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Oregon State 101: Harness the crimson advantage

JUST AS OREGON STATE was starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, the injury bug made life very difficult. Oregon State got a huge upset win over Cal earlier this month followed by a narrow loss to Utah -- but it came at a heavy personnel cost. A rowdy OSU homecoming crowd Saturday and a tenacious pass defense will test Washington State, but the Cougs have firepower to overcome it.

Starting quarterback Darrel Garretson was lost for the year, and star running back Ryan Nall has effectively missed the last two games with a foot injury.
 
AT A GLANCE: Cougars (5-2) vs Beavers (2-5)

KICKOFF:
7:45 p.m. PT

WHERE:
Reser Stadium (45,674)

TELEVISION:
ESPN 2

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

THE LINE:
Washington State is favored by 13 ½ points (Line opened at WSU by 15).

LAST MEETING:
Washington State won 52-31 in Pullman in 2015.

THE SERIES:
WSU leads 50-47-3.

MATT MOORE’S PREDICTION:
Cougs 42, Beavers 17

THE BEAVERS ON OFFENSE:
QB Marcus McMaryion: OSU lost its starting quarterback for the season against Utah. Two plays later the backup went down too. But third-stringer Marcus McMaryion isn't exactly a greenhorn -- he started two games last year. He hasn’t developed into a strong passing threat but he can make plays with his feet. In a smallish sample size, McMaryion has completed 49 percent with one TD and two INTs (17-35, 224 yards).

RBs Ryan Nall, Artavis Pierce and Tim Cook: The 235-pound Nall is one of the strongest backs in the conference, but he has been out with a foot injury since Oct. 15. The Cougs should anticipate his return and even if he is out, expect the Beavers to rely heavily on the ground attack to try and keep the game under control and the ball away from Luke Falk and Co.

WR Victor Bolden and Seth Collins: Bolden is OSU's best pure receiver, but the real X-factor from this chair is Collins. He was the Beavers starting quarterback last year and is a real threat on trick plays. More so, he looks like he has the potential to become a heckuva wideout. Bolden is Oregon State's fastest player and used regularly on jet sweeps, so the WSU linebackers must key on him any time he goes in motion.

Overview
Oregon State's offense has not found its stride under second-year man Gary Andersen, and injuries are not helping the situation. The Beavers were without their top two quarterbacks and top two running backs the last week, and the starters for this week remain unclear. The biggest question mark is Nall. He averages over 7.2 yards per rush and is a legitimate beast. Nall was doubtful last week and has been upgraded to questionable this week.

Strategy
Oregon State put up 47 points on Cal but that performance is starting to look more like an outlier. The Beavers have scored just 37 combined points in their other three Pac-12 games. OSU is simply not an effective passing team and tend to see the game get out of reach if they can’t pound it out on the ground. The Cougs need to keep their focus on the ground attack, and force McMaryion to try and beat them with his arm.

Key Stat
88.5 rating: OSU ranks No. 126 nationally in passing efficiency.

THE BEAVERS ON DEFENSE:
ILB Caleb Saulo: A native of Kent, the senior linebacker leads the team in tackles. He also has an interception and two sacks to his credit.

OLB Bright Ugwoegbu: Ugwoegbu plays a hybrid linebacker/safety position and is OSU’s most effective blitzer. He leads the team with 3 ½ sacks and 7 tackles for loss.

Overview
After a weekend in the sun, the Cougs need to prepare for soggy conditions in Corvallis. Oregon State’s defense ranks No. 20 nationally in pass efficiency and will try to make Falk’s life as hard as possible. The Beavers have decent size in their 3-4 defense.

Strategy
Oregon State has a solid pass defense, but they have had a hard time stopping the run. Every Pac-12 opponent has rushed for 200-plus yards against the Beavers. Luke Falk took a ton of punishment last week and needs to avoid sacks. Therefore, rather than Jamal Morrow and Co. (pictured above) running wild, I expect Mike Leach to make this his bucket list game where he throws it 100 percent of the snaps. I’m just kidding. I think.

Key Stat
5 Interceptions: The efficiency numbers have been solid, but the Beavers’ defense have not generated big plays.

THE BEAVERS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Kicker Garrett Owens has been inconsistent this season -- but Victor Bolden has been deadly as a kick returner, something the Cougars should be wary of testing.

FINAL THOUGHTS
* The Cougars will be a homecoming opponent for the second consecutive week. Conference road games can be extremely challenging, especially at night.

* Falk's first start came at OSU two years ago. He played like a seasoned pro and led the Cougs to a 39-32 comeback victory in the fourth quarter while tossing 5 TD passes.

RELATED STORY: Tuesday practice report


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