Behind Enemy Lines: Idaho State

Oregon State hosts Idaho State on Saturday, and as we do each week, we check in with an expert who covers the opponent in our weekly "Ask the Expert" feature at BeaverBlitz. Today we check in with Victor Flores from the Idaho Falls Post Register.

1.       After losing to Colorado last week, how is the health of the Bengals?

Flores: Not great. Defensive lineman Rasheed Williams and wide receiver Chris Reynolds suffered season-ending injuries before the season began. Starting offensive linemen Cody Abbott, Chase Collins and Brian Fineanganofo have missed the first two games of the season, and none of them are listed on this week's 2-deep. Coach Mike Kramer told reporters during Wednesday's press conference that defensive tackles Nikko Taylor and JonRyheem Peoples were unavailable, although there's a chance they'll play Saturday.

2.       What is the strength of this year’s squad?

Flores: Passing offense is supposed to be the Bengals' biggest strength, although you wouldn't know it if you watched the Colorado game. Starting quarterback Tanner Gueller completed 18 of 35 passes for 59 yards, an interception and no touchdowns. His longest completion went for 11 yards, and he's hardly thrown past the first two quadrants of the field in either game. So I'd call the passing game a work in progress. ISU's biggest strength right now, in my mind, is its linebacking corps. WILL linebacker Mario Jenkins was the 2014 Big Sky Freshman of the Year, and he's started the 2016 season strong after missing all of 2015 with an injury. Hayden Stout has been solid at the MAC linebacker, and Joe Martin (SAM) has arguably been the best player on ISU's new 4-3 front. He leads the team with 18 tackles and has an interception.

3.       What are the weaknesses that OSU could exploit?

Flores: OSU's front seven should have fun with ISU's young offensive line (two sophomores, one freshman) and with the sophomore Gueller. Sophomore cornerback Anthony Ricks was torched last week against Colorado, and the entire secondary has looked shaky. Kramer hasn't been happy with his team's pass rush this season, so that will only get worse if Taylor and Peoples are unavailable. 

4.       Who are the stars on offense that Beaver fans should watch for?

Flores: Kramer called offensive lineman Skyler Phillips "the best football player on our team" who "should have an opportunity to play at the next level" (per the Idaho State Journal). Phillips was slated to be ISU's starting center before the season, but he's listed as the starting left tackle for Saturday's game. Gueller's favorite targets are slot receiver KW Williams, Z receiver Hagen Graves and tight end Josh Cook, who last week set the record for ISU's most all-time receiving yards by a tight end. Jakori Ford is the Bengals' main running back who also returns kicks, which gives you a sense of his breakaway speed.

5.       What about defensive players?

Flores: Graves, Jenkins and Martin top the list, as does Taylor when he's healthy. Strong safety Taison Manu, like Jenkins, missed all of last season with an injury. He's probably the best player in ISU's secondary, and he's one of the defense's hardest hitters. 

6.       Oregon State is highly favored, what is your prediction?  Are the Bengals able to keep it close?

Flores: No chance. Kramer has been vocal about his distaste for these "money games" because he recognizes the advantages FBS teams have over the Bengals. He all but guarantees an ISU loss in these types of games. That doesn't mean ISU will look as bad as it did last week, but OSU will probably insert its backups by the third quarter.

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