Editor’s Note: For each game this season, we are identifying a player and position group that could be the X-factor for the Beavers in that game. We claim no responsibility for jinxing any players.
Caleb Saulo (Senior) — Linebacker
Vitals: 6-1 235 pounds; from Kent, Washington, where he attended Kentlake High School; was a Scout 3-star recruit; is an OSU team captain this season; has made 19 career starts; was team’s second-leading tackler in 2015.
2016 Stats: Started all eight games; has recorded 67 tackles (four for loss), two sacks, and an interception. His 67 tackles rank second in the Pac-12!
Why he’s the X-Factor: Bright Ugwoegbu will miss at least the first half of the Stanford game due to receiving a targeting penalty on Luke Falk. Despite the debate surrounding the call, the fact remains the Beavers will be without one of their top defenders early on this weekend. Enter Caleb Saulo, who is having a quite a monster (yes, I wrote this on Halloween) season.
There’s no reason to think he can’t add to his sterling stats against the Cardinal, but the Beavers will need him to be at the top of his game especially during Ugwoegbu’s absence. And he will be counted on to help set the tone early on for the OSU defense at it takes on the tall task of containing a certain running back. Look for Saulo to benefit if the defensive line in front of him is able to plug the lanes.
A strong start by Saulo also could make life easier for whoever starts in Ugwoegbu’s place, not just from a physical standpoint, but a leadership perspective. He’s not a rah-rah guy, but more of a lead-by-example type — and this will be the type of match-up where the Beavers will need strong leadership. Stanford is a well-coached and disciplined team, so to win, you have to be sound like Saulo.
Why it’s X-Factor: The Keller Chryst era has begun at Stanford. And while he didn’t light the world on fire last week against Arizona, doesn’t it seem like every Stanford QB breaks out against Oregon State? Andrew Luck, Kevin Hogan, and someone else I’m probably forgetting. So the Beavers must get pressure on Chryst this Saturday, and it starts up front with defensive line.
OSU’s front 3 (or four depending on how you look at it) might not be putting up gaudy numbers, but they turned in arguably their best performance of the season against Washington State, especially in the second half. WSU QB Luke Falk took some monster shots and was in pain getting up several times. Chryst isn’t as seasoned Falk, so hitting him hard early should rattle him more than Falk would be.
Another reason the OSU defensive line could be a difference maker against the Cardinal? Christian McCaffrey. The stud running back got back on track with three TDs against Arizona. To keep him contained, the Beavers will need the line to penetrate and at the very least, help slow him down in the backfield, so he doesn’t bust off any big play. Steady goes it could really pay off for the OSU defense.
Blitzers, who are your X-Factors for the Stanford game?