LAS VEGAS BOWL: Turning the corner on BYU

BYU TOPS THE majority of offensive statistical categories in the Mountain West Conference -- and that could mean a very large challenge for an Oregon State secondary that is suddenly lean on experience.

"We are thin," coach Mike Riley said of his cornerbacks. "It is unfortunate to be thin at this position this late in the year against a team as prolific as BYU."

Indeed, the secondary took a major hit in the Civil War when senior and starting cornerback Tim Clark broke his left leg, ending his collegiate career.

His statistics will be missed, he is the team's fifth leading tackler, but his leadership skills will be missed even more.

Clark has played in every game since 2007 and is one of a young team's emotional leaders.

WITH CLARK OUT of the lineup, sophomore Brandon Hardin, senior Patrick Henderson and true freshman Jordan Poyer have all been working out at cornerback this week.

Hardin is the top candidate to start in Clark's spot, opposite the Beavs' other corner starter James Dockery.

Hardin, who has played in all 12 games this season, has two starts under his belt and has impressed with his deadly blend of size and speed. He just needs more experience. Against ASU, he was money -- with lock down coverage and solid run support. Two weeks later, against USC, it was a mixed bag for Hardin, with a pair of missed tackles turning into big Trojan plays. On balance, however, the good has certainly outweighed the bad when it comes to Hardin this season.

On the season, Hardin has 28 tackles (19 solo) with an interception and four pass break-ups.

HENDERSON IS A longtime Beaver who excels on special teams, but has not shown the consistency to be an every-down corner over his career. In 12 games this season he has 15 tackles and a pass break-up.

Poyer is a safety, but due to depth issues he's working out with the cornerbacks during the bowl practices. Despite being just a freshman he is one of the best pure athletes on the team. He has 10 tackles in 12 games this season, and a fumble recovery.

What all three have in common is little experience, and that has got to make BYU quarterback Max Hall and company smile.

The Cougars bring to Las Vegas one of the most explosive offenses in the nation. The unit leads the Mountain West conference in passing offense, and is ranked No. 12 in the nation, with 288.9 yards per game. And Hall is ranked third in the land in pass efficiency, with a 160.93 rating.

Riley said in his Tuesday press conference that the Beavers must first stop the run against BYU, then focus on the pass. Sound logic, to be sure. But all things considered and due to OSU's concerns in the secondary, BYU may want to first focus on the pass on Tuesday, and then look to the run.

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