Side by side: UA (2-3) at OSU (2-3)

Arizona and Oregon State clash for the 31st time Oct. 6 as the Wildcats look to win their second conference game of the season while the Beavers are still looking for their first conference win. UA holds an 11 game lead in the series and won the last one in Corvallis, but OSU has won seven of the last eight.

LAST WEEK: Oregon State led the entire game against UCLA and was up 14-12 with just over nine minutes to go in the game before disaster struck.

Bruin QB Ben Olson connected with WR Brandon Breazell for a 69-yard touchdown on a missed tackle and OSU kickoff returner Gerard Lawson fumbled three consecutive kickoffs, two recovered by UCLA and converted into points, as UCLA ran away with a 40-14 victory.

The Oregon State passing game was inept as QB Sean Canfield completed 22 of 35 for 146 yards and two interceptions. RB Yvenson Bernard ran for 125 yards and one touchdown on 27 carries, but was held in check in the second half.

LAST WEEK:  Arizona had their best offensive game of the past few seasons, dropping 28 straight points on Washington State to win 48-20.

QB Willie Tuitama threw for over 300 yards and five scores, while true freshman Nic Grigsby had over 200 yards of total offense.

KEY INJURIES: KEY INJURIES:
  • FS Domnic Patrick (knee) – out
  • LB Adrien McCovey (back) – out
  • WR Michael Turner (concussion) – questionable
     

WHEN OREGON STATE IS ON OFFENSE: Some say that statistics don't lie, others say that statistics are deceiving. When looking at the Oregon State offense's numbers, it paints a clear picture of what is happening - too many stinking turnovers.

The Beavers lead the nation in turnovers lost (21), passes intercepted (15), ranks 115th in turnover margin and 90th in fumbles lost (6); for Beaver Nation, those are some extremely ferocious numbers, for Arizona fans, at least they know their offense is going to have plenty of opportunities to score.

Many of the turnovers can be directly attributed to Canfield's erratic play in his first season as a starter. On the year Canfield has completed 97 of 163 passes (59.5%) for 1,041 yards, six touchdowns and 11 interceptions, the second most in the nation.

Canfield has had plenty of time in the pocket, but has had difficulty throwing the ball down the field and finding open receivers in the middle of the field. His longest completion of the year is a 48-yarder to Sammie Stroughter against Idaho State.

He had a rough game at Arizona State two weeks ago in which in threw five interceptions, but racked up 324 yards through the air. Three of his five interceptions weren't his fault as a receiver slipped on one and he was hit while throwing the ball on another.

Due to his high turnover rate the coaching staff went extremely conservative against UCLA as he rarely threw a pass over 10 yards, didn't really look to the middle of the field and averaged just 6.6 yards per completion.

Not helping matters is the absence of Sammie Stroughter in the lineup who is out indefinitely with a bruised kidney. Stroughter is the team's best receiver and despite playing two less games than his receiving counterparts he has just seven less receptions, 32 less yards and one more touchdown than the team's leading receiver Anthony Brown.

Without Stroughter in the lineup the Beaver passing game has lost its ability to stretch the field and are without a reliable, game changing receiver.  This puts an extreme amount of pressure on the running game and leaves the team in precarious situations on third and long.

Many thought that senior Anthony Brown could step in and the fill the game changing role, but he has yet to do so. He does led the team in receptions (22) and yards (294) and is a great downfield blocker, but he is most effective in the shadow of Stroughter's success.

Despite the struggles with the receivers true freshman receivers Darrell Catchings, who will start in Stroughter's place at split end, and James Rodgers, who is second on the team with 131 rushing yards, have been pleasant surprises.

Both are still learning their position, but have played well enough as they both started last week. Catchings has good hands while 12 catches for 135 yards and one touchdown. Rodgers is small at 5-foot-7, but quick and is mainly used on end arounds although defenses are starting to key on him.

Rounding out the starting receivers is senior Brandon Powers in the slot, who is mainly used as a blocker, but has great reliable hands with 17 catches for 156 yards, both good for third on the team.

Oregon State often uses a two tight end set with Howard Croom and Gabe Miller receiving most of the snaps with Brady Camp and John Reese filling in. None of the four are upperclassman and all are in their first year at tight end.

Croom and Miller have started to pick up their game as of late combining for nine catches for 103 yards and two touchdowns in Pac-10 play.

The most consistent player on the team is running back Yvenson Bernard who is averaging 100.4 yards per game. Bernard won't kill the Wildcats with his speed, but he has superb lateral movement and a low center of gravity making him hard to bring down in between the tackles.

On the the year he has a team leading 502 yards and five touchdowns on 110 attempts, second in the conference. Bernard is also an excellent receiver hauling in 19 passes, second on the team, for 76 yards. Also, keep an eye on his overlooked blocking skills.

