Where: Martin Stadium
When: 3:30 PT
TV: Live on Fox Sports
Line: Cougs by 7.5
Saturday revealed that the Beavers still haven't fixed the turnover and penalty problems that plagued them last year. This is by far the most talented squad OSU has assembled since their 2000 Fiesta Bowl campaign, but their legacy will be that of underachievement if they can't find some poise quickly.
New-old OSU coach Mike Riley has done a fairly good job leading this group, but he also got heavily out-coached by a Husky staff that had previously appeared inept. A win against WSU coach Bill Doba would go a long way to establishing himself higher in the new Pac-10 pecking order. But he will have to silence a battle-hardened group of veteran Cougs and raucous Martin Stadium crowd if he wants to get his team back on track.
Washington State enters this contest on a conference-best five game winning streak and are now bowl eligible. But the kind of bowls six wins make you eligible for aren't the pretty ones. This game will be a deciding factor in determining if the Cougars spend the Holidays in the spotlights or the Insights.
THE BEAVERS ON OFFENSE
Overview: Saturday's game should be the biggest test so far for Damage Incorporated. Oregon State leads the conference in total offense, averaging over 460 yards per game. Even more impressive is the offensive balance they've achieved; they rank No. 1 in rushing yards and second in passing yards (only WSU has more). They are as talented at the skill positions as you will find anywhere in the country and the group features 10 multi-year starters.
Strategy: Despite the apparent balance in their statistics, the offense relies heavily on of the play of running back Steven Jackson. The Beavers are used to teams focusing on him, but have enjoyed success running the ball anyway. WSU absolutely must keep Jackson in check to slow the Beavers down. He will probably get his 100 yards, but he cannot be allowed to get to 150. Sure tackling and containment are a must. When the running game bogs down, the pressure immediately shifts to <b>Derek Anderson's</b> passing. When he has time to operating he can be highly effective, but he also folds like a deck of cards under pressure. Cougar sack specialists, D.D. Acholonu and Isaac Brown, need attack Anderson with a vengeance.
Players to Know:
Steven Jackson, RB: Before last weekend, Jackson hadn't been held under 100 yards all year. A prototype mix of size, speed, and power, Jackson will run wild on you if you give him an inch to work with. In the games OSU has won, Jackson averaged 6.1 yards per carry, in the games they've lost, he has averaged just 3.1 yards.
Derek Anderson, QB: Anderson is the ultimate Jeckel & Hyde quarterback, as evidenced by the fact that he leads the conference in both passing yards and passes intercepted. He should be a great quarterback and sometimes is, but he also has a growing reputation for imploding under pressure. When he has time to operate he'll rack up huge yards, but if the Beavers are struggling he'll probably compound the problems. In the Beavers two losses this year he completed just 39 percent of his passes and threw 8 interceptions.
James Newson, WR: While Mike & Reggie Williams still grab most of the Pac-10 press clippings, Newson has quietly emerged as one of the best receivers in the country. He had over 1200 receiving yards last year and is on pace to crack 1500 this season. Nationally, he trails only Larry Fitzgerald of Pitt in receiving yards. While he may get a ton of yardage teams have had some success keeping him out of the end zone. He has only one touchdown catch this year.
THE BEAVERS ON DEFENSE
Overview: This group still bears the legacy of all Dennis Erickson defenses: They are fast, hard-hitting, and remarkably undisciplined. The Beavers lead the nation in unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and have a lot of trouble keeping their mouths shut. One positive aspect of the loss to Washington may be humility. When they are able to keep their composure, they are really a powerful group.
Strategy: Despite their tremendous speed, the Beavers have managed to generate the second fewest turnovers in the conference. WSU should probably choose to match aggression with aggression in their game plan. Setup the Beavers for over-pursuits with counters and comeback routes and take advantage of their frustration/celebration penalties. Matt Kegel needs to be very accurate in his throws as opposing quarterbacks are only completing 42 percent of their passes against the Beaver secondary. WSU also must find somebody to run the football or we may get smothered.
Players to Know:
Richard Siegler, LB: Siegler is making another strong case for defensive player of the year in the Pac-10, as has been since he started playing. He is big, fast and active, tallying 51 tackles so far this season. He headlines a Beaver defense that loves to hit you and likes telling you about it even more.
Mitch Meeuwsen, FS: Meeuwson has stepped up and done a fantastic job leading the Pac-10's top rated pass defense. He is a solid ball hawk that has the size (6-3, 210) to break up jump balls.
Bill Swancutt, DE: The junior is the complete package at DE. He has the size to stop the run (6-4, 264) but is also OSU's top pass rusher with 16 sacks to his credit over the past two seasons.
THE BEAVERS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
The Beavers are not a very disciplined group and this translates into sloppy special teams. They rank among the worst in the conference for nearly every aspect of kick returning and coverage (ask UW's Charles Frederick about this). Their lone bright spot in special teams is kicker Kirk Yliniemi, who has connected on 23 of 26 career field goals attempts. Cougar return phenom Sammy Moore has a golden opportunity to have an impact in this game.
I hope the refs have been using their Bowflexes because they could get a workout in this one. Between WSU and Oregon State, this game will feature two of the most penalized teams in the nation. The refs have appeared more and more aware of this fact in recent games as the trend has been getting worse not better. Expect any questionable penalties to get called in an effort to keep these teams under control. Wazzu fans need to be a vocal factor in pushing as many calls as possible in the Cougars favor. This should be a close game that could be decided by one mental mistake.