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The Early Glimpse: Washington State vs. Oregon State

LAST SUMMER, many Cougar fans grabbed a 2015 Washington State football schedule and began projecting wins and losses. Win here, win there, lose this one, etc. After five games, the majority likely had Washington State sitting at 3-2, a record that included a win over an Oregon school. But my guess is every single one of you had that school as Portland State, not Oregon.

This is one reason we love college football. If the game was as predictable as putting wins and losses on a schedule in July, why go to the stadium or watch on television?

If you think about it, 3-2 with a loss to Portland State and a win over Oregon is a much better scenario than 3-2 with a win over the Vikings and a loss to Ducks. A win over Oregon nearing the midway point of the season gives Washington State substantial momentum heading into the teeth of the schedule, whereas if it were Portland State, who cares?

A 3-2 record with a win over Oregon gives fans great optimism that it can become 4-2 with a very beatable Oregon State team coming to Martin Stadium at 1 p.m. Saturday (Pac-12 Networks, WSU by 7 1-2).

Without the Portland State loss, last Saturday's result probably doesn't happen. Portland State, it turns out, is going to be best thing that happen to the 2015 Cougars in my mind. It shook this team to its core. It put the Cougars in a desperate, we better get this right mood.

But now is no time for back pats. Much was made of Mike Leach's unemotional look while being interviewed by the Pac-12 Network following the Cougars' 45-38 win over Oregon. Not sure what would cause Leach to smile -- landing a 5-star quarterback? Authoring a New York Times bestseller? Not having to fulfill a head coach's media obligations? -- but what he said was important. While Leach was proud of his players and the grit they showed in winning the game, he also made a point that his team has a lot of improving to do.

Washington State is far from a great team. It can get a lot better. The offense is more of a threat, now that there's a hint of a running game, but it still gives up too many sacks, not to mention the dropped passes, and is prone to stretches where it doesn't put points on the board. Defensively, the Cougars continue to whiff on myriad tackles. In today's college football era, with less physical contact in practice, missed tackles are part of the game. But there shouldn't be as many as Washington State had Saturday.

The biggest improvement the Cougars can make, though, is making the home field matter. It's become a running joke that Bill Moos ought to schedule 12 road games a year, because Washington State seems to play better outside of Pullman. This shouldn't happen. Starting Saturday, it's time to give Cougar fans a good show and play like a team that is a touchdown-plus favorite.

About Oregon State: This marks Washington State's first look at a Gary Andersen-coached team, which bears little resemblance to the Mike Riley pro-style Beavers of years past. Andersen prefers the spread attack, and made that clear when he hired spread-'em-out Dave Baldwin as offensive coordinator. Cougar fans may remember Baldwin as the OC at Colorado State from the 2013 New Mexico Bowl.

The Andersen era is off to a predictable start. Riley didn't leave a stocked cupboard for Andersen, and not much was expected of the Beavers in 2015. The script is playing out as such, as Oregon State (2-3, 0-2) has wins over Weber State and San Jose State, and double-digit losses to Michigan, Stanford and Arizona. The Beavers are coming off their worst performance of the season, a 44-7 pasting at Arizona.

Washington State gets Oregon State at its low point. The Beavers were dreadful at Arizona, a team that has played dead for much of the season until it faced Oregon State. In his Monday press conference, Andersen made references to the Beavers putting on "our big-boy pants," and he wanted to see how much fight the players had in them.

At the forefront of Oregon State's rebuild is a true freshman at quarterback in Seth Collins. Elusive and a friend of photographers because of a penchant for hurdling tacklers, Collins is predictably erratic as a first-year college player. Through five games, Collins has completed 60 of 119 passes for 637 yards and five touchdowns. Collins also leads the Beavers in rushing with 362 yards and four scores. In two road games, Collins is 17 of 40 for 135 yards.

Oregon State's running game is a work in progress. Running back Storm Barrs-Woods can be handful when he's right, but that's not always the case. A week after a highly-publicized no-show against Michigan, Barrs-Woods ran for 151 yards and a touchdown against San Jose State. But in two Pac-12 games this season, Barrs-Woods has only 95 yards total. Barrs-Woods needs 47 yards against the Cougars to become No. 5 on OSU's career rushing yardage list.

Oregon State's top receiver is Jordan Villamin, but his status is unknown after leaving the Arizona game with an injury following a vicious hit. Villamin has 20 catches for 300  yards and three touchdowns this season. The Beavers' other receiving threat is Victor Bolden (17-109, 1 TD).

In the Pac-12, the Beavers rank last in scoring offense (19.8 ppg), total offense (320.4 ypg) and passing offense (139.4 ypg).

Defensively, the statistical picture is a little better, although Arizona shredded the Beavers for 368 rushing yards and 644 total yards last Saturday. Within the league, Oregon State ranks 10th in scoring defense (29.8 ppg), seventh in total defense (393.6 ypg), first in pass defense (177.6 ypg) and last in rushing defense (216.0 ypg).

Oregon State's pass defense statistic is a little misleading, as opponents can't help themselves with the Beavers' run-friendly defense. But it's still not bad, as OSU is fourth in pass efficiency defense in the Pac-12.

Defensively, Andersen hired renowned defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake, who previously was at Utah. The Beavers are young on defense, and it's showing as Sitake has so far been unable to take the wraps off the pressure defense he likes to play.

Linebacker Rommel Mageo is OSU's most productive player on defense, as he leads the team in tackles (41) and sacks (2), and is one of five Beavers with an interception this season. Other OSU defenders to watch are linebacker Caleb Saulo, safety Justin Strong and defensive end Titus Failauga.

The series: In 2014, Luke Falk threw for 471 yards and five touchdowns in his first collegiate start to lead Washington State to a 39-32 win over Oregon State in Corvallis. The Beavers have won three of the past four meetings. Overall, the Cougars lead the series 49-47-3.

Familiar faces: The most notable is a former Cougar, receiver Rahmel Dockery (Tacoma-Curtis High). Dockery's primary role is that as OSU's main punt and kick returner. Dockery is one of nine Washingtonians on Oregon State's roster. They are freshman OL Drew Clarkson (Camas), senior TE Kellen Clute (Spokane-Mt. Spokane), freshman OL Mason Johnson (Kent-Kentlake), senior OL Josh Mitchell (North Bend-Mount Si), freshman quarterback Nick Mitchell (North Bend-Mount Si), junior linebacker Caleb Saulo (Kent-Kentlake), senior tight end Caleb Smith (Kent-Kentridge) and junior OL Dustin Stanton (Marysville-Lakewood).

NOTABLE NOTES

  • Andersen knows Luke Falk well. Falk went to Logan High, in the same town at Utah State, where Andersen used to be the football coach. Falk played high school football with Andersen's sons Chasen and Hagen, now at Utah State.


  • Washington State hasn't won a home game over Oregon State -- including Seattle in 2011 -- since 2003. None have been all that close, either, as the Beavers has four straight road wins over WSU by an average score of 48-18.

 

Read Nick Daschel’s occasional Pac-12 ramblings at twitter.com/nickdaschel<br><br>

 

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