Backing up Bernard is Matt Sieverson, a hard working walkon who keeps his legs moving, and Clinton Polk, who is working himself back into shape after missing all of fall camp and the first two games due to academics.

Senior Andy Stewart is the occasionally used fullback who has one touchdown on the year.

Blocking for the team is an experienced offensive line who is not at 100-perecent, but most recently is performing well. The team's best offensive lineman, left guard Jeremy Perry, hurt his ankle in the first game of the season, has missed the last five games and will miss this one too.

With Perry out of the lineup the unit lacks a nasty edge that pumped up their teammates and kept opponents on the lookout.

In his place at left guard is Adam Speer (6-3, 276), who has five starts under his belt, with Tavita Thompson (6-6, 319) at tackle.  Speer and Thompson, who is also in his first year as a starter, are both decent players, but no where near Perry's caliber.  The left side of the line is definitely something to keep your eye on although Thompson did a great job against Bruce Davis last week. He also has a little bit of an attitude, which is always nice to see in an offensive lineman.

The strength of the offensive line lies with center Kyle DeVan (6-2, 294), who has 30 straight starts, right guard Roy Schuening (6-3, 318), who has a team high 42 straight starts, and right tackle Andy Levitre (6-3, 324), who is one of the best technical blockers on the team.

On the year the Beaver offense is averaging 409.8 yards per game, eighth in the conference, 148.9 on the ground, seventh in the conference, and 261.0 through the air, fifth in the conference.

They have scored six touchdowns via the pass and nine via the run while averaging 26.8 yards per game, ninth in the conference.

One problem that has been plaguing the offense is third down conversions as they converted just 1 of 14 last week. They funny thing is they completed passes on four of those 13 failed conversions.

Through five games OSU has converted 38.6% on third downs, eighth in the conference, and 75% on fourth downs, second in the conference.

On average OSU holds the ball for 30:50 a game and have converted on 15 of 21 (71.4%) opportunities in the redzone, second worst in the conference.

WHEN ARIZONA IS ON OFFENSE:  The honeymoon period is still ongoing for the new spread offense. New offensive coodinator Sonny Dykes has implemented a version of the Texas Tech "Air Raid" offense and after a rough start it has looked very good.

Case in point - Arizona only scored seven points in the season opener, but in the last four game the Cats have averaged over 36 points.

Quarterback Willie Tuitama has put up monster numbers, but last week he played his first complete game. Despite the scoring outburst, the Cats have probably left 14-20 points on the field each of the first four games. Turnovers, bad reads and miscues killed the Wildcats in the redzone. Last week was a different story as the Cats capitalized on every trip inside the 20, and was adept at scoring outside the 20 as well.

Not only has Tuitama seemed to be making the right reads and thriving in the new pass happy offense, he's just five TD tosses from the school single season record, but he's staying healthy. After a year where he got beat up, Tuitama is taking advantage of quick routes and improved line play.

While the Wildcats have certainly put up some gaudy passing numbers, they got a huge boost on the ground last week thanks to freshman Nicholas Grigsby. The true freshman had a standout game rushing for 186 yards and 76 in the air. He's a shifty, speedy back who is still learning the offense.

Last week the Wildcats rushed 45 times. Don't expect that this week, but expect UA running backs to get 20-25 touches.

The UA receiving corps do not get the headlines, but they are playing great. Mike Thomas is second in the Pac-10 in receiving yards and is becoming a real leader on the offense. Youngsters Terrell Turner and Delashaun Dean have become real downfield threats, while Anthony Johnson is a tough match-up over the middle when he is hanging onto the ball.

The most intriguing weapon is freshman tight end Rob Gronkowski. He gives the offense an element they have not had ever. He's big, physical and can move. A would-be tackler knocked himself out last week trying to bring down the big man.

The offensive line is better. They have done a very nice job protecting the quarterback and against WSU they were dominant in the trenches. There are still questions about whether they can move the pile when it counts.

WHEN ARIZONA HAS THE BALL: The Oregon State defense thrives on stopping the run and getting to the quarterback.  OSU enters the contest leading the conference and is third in the nation allowing just 50.2 yards per game and a little over one yard a rush (1.4 ypc). 

The Beavers also lead the conference and are tenth in the nation in sacks (17) and are sixth in the nation in tackles for loss yardage (204).  They are third in the Pac-10 in total defense at 301.8 yards per game.

What is really deceiving is the amount of points the Beavers give up - 27 points per game - which doesn't add up with the above statistics. The reason the defense gets scored on so much is because the offense or special teams keep turning the ball over deep in their own territory.

In fact of the 134 allowed points this year, 85 of them have been off of turnovers and 72 of them have come when the opponent starts at midfield or in Beaver territory. Take away those 72 points and give the defense a full football field to work with and they are giving up just over 10 points per game.

