OSU vs. WSU: Very similar..and very different

CORVALLIS – It's not hard to guess what we're going to see Saturday – Oregon State and WSU are going to throw the ball. A lot. One whole helluva lot. Sean Mannion leads the nation in passing. WSU quarterback Connor Halliday ranks third. And while passing will certainly be the name of the game, they go about it in very different ways.

The styles associated with each team's offensive game plan are no more similar than an eggplant and an apple, but the desired result has mostly been identical.

Get it to the guy with the arm, so he can get it to the guy with the hands and legs. WSU achieves this by trying to out-execute an opponent, much in the same way a pinball machine can fool the human reflexes. OSU on the other hand does it by hammering nail after nine-inch nail into an opposing defensive coffin, and they take their time about it.

Mike Riley and his coaching staff don't hold an unusual amount of offensive secrets heading into this weekend's contest against Washington State – but they still have more than do the Cougs. Junior receiver Brandin Cooks is responsible for 807 yards, nine touchdowns and more than a quarter of junior QB Sean Mannion's 160 completed passes. Guess who they are going to throw to?

Of course, there are others. The primary targets have remained consistent -- sophomore receiver Richard Mullaney (25 rec., 399 yards, 2 TDs) and junior H-back Connor Hamlett (23 rec., 185 yards, 3 TDs). And while the Beavs are slowly introducing more options into the passing frenzy - senior slot back Kevin Cummings and sophomore tight end Caleb Smith for example – there's no mystery as to who the big kahunas are.

Cooks, Mullaney, Hamlett. Sprinkle in a run here and there for show, and occasionally the slotback gets his shot. But mostly, just Cooks, Mullaney, Hamlett. It's all on the game film, so this is hardly a revelation. And Mike Riley does want to run the ball, but he wants to win more. And so OSU, when it's all said and done, wants to pass first and ask questions later.

, Mike Leach's Cougars like to air it out like there is no tomorrow, but they do it in a much different fashion that do the Beavers.

WSU spreads the ball around – it is typical to see 10 receivers have at least one reception, all of them wideouts or dual threat running back/receiver options. They don't have any tight ends in this offense. Their run game is almost an afterthought, but then again they don't claim to be a running team. They get their runs with short passes, mostly screens, to the running backs. And Leach wants impressive all-purpose yards from his backs, not rushing yards.

The running game for both teams has been minimal and frankly inconsequential for both squads in 2013, especially when you look at the passing stats for both teams nationally and in the Pac-12, (the Beavs and Cougs are 1-2 in the Pac-12, of course.)

So they're similar -- not a lot of running, and a boat load of passing. But the similarities stop there. Compared to the buzzing beehive of activity that is WSU's aerial attack, OSU's typically pro-style pass styling seems methodical, less noisy and well-rehearsed, if not almost predictable. And yet the Cougars' offense is remarkably simplistic, with very few formations. Because OSU has a tight end and h-back, they employ many more formations and have a better chance to disguise.

Yet both works, this much is evident. And it's a lot of fun to watch.

IT COULD BE said that Leach's offensive schemes work on the idea the defense never really knows where the ball is going to in any given situation. And even when they do, the Air Raid approach means an intelligent QB, making the proper audible at the line and then going through his reads as need be, can find consistent success. Look at what Baylor's version of the Air Raid is doing this season, with a ridiculous 781.5 yards of total offense and 70.5 points per game.

Oregon State, on the other hand, has a type of game script – select plays for select situations meant to deliver specific results if each man does his job correctly. At the heart of that script lies Cooks with his quick feet and other-worldly mitts, he is the go-to guy. But the efforts of Mullaney, Hamlett and Cummings, plus an ever so slight hint of a ground game, are all in part responsible for making Cooks' magic possible in the first place.

The question for both teams is not what they will do, but how they will ago about doing it. And really, the only team in position to offer anything out of the ordinary on Saturday is Oregon State, because they could a) hypothetically try and run the ball and b) show off a lot of formations/plays, some of which WSU hasn't seen yet on film.

THE BEAVERS ARE ranked dead last in the Pac-12 standings for total rushing yards gained with 340 hashes – a combined 97 of which have come at the hands of wide receivers. WSU is ranked 11th with 352 yards, and has put up six rushing touchdowns to OSU's four.

Through the last five games, offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf and Riley have been compensating for a stale ground attack with short passes, screens and a little trickery. Success has been found, but it has not been pronounced. Where they have really been on the money is with the intermediate and long throws that stretch the defense and work the soft belly of a zone and exploit the more simplistic man coverages. And WSU has been burned in those areas the last two weeks.

Still, if Washington State has been prepping for a pass-happy fiesta a la OSU's first five games of 2013, they could be overwhelmed early on by a steady, bruising ground game courtesy of Terron Ward and Storm Woods. Will OSU go that way? We'll find out Saturday night. But Woods appears ready to go having recovered from his concussion, and junior fullback Tyler Anderson is also once again healthy.

The Cougars don't have that element, and they don't try to run it, even when they have some success here and there. They are a passing team with rare exception, and OSU's defense has the benefit of two weeks' worth of WSU prep under their belts after a bye.

Saturday's game should be a doozy, and from this chair, the team that walks away victorious will be the one who managed to get the ball, effectively, to a variety of targets big and small.

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