Oregon State 101: Which O reigns, WSU or OSU?

THE BEAVERS MAY have gotten the week off to prepare for the Cougs, but WSU got in some quality scrimmage time against the Golden Bears. And from my chair, Oregon State is essentially a better version of Cal. They have a high octane passing offense -- and a weak passing defense.

And if the Cougs can protect Connor Halliday, he should light up the stat sheet and scoreboard. But he and the Cougars are going to be hard pressed to keep pace with the combination of Sean Mannion to Brandin Cooks (52 catches, 807 yards, 9 TDs.)

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Cougars (4-2) vs Beavers (4-1)
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
7:30 pm Pacific Time

WHERE:
Martin Stadium (33,522)

TELEVISION:
ESPNU

RADIO:
The Cougar Sports Radio Network covers much of the West. Click here for listings.

THE LINE:
WSU by 1

LAST MEETING:
2012, WSU lost 19-6.

THE SERIES:
WSU is 48-46-3 in the series.

CF.C PREDICTION:
Cougs 44, Beavers 41

THE BEAVERS ON OFFENSE

Players to Know
Sean Mannion QB: Mannion might as well change his name to Manning with the numbers he is putting up this season. He leads the nation in passing yards (2,018) and has thrown at least 367 yards in all five of OSU's games this season. But more impressive has been the junior's improved accuracy. He has thrown just two interceptions against 21 touchdowns.

Brandin Cooks, WR: Cooks leads the nation in receiving yards and has looked unstoppable at times. He has registered multi-touchdown performances in four out of five games this season.

Storm Woods, RB: OSU's leading rusher in 2012 has had a rough start this season. He got a concussion three weeks ago and will make his return against WSU this week. He is key the Beavers ground attack, which has been missing in action both with and without Woods this season.

Isaac Seumalo, C: He is a true sophomore coming and has picked up right where he left off as a true freshman starter. When the Beavs saw injuries decimate their paper-thin line, Seumalo actually moved out to right tackle – and excelled there too. Listed at 6-3, 305, he's a virtual lock to play on Sundays down the road. His surrounding cast is not as impressive, but they've absolutely gotten the job done in protecting Mannion through five games.

Overview
Oregon State's passing offense has been nothing short of spectacular this season. The Beavers have averaged 420 passing yards per game and have stayed largely mistake-free. Some credit needs to go to the soft schedule (OSU has not faced a defense ranked higher than No. 70 in total defense) but the numbers are undeniably great. Mannion has not been aided by any semblance of a running game either. The Beavers have managed just 68 rushing yards per game (2.4 yard average) and their three running backs have averaged a combined 19.8 carries per game. The return of Woods adds another dimension – one that the media covering OSU is saying this week could propel Oregon State to another level.

Strategy
Sure, Cooks deserves extra attention but he's still going to get his yards – and WSU needs to prevent him from turning decent grabs into long TD catch-and-runs. But what the Cougs really need to do is pressure Mannion to keep the passing game in check. The Beavers have surrendered just six sacks this season. The o-line has been poor in run blocking but very good in pass protection. OSU gets RG Grant Enger back and his return has led to a good week of practice up front for the Beavs this week.

I said it above but it can't be overstated -- the Cougs need to severely decrease the number of long pass plays given up. Cal showed WSU's vulnerability to the deep ball. The Cougars need to trust their red zone defense, which has proven to be very strong this year. A shoe-string tackle near the goal line can prove to be a very important play, as it was against Cal. Washington State also needs to make some hay against OSU's true freshman right tackle, Sean Harlow. He's probably going to a good one but right now, he's (understandably) both green and undersized by a good 20 pounds.

Key Statistic
21:2 Touchdown-to-Interception Ratio: Oregon State has rarely made mistakes this year but the Cougs have some ball hawks in their secondary, including Deone Bucannon, Damante Horton and Daquawn Brown. Mannion could finally be ready for a "bad day", the type of which he was often known for before this season.

THE BEAVERS ON DEFENSE

Players to Know
Scott Crichton, DE: An All-America candidate, Crichton often drawn double teams which is hampering his sack totals this year. He still leads the team with eight tackles for a loss but with the exception of the first half at Utah, hasn't shown as much fire as some expected. When he is on, though, look out.

Rashaad Reynolds, RCB: Reynolds in my mind is the best player in a beleaguered secondary, although I'll get an argument from those who point to safety Ryan Murphy. Reynolds was a Pac-12 honorable mention last year and a decent NFL prospect.

D.J. Alexander and Jabral Johnson, OLBs: Oregon State, according to the Oregonian, is going to play a lot of nickel and dime against WSU and that means middle linebacker Rommel Mageo comes off the field in those packages. Alexander is a quick, established veteran who is still rounding into form after an injury put him on the bench to start the year. Johnson came in when starter Michael Doctor was lost for the year in fall camp. Johnson is young, but he's impressed at times.

Overview
OSU's defense has been porous this season. They rank No. 68 in total defense and No. 92 against the pass. In the loss to Eastern Washington they surrendered 49 points. They also gave up 48 points to Utah, and 30 to San Diego State. It can be argued they turned a corner in the second half against the Aztecs and continued that with their most impressive defensive effort of the season -- against Colorado before last week's bye. The problem there is that Colorado and SDSU's offenses rank No. 73 and 68 respectively.

Strategy
If the WSU can handle OSU's defensive ends, Crichton and the perpetually high-energy, always-plays-angry Dylan Wynn, the Cougs should put up a lot of points. OSU's defense simply hasn't been very good, particularly against the pass, with the exception of the game against Colorado. OSU will likely shift to zone sooner than Cal did against Washington State in an effort to contain the receivers and make Halliday execute as many throws as possible. The Cougs' flood plays, on paper, should work well.

Key Statistic
8.1 yards surrendered per pass attempt: Before the Cougs shredded the Golden Bears, Oregon State ranked dead last in the conference in passing efficiency defense.

THE BEAVERS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Kicker Trevor Romaine has missed two out of three field goal attempts beyond 40 yards this year, but is perfect inside of 40. The punt and kick return units are all statistically ranked below the national averages. Some believe return man and true freshman Vicro Bolden (5-9, 165) is due to break off a big return or two.

FINAL THOUGHTS
  • The Beavers are really confident in their passing game and believe they can torch the Cougar defense. The biggest issues they come into this game have to do with their own defense.

  • OSU is an unknown quantity because they have basically only played two games of sound defensive football and it was against two offenses generally considered to be poor at best (Colorado and Hawaii.)

  • Despite having played five games, the Beavers have not yet proven themselves to the doubters. A win over Washington State would go a long ways towards doing that.

  • Cooks is the headliner but watch out for TE Connor Hamlett and WR Richard Mullaney – both have the potential to string together key grabs on key drives. Mullaney is who Mannion has looked for most on critical third- and fourth-downs while Hamlett has caused matchup problems galore at 6-7, 263 pounds.

  • Oregon State trailed 24-14 at the half against SDSU, 29-17 to Eastern after two quarters and were tied with Hawaii 14-14 at the break. They led at the half against both Colorado and SDSU, needing a late score to forge a 17-3 lead and holding a 20-10 edge, respectively. All this is to say the Beavs have made their living in the second half. If WSU gets out to a lead at the break, it is of major importance to come out with a 0-0 mindset to start the third quarter -- or risk becoming yet another could-woulda-shoulda teams left in shock and in OSU's comeback wake.

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