By first quarter's end we’ll know about Beavs

OREGON STATE plays host to No. 7 Arizona State on Saturday (ESPN, 7:45 p.m.) and the Beavers are a 10-point underdog. ASU is white hot at 8-1 and riding a five-game win streak. OSU is 4-5 and has lost four in a row. But enough with the overly sunny outlook! At the end of the first quarter, we’re going to know some things about this 2014 Oregon State team.

OSU hasn't been able to ramp up and found their rhythm by first quarter's end this season. Slow starts, fast starts, it changes week to week. Well, we're going to know what kind of game, and perhaps what kind of season, OSU is going to have after 15 minutes have elapsed on Saturday night.

The Beavs are on the precipice right now. Either they’re going to bounce back and play like their hair is on fire the rest of the way, or they’re going to respond to adversity by hanging their heads and letting their frustrations get the better of them. This Saturday is going to decide all that.

OSU needs to start fast on defense – and then they need to carry it on.

Too many times this season we’ve seen OSU start strong and then take their foot off the gas on defense. They’re capable of playing fast, loose and proficient all game long. But now they need to do it now, and more than ever with a Sun Devils team that is riding high on the confidence meter.

OSU needs to convert on offense.

The third-down conversion rate (31 percent) is killing the Beavs, they rank 118th out of 125 teams in the FBS according to official NCAA stats. Losing wideout Richard Mullaney to a broken elbow, OSU’s go-to chain mover on their down, has turned out to be devastating.

Oregon State needs to take their surest-handed receiver and run a handful of plays over and over this week. Or they need to put Connor Hamlett out in the pattern more and have him sit down a yard beyond the chains. And then they need to rep it over and over again.

Make no mistake about it. Oregon State is fully capable of upsetting Arizona State. The Sun Devils play in spurts. Their win over Notre Dame illustrated that in compelling fashion.

ASU cruised out to a huge lead at 34-3. And then they couldn’t gain a first down to save their lives in the second half. Their first five drives of the second half netted a combined 76 yards, with four punts and an interception. Notre Dame closed to 34-31 with a little over six minutes left in the game before ASU finally put together a TD drive, before adding a late TD after ND turned it over on downs at their own 8-yard line.

College football players will talk all week long about how they won’t have a letdown after a big game like the one ASU just won. But the chances of it are greater than not and OSU can take advantage of that.

The weather at game time favors the Beavs. The forecast calls for a 70 percent chance of rain with temps in the 40s. The Beavers have led in the fourth quarter in their last three home losses (Utah, Cal, Washington State.) They can snap that string against ASU if they work hard on the mental game all week long.

The Sun Devil QB Taylor Kelly has been good since coming back from injury but he hasn’t looked like his old explosive self. But rather than blitz him continually OSU from this chair needs to stop the run first and foremost. Running back D.J. Foster (821 yards, six TDs) has been what’s put ASU over the top. The Beavs can trust their secondary, despite what happened against WSU, against WR Jaelen Strong (62 catches, 9 TDs).

Strong is going to get his yards. The Beavs only have to make sure those yards don’t move the chains too many times.

The Sun Devils have made a remarkable turnaround on defense over the course of the season. They now rank third in the Pac-12 in total defense (396.6 yards allowed per game). Oregon State is second at 384.7 hashes per game, by the way. But ASU is susceptible if Oregon State comes out and shows them some new wrinkles and keeps them off balance.

The Beavs appear likely to finally get DT Jalen Grimble back after five games (knee). With OSU’s thin depth, that could be a game changer all on its own. RB Storm Woods should also be back.

This is a trap game for Arizona State. Now Oregon State just needs to pull the lever.

  • Offensive guard Roman Sapolu has retired from football on the advice of doctors after recurring neck problems.

  • OSU must win two of their final three games to become bowl eligible. The remaining schedule: ASU, UW and Oregon.

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