WSU in Week 7: Can Cougs exploit Beav DTs?

EVERYONE AND THEIR uncle are predicting a big season for Oregon State, the Week 7 opponent for WSU. Just like everyone and their uncle were predicting a lowly season last season for OSU. And therein lies the problems for the vast majority of preseason picks – they're so heavily predicated on the season before. So what will WSU face when they host the Beavs on Dad's Weekend in Pullman?

A good team, but also one that won't sneak up on anyone like they did last year.

Picked to finish behind the Cougs and in sixth place in the Pac-12 North, OSU rocketed out to a 6-0 start in 2012. They went 3-4 the rest of the way but a 9-4 mark and Top 25 ranking made the pundits look like puppets.

The 2013 OSU team will be a preseason Top 25 pick, but it's also a squad with a lot of questions. Chief among them, Oregon State hasn't settled on their quarterback yet. Even more of a concern, believe it or not, is at defensive tackle.

DEFENSIVELY, OREGON STATE has a star in defensive end Scott Crichton. He nearly went crimson out of Foss High and CougFans have lamented it ever since. He was one of only two underclassmen last year to be named Pac-12 First Team on defense.

Opposite Crichton, Dylan Wynn reminds some of Travis Long, a relentless sort who plays with a mean streak.

But in between those two, OSU has serious, serious questions.

On the pre-spring depth chart, both of the starting d-tackles were mid-year junior college transfers – and Edwin Delva and Siale Hautau have yet to play a down in the Pac-12. And yet, they came in as starters. What does that tell you?

No way around it, OSU gets a failing grade for DT recruiting in recent years and unless something unexpected happens, JUCO d-tackles will start the season up front. Delva didn't look Pac-12 ready in the spring and neither did Hautau, an then he got injured. Riley is counting upon another JUCO transfer, Kyle Peko, to give the DTs a boost in fall camp.

But the middle could sag this year for Oregon State, and teams are expected to exploit it. OSU has two fine outside linebackers in D.J. Alexander and Michael Doctor, but they're replacing their MIK in 2013. Joel Skotte shows a lot of promise, but the sophomore is going to be tested with the lack of proven interior playmakers.

The Beaver secondary loses All-America corner Jordan Poyer but they should still be pretty good. Rashaad Reynolds is one of the more unsung corners in the conference and perhaps the nation, having been overshadowed by Poyer in 2012. Sean Martin is a workmanlike CB opposite him, and will be tested by opposing offenses for weaknesses.

The safeties are big-time, though, with Ryan Murphy and Tyrequek Zimmerman giving the Beavs one of the best, if not the best, safety tandems in the conference. Both are juniors and both are worrisome for opposing offenses.

ON OFFENSE, Sean Mannion (junior) and Cody Vaz (senior) each showed the good and the bad last season. Mannion was stellar to start the season and Vaz wasn't in the conversation. A Mannion injury saw Vaz come in and light up BYU. After Mannion came back, both cooled off and each hit rough spots. And Mike Riley exacerbated the situation by pulling one and then sticking with the other too long.

When Mannion is on, he can play at as high a level as anyone in the conference, as the Cougs found out in 2011 (a 44-21 WSU loss). But when he's not, he's subpar (as WSU saw in the 19-6 loss last year.) He also hung his head big-time in 2012 when he got benched.

Vaz is still a bit of an unknown quantity, having played little until last season. While Mannion is the quintessential pocket passer who likes to go deep, Vaz is a touch passer, the kind of guy who just makes plays.

Protecting Vaz is an o-line that at times did just enough last year. OSU was 19th in passing last year, not the way Mike Riley prefers to win. But OSU was 101st in rushing and Riley also is a guy who will go with what works.

OSU is likely to feature three seniors and two sophomores up front and one of those sophomores, Isaac Seumalo at center, already has NFL scouts drooling over him. It's a solid but not overpowering o-line, and the Beavs were susceptible to sacks last year – in part due to immobile QBs – and they couldn't run effectively, particularly in the first part of the season.

They ran better when Storm Woods got going. He's had injury problems but he could be on the cusp of a breakout year based on how he looked this spring. A lot is riding on Woods in 2013, because OSU has journeyman types behind him.

The Beavs have a star in wideout Brandin Cooks. He could improve on his route running and blocking but he has an acceleration gear few do and if he finds a seam, he's gone. Split end Richard Mullaney is a lot like ‘ol Coug slotback Scott Lunde, he can rise up and make those critical catches to keep chains moving and drives alive.

H-back Connor Hamlett (brother of former Cougar DE Casey Hamlett) came into his own last year as a receiving threat. Ignore him and he'll make you pay.

BUT WILL OSU's strengths matter all that much if the Beaver defensive front is as vulnerable as critics think it might be?

And there isn't a lot of proven depth at most of the positions -- on defense or offense.

Oregon State will need to avoid injury, and they'll need to play near their ceiling on a more consistent basis if they're going to meet expectations this season. This could be a game where the Cougs surprise them -- and the pundits.

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