DEFENSIVE BREAKDOWN: Beavs and Cougs

WITH A SUDDEN surge from the big boys up front, the Beavs the last three weeks have begun to pressure opposing quarterbacks -- and it's shown most in increased sack numbers since Week 8. WSU will likely need to double DT Stephen Paea all day long and if they do, successfully or not, it should allow for opportunities for his linemates, such as Brandon Olander, who had a big game last week.

Junior Stephen Paea has popped up on ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper's Big Board as one of the best defensive tackles in the nation and is getting more and more attention for NFL scouts according to media reports. He'll likely do nothing but climb higher in the analysts' eyes against an overmatched Washington State o-line.

Defensively for Washington State, just like the offense, they're struggling in an epic fashion. The Cougs were already in for a down year back when they were healthy at the start of the season -- 77 of the 125 players on the roster are first or second year Cougars. But adding insult to injury, a devastating number of injuries have since piled up, and the Cougars have played backups, and then backups to the backups.

While they had semi-respectable games defensively against USC (403) and ASU (410) in terms of yards allowed and final scores (27-6, 27-14), the last four games, all blowouts, have revealed the full effect of injuries and other maladies. The Cougs on the season are now allowing 511 yards in offense per game, last in all of the NCAA. Here's a look at the defensive match ups.

Defensive Line: Washington State has had to start eight different players at the four d-line spots. WSU (11) is the only team with less sacks than the Beavers (14) in the Pac-10. The Cougars have had difficulties stopping teams on third down -- 40.5 percent of the time allowing opponents to convert, and besting only Washington(43.7) in that category.

Bright spots are few up front, but tackle/end Dan Spitz and d-end Travis Long, both freshmen, are two, with Long shining brightest. Long, a true freshman, has started every game, with 40 tackles including six for loss. But Spitz missed last week with a concussion and may not play Saturday. DT Toby Turpin has 28 tackles and has started six of 10 games but was suspended this week for the rest of the year for an unspecified rules violation. Starting DT Bernard Wolfgramm missed last week with back soreness and might not play either and the other DT who started the year, Josh Luapo, was long ago lost to a torn ACL.

In fact, the injuries are so bad for the Cougars up front they were forced to take a freshman offensive lineman -- a walk-on -- and put him over with the d-line this week and he might see a good number of snaps on Saturday.

Oregon State's growth on the line has allowed for d-coordinator Mark Banker to dial up more stunts and blitzes. Ask Kevin Riley and Jake Locker about the Beaver D line and they'll tell you they're fast and relentless.

The past three games the Beavers have recorded 10 of their total 14 sacks.

Pick: Beavers. The group has improved exponentially for the Beavers over the past few weeks, while Washington State is young, injured and overmatched.

Linebackers: Sophomore Alex Hoffman-Ellis and seniors Andy Mattingly and Jason Stripling have 10 tackles for loss and 173 total tackles between them. Such big numbers are somewhat misleading, Cougar opponents have run the ball 398 times and have passed it on 323 occasions. The linebacking corps is arguably the strong point on the Cougar defense, but only in comparison to the other units. Stripling will miss the first quarter following an arrest for his part in a fight early Sunday morning, according to Pullman police. He's playing in place of starter Louis Bland, who was lost for the year to injury.

Hoffman-Ellis has good speed for a middle linebacker but Mattingly and Stripling are not as fleet in comparison to their Pac-10 counterparts and have had trouble both against the run and in coverage, despite the tackle stat numbers. Joe Halahuni could have a huge day if Mike Riley wants to feature the OSU tight end.

Keaton "Hitstick" Kristick has continued to terrorize opposing offenses and has racked up 55 tackles (6.5 for loss), a sack, two interceptions, and a fumble recovery.

With the resurgence last week of Keith Pankey on the outside, is the Beaver ‘backer group truly back to their old ways and making plays? It will look that way this week given WSU's problems on offense.

Pick: Beavers. Don't let the WSU statistics fool you, the Cougar linebackers are often making first contact and tackles after a significant gain has already been made. The OSU ‘backers are playing the best they have all season the last few weeks -- David Pa'aluhi has been a disruptive force especially while standing up on the line and rushing the quarterback, and fueling what has developed into a vicious and aggressive defense.

Secondary: OSU safeties Lance Mitchell (42) and Cameron Collins (44) are second and third in tackles for the Beavs.

Mitchell -- who has been slowed by a leg injury -- leads the team with three interceptions. On the corner, it's a three man show again in 2009 for the Beavs. Tim Clark, Brandon Hardin, and James Dockery have shown improvement the past two weeks, allowed only 353 yards through the air.

WSU has been, you guessed it, devastated by injuries here as well with eight different players starting at the four DB spots. S Tyree Toomer has missed the entire year, while Daniel Simmons, arguably the Cougs' best corner earlier, is out for the season. S LeAndre Daniels, expected to contribute significantly, is sidelined. So is Chima Nwachukwu (8 starts).

The pass defense for Washington State allows 282.7 yards per contest and will face a tough test against the conference's best passing offense. Senior safety Xavier Hicks has played in 44 games in his Cougar career, this season leads the team in tackles (75) and has recorded one interception.

Pick: Beavers. The OSU secondary has undeniably played better of late, but they've still shown themselves to be vulnerable in spots. Still, can't pick a squad allowing 282 passing yards through the air per game, even though OSU allows 253. That Beaver average is likely to decrease, however, with the protection problems up front getting worse for the Cougars with a surging Beaver D coming to town.


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