The secret to their success lies with a ton of experience players as the Beavers routinely play 10 defensive lineman, eight linebackers and nine defensive backs.  The high substitution pattern has resulted in 13 different players recording tackles for loss and 10 individuals tallying a sack.

While the entire defense defends the run well, it is the front seven, or front eighteen depending on how you look at it, that anchor the defensive.

It all starts up front with seniors Curtis Coker (6-1, 309) and Gerard Lee (6-1, 280) clogging up the middle along with Pernell Booth (6-1 302) and William 'Akau'ola Vea (6-2, 282) helping out.  None of the four has eye popping stats, in fact 'Akau'ola Vea is the only one with a sack, but their dirty work up front allows the linebackers and safeties to make plays.

The ends are manned by Dorian Smith (6-3, 258) and longtime starter Jeff Van Orsow (6-4, 266).  Smith has had a quite year thus far grabbing just one sack.  The same goes for Van Orsow although his blue collar work ethic and consistent play is easy to overlook.  He has 17 tackles, tops among lineman, and five tackles for loss.

Pass rushing specialists Slade Norris (6-3, 254), who is second in the conference in sacks with 4.5, and Victor Butler (6-2, 233), who has 3.5 sacks and a co-team high 5.5 tackles for loss, have done a superb job of coming off of the bench and getting to the quarterback.

The linebackers are headlined by a trio of seniors in Derrick Doggett (6-3, 210), Alan Darlin (6-1, 251) and Joey LaRocque (6-2, 230).

Doggett is the most explosive on the bunch with great range and speed.  He is third on the team with 28 tackles, including three for loss, and he has one safety.

Darlin is a rock in the middle at 250 plus pounds whose specialty is stopping the run.  He has 21 tackles, two pass breakups and one fumble recovery.  LaRocque is always around the ball and is second on the team in tackles with 32, including a co-team high 5.5 for loss.

Bryant Cornell (6-1, 240), Isaiah Cook (6-2, 225) and Keaton Kristick (6-3, 229) are the first off of the bench at linebacker. Oftentimes the entire second string linebacking group is in the game together.

Pass defense is where the team has struggled a little bit but they have improved dramatically giving up an average of 251.8 yards and two touchdowns through the air.

The secondary is loaded with experience headlined by free safety Al Afalava (5-11, 198), who is one of the better hitters on the team. He leads the squad with 33 tackles and a co-team high three pass breakups. He recovered two fumbles last week taking one 33 yards for his first career touchdown.

Junior Bryan Payton (6-2, 211) splits time with Afalava and is used in the team's nickel packages.  He has seven tackles.

Strong safety Daniel Drayton (5-10, 204) has done a great job in his first year as a starter grabbing 22 tackles, but missed most of the UCLA game with a strained groin.

Junior Greg Laybourn (5-10, 201), a walk on who earned a scholarship recently, stepped in harnessing a team high 15 stops, including eight solo stops. Drayton is expected to play, but it wouldn't be surprising to see Laybourn get the start.

The corners are manned by three year starters Brandon Hughes (5-11, 174) and Keenan Lewis (6-1, 194).   Hughes has 21 tackles, including four for loss. He has a team leading six passes defended and picked off the first pass of his career last weekend.

Hughes has impressed with his physical play and team's are choosing to look to the other side of the field due to his play.

But Lewis, when he is not cramping up, has had a solid year too picking off two passes, a team high, while adding seven tackles.

The weakness in the secondary is the cornerback substitutions.  Lewis cramps up almost every game forcing Gerard Lawson (5-11, 190) or Tim Clark (6-0, 175) into the game which usually means a big play is about to happen.

One thing to keep an eye on is the mental state of the defensive players. Time and time again this year they have come through with their backs against the wall only for the offense to turn the ball over just 60 seconds later.

This emotional and psychological roller coaster manifests itself late in the game in the form of missed tackles and assignments.

WHEN OREGON STATE HAS THE BALL:

The Arizona defense was among the Pac-10's best a year ago and the expectations were high entering the season. Five games in and people are wondering what it wrong. The Cats have been iffy all season long.

The goal will be to stop Bernard and force the Beavers to throw the ball. The question is whether they can. Only Cal has really been able to run on them, but teams have been keeping them honest enough to really hurt them in the air.

The Cats blitzed more last game, but Mike Stoops has been hesitant to really use a lot of blitzes and prefers to have the front four try to mount a pass rush.

Up front the Cats do a nice job controlling the line of scrimmage but have not been able to pressure the passer. Former JC All-American Louis Holmes has been disappointing, but the Cats have gotten good play from senior Jason Parker and junior Johnathan Turner.

Inside the Cats rotate four players. Yaniv Barnett and Lionel Dotson have gotten the bulk of the snaps, but expect Donald Horton and Manu Mikaele to get ample time. The Cats rotated their DT's more last week and it seemed to keep all parties fresher.

