The Beavers’ trek through the tough part of their schedule continues this weekend as they host surging Washington State. The fact that WSU has overcome a slow start to be one of the Pac-12 North’s top teams isn’t surprising, but the manner in which they are beating opponents is. While the Cougars’ passing attack is still potent, they’ve used their running game to put teams away during a 5-game winning streak.
What that means is Mike Leach’s offense is more unpredictable than usual just like him. Focus on the stopping the passing game, and WSU will run Gerard Wicks, Jamal Morrow, and James Williams at you — they’ve combined for 12 TDs this season. Key on the run, and well, Luke Falk will carve you up with his arsenal of WRs. And maybe more impressive is the fact the WSU line is tough and physical.
So, the Beavers will have their hands full as they seek their third win of the season. Ultimately, getting into a shootout with the Cougars wouldn’t be good, as they can move down the field quickly, so the Beavers need another stout performance from their defense. Here are five things OSU needs to do if it wants to send Beaver Nation home happy during homecoming weekend.
Avoid a Slow Start. Here’s a tough stat to swallow: During Pac-12 play, the Beavers have been outscored in the first half, 90-23. It has been even worse the past two games, as they’ve been held scoreless in the opening half. Simply put, that can’t happen against Washington State. OSU needs to come out aggressive and not leave points on the board early on. With that in mind, it will be important for the OSU kicking game to bounce back from some rough games.
Dictate the Pace. In alignment with the previous key to victory, OSU needs to dictate the flow of this game. As mentioned before, getting into a shootout with the Cougars is likely recipe for disaster. So the Beavers have to set the tempo instead, and keep WSU from finding its rhythm. Running the ball can keep WSU’s offense off the field, but a balanced attack would help the Beavers sustain their drives even longer.
Rattle Falk Early and Often. Falk took some wicked shots last weekend against UCLA. And not to be mean, but the Beavers need to let Falk feel their presence this time out as well. Let’s face it, Falk will put up numbers regardless, but if OSU can get to him a little and throw him off from time to time, it could lead some off-target throws or even a turnover. A few linebacker blitzes could help the Beavers get much-needed pressure on Falk. But will that leave too many receivers open?
Stick with the Run. All of a sudden, the Beavers have become quite the running team. They are just the second team to break 100 yards rushing this season against Washington. And it was Tim Cook’s turn to step up against UW. So, while it might be tempting for the Beavs to tinker and get their passing game going, they should continue to make the run game a priority, especially since Art Pierce will be back for certain, and Ryan Nall could return as well.
Take Shots Downfield. If OSU is able to run the ball effectively against the Cougars, Marcus McMaryion should take a shot here and there down the field. The Beavers need to develop a passing game beyond dump off and screen passes. That said, it’s important for McMaryion to be selective when he goes deep and not force passes. I’d like to see some play action if possible. WSU’s pass defense ranks ninth in the Pac-12, so this is a game that OSU should take some chances.
Being at home, in front of a potentially big crowd, and a surprising defense makes this game seem very much in reach for the Beavers. However, they come out of the tunnel ready and turn in yet their best offensive performance of the season, because WSU is the type of team that can turn a close contest into a blowout in a hurry. Hopefully, the Beavers keep it close and improve enough to pull off an upset.