacks and 14 TFL) and has been named as a semifinalist for the Bednarik Award. The redshirt junior defensive tackle has a fantastic swim move, and makes up for his lack of overall size (6-1, 267) with incredible acceleration off the line. Crichton (6-3, 263) is just a hair behind Sutton in terms of defensive production with eight sacks and 12.5 TFL. Sutton's speed will be less advantageous in the middle of the Beaver O-line, where Isaac Seumalo and Josh Andrews are capable of handling the agile lineman as he attempts to break the ranks, but Crichton stalled last weekend against a suspect Washington O-line.

So how will the others hold up? Will Dylan Wynn, Andrew Seumalo and Castro Masaniai manage to keep the Beaver defense ranked No. 5 against the run despite facing one of the most explosive rushing attacks in the Pac-12? Or will Davon Coleman continue to step up and make big stops alongside Sutton? Our vote goes to the team with the advantage in speed.
Edge goes to OSU

LinebackersD.J. Alexander, Feti Unga and Michael Doctor had a rough game against UW – especially in the first half. They missed tackle after tackle, letting Bishop Sankey get the upper hand more than once during Washington's first few drives. And that was against a team with one decent running back -- ASU boasts three. Yes, ASU has three tailbacks with breakaway speed and threat potential in the receiving game. OSU ‘backers have struggled against dual-threat tailbacks, and they face a trio of them on Saturday.
Edge goes to ASU

Secondary – I discussed last week that OSU is weak in the middle of the field when it comes to pass protection. They managed to prove it against Washington. Granted, Keith Price did not toss for a single TD – but the middle of the field was wide open for the tight end and running back. The Beaver secondary has proven stout against the run, but susceptible to well executed screens and crossing routes through the center of the field. ASU on the other had is ranked No.3 in the nation in pass defense, led by Alden Darby who has two picks, 45 tackles and a fumble forced so far this season. Jordan Poyer and Tyrequek Zimmerman will need to step out of their comfort zone to impact this game, seeing as so much of ASU's offense occurs within the first ten hashes with the intention of gaining yards after the catch.
Edge goes to ASU

Coaching – ASU is rising, but their season has also been pockmarked with questionable play calling. But considering the Washington game, the same can be said about Mike Riley. On the whole, ASU's coaching staff has worked wonders considering the overhaul that overtook the coaching ranks at the end of 2011. Graham, Norwell and new defensive coordinator Paul Randolph are all new to the ASU staff and their three losses came to tough teams (Missouri, Oregon, UCLA). Riley is not likely to let one loss in a whirlwind season drag his group down. The OSU coaching staff figures to put together a potent game plan to stifle the ASU rushing attack and get back some of their groove back on offense.
Edge goes to OSU

Intangibles – ASU's offensive line is talented, but they've tired in the second half –the result of the run-heavy approach. And ASU just doesn't have the rotational depth on the offensive line to cope with bushed big guys. OSU heads into this game with home field advantage, and a major chip on its shoulder. The loss to Washington hurt – and it was ugly. Frankly, the Beavs prior three outings to the Washington tilt were not overly impressive and if anyone was dismissive earlier, they're wide awake now.

Final Thoughts - Anticipate good, honest, smash mouth football from Oregon State – and there will also be a new energy on the field come Saturday's game. That chip on the shoulder may serve to shift Ol' Mo in the Beavers favor early on in the bout. The home field advantage plays a big role in the end result on Saturday.
Prediction: Oregon State 35, ASU 24


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