The linebacking corps has underperformed just a bit. Some felt it was the best unit in the league but they have not been great. Ronnie Palmer is a freak athlete, but has struggled with coverage. Spencer Larsen is arguably the best player on the team and could be the leagues most underappreciated player. He's a big hitter and just makes plays.

Cornerback Antoine Cason is a legitimate All-American candidate, while fellow senior Wilrey Fontenot is a solid cover guy, who gives up a lot of height to bigger receivers. Sophomore Devin Ross has been playing nickel back, but he could also see a lot of snaps at cornerback.

Starting FS Dominic Patrick is out with a knee sprain, but that could be a blessing in disguise as he has had an up and down season to date. Who gets the nod is up in the air. Brandon Tatum saw the most time last week, but he is competing with Michael Klyce and Nate Ness for the spot. Cam Nelson gets the nod at SS, but Corey Hall could see time at either SS or the nickel spot.

While the talent is there, communication has been an issue in pass coverage and if the Cats cannot mount a consistent pass rush, the Beavers could makes some big plays down the field.

SPECIAL TEAMS: To be honest, the special teams unit, the entire unit, is in shambles. Missed field goals, blocked punts, fumble punts and kickoffs - you name it and the special teams have done it.

Senior Alexis Serna (5-8, 162) handles all of the team's kicking tasks after the punter quit just before fall camp.

He has made 3 of 5 field goals, with his misses coming from 38 and 45 yards out.  His longest of the year is a 47-yarder that he made against ASU.  He has made 119 consecutive extra points, which is a school record.

On 21 kickoffs Serna averages 62.1 yards per boot with no touchbacks.

Punting is where there truly is some concern as he is averaging a conference worst 33.1 yards.  As expected from a new punter sometimes he gets off great punts, his long is a 51-yard punt, and some really bad ones, his shortest is a 7 yard kick.

He has had two punts blocked this year, one last week, and averaged just over 25 yards a kick against UCLA. Due to concern for his health and leg freshman Kyle Harper has been working out as the team's punter in practice this week and will most likely take over as the starting punter.

One of the best special teams players in school history Gerard Lawson (5-11, 190) had a disastrous night last weekend. He was flagged for a 15-yard late hit penalty after Serna's best punt and fumbled three straight kickoffs, losing two, to basically hand the Bruins the game.

Despite his miscues Lawson will still return kickoff as he averages a respectable 22.8 per return. If he fumbles again, look for James Rodgers to take over.

With Stroughter out of the lineup a once dangerous punt return game has gone flat. Walk on Taylor Kavanaugh is fearless and does a great job of securing the ball, but he doesn't have the speed to break off any big returns.

SPECIAL TEAMS: The Cats have two first-year kickers, but they have been stellar. Jason Bondzio has been a very good place kicker. He does not have the leg that last year's starter Nick Folk had, but he's fairly consistent from 45 and in. Even better has been his kickoffs, where he is routinely getting touchbacks.

Punter Keenyn Crier has a big, big leg. Occasionally his technique is off, but most of the time he can really boom the ball. Last week he only kicked once.

Cason is returning punts. He's already taken one back for a score and teams have to be careful when kicking to him.

Ross is the primary kickoff returner. He has come close to breaking a few and seems to be a potential weapon for the team.

OREGON STATE CAN WIN IF: Find a way to stretch the field on offense which will open up the running and passing game taking pressure off of Canfield.

Special teams must perform better as well as the Beavers are losing the field position game every single Saturday.

ARIZONA CAN WIN IF: They stuff the run and force the Beavers into being a passing team. They upset the Beavers two years ago by forcing turnovers and last year's three-game win streak saw the Cats dominating the turnover margin.

On offense the Cats have to limit turnovers and execute in the redzone. Keeping the T.O.P. close will allow the defense to stay fresh. When Tuitama is spreading the ball around to a variety of receivers the offense can really make some noise.

OREGON STATE CAN LOSE IF: They turn the ball over four or more times giving Arizona more scoring chances and a short field which will wear out the defense emotionally and physically.

ARIZONA CAN LOSE IF: Bernard can get going, allowing the offense to be balanced. The defense has allowed some big plays and if the Beavers strike, especially early, the defense will struggle.

Offensively the Cats cannot turn over the ball and must take advantage of all scoring opportunities. This offense really relies on rhythm and momentum and if the Beavers can disrupt it, they could force the Cats into a number of three and outs, which would really put more pressure on the defense.
OREGON STATE 2-DEEPS:
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Dan Norz is the publisher of BeaverFootball.com.  BLEED Black and Orange! Go Beavs, Beat the Cats! Brad Allis is Editor-In-Chief of WildcatInsider and co-host of the Arizona pre and postgame shows.

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