Beavers bruising for a basement battle

PAC-10 schedulers please take note – there are good times for byes, and there are bad times for byes.

Oregon State (0-2, 1-4) at Washington (0-2, 1-4)
Saturday, October 16 - 12:30 PM (PDT), No TV
Husky Stadium
Series All-time: Washington leads, 57-27-4
Last Meeting: October 18, 2003 – Washington 38, Oregon State 17
Line: Oregon State by 7


For Washington, their week off came entirely too soon, following the season opener against Fresno State. They hadn't even memorized their locker combinations, much less were able to break their new jerseys in, and suddenly they had two weeks off. The U.C.L.A. game almost seemed like another opener – and the young Huskies played like it.

But if ever a team needed seven days to recharge their batteries, it was Oregon State this past week, who were toasted at home by California 49-7 on October 2 to fall to 1-4. After such a promising – and ultimately, heartbreaking – opener at Louisiana State, the Beavers' fortunes have been wanting week-by-week, culminating in the Golden Bear disaster in front of a booing Reser Stadium throng. "The bye week came at a good time for us," thought Beaver head coach Mike Riley, "probably more mentally than physically."

Earlier this week, safety Sabby Piscitelli labeled the hiatus as "a new start – now we can consider ourselves 0-0". Senior co-captain Doug Nienhuis told the Portland Tribune, "This was a good time to take a break from competing. We could focus on ourselves, and now apply it to (Washington)." Coach Riley reasoned in his press conference, "That's probably wishful thinking that (restarting at 0-0) is the way it should be. But I would think, knowing this team, we'll fight back from being 1-4."

Riley, at 9-9 since returning to Corvallis in 2003 take over for Dennis Erickson, is 17-23 overall in his two Beaver stints. Much like Keith Gilbertson in Seattle, both he and senior Derek Anderson have been hearing it lately from the locals.

However, all four Beaver losses have been to ranked teams – California, Arizona State, Louisiana State, and Boise State. The only ranked team remaining on the Oregon State schedule is USC, so the Beavers are looking at the rest of their season as an easier road, starting with the Huskies on Saturday. "Everybody will feel better after a win," said Riley, "so we need to start building like that. But it takes the first win – and the Huskies are like us in that they are very, very hungry for that first conference win."

"Here, we've got two teams that are proud teams of where the programs have been and where they need to be," surmises Riley. "We'll both have to prove it on the field. And it's in a place where the Beavers haven't won much in the past.

"We've got to break into Husky Stadium and start winning."

The last Oregon State team to start 1-4 was in 1995 under Jerry Pettibone, while the last Washington team to begin 1-4 was in 1973 under Jim Owens. Both teams would beat Idaho, and neither team would win a single conference game that particular year.

With a victory on Saturday, that will be one less worry for either team to mess with.

OREGON STATE OFFENSE
TEAM STATS:  18.6 points, 369.8 yards
             (8th PAC-10, 67.6 rush, 302.2 pass)
             9-15 in Red Zone offense
             (.600, 10th PAC-10) 

RUSHING:     Dwight Wright 78-329-3 TD (4.2), long 49
             Ryan Cole 30-77-0 TD (2.6), long 10

PASSING:     Derek Anderson 115-226-9 (.509),
             1437 yards, 10 TD

RECEIVING:   Mike Haas 38-601-4 TD (15.8), long 49
             Joe Newton 27-319-2 TD (11.9), long 31
             Marcel Love 13-147-0 TD (11.3), long 28


For good or bad, it's an offense that greatly resembles the Husky offense of 2003.

On a similar path as Cody Pickett took for Washington a year ago, Scappoose senior Derek Anderson continues up the Beaver ladder in most every career QB statistic as the weeks pass. Currently Anderson leads the conference in passing yardage, and against California became the ninth PAC-10 QB to surpass 9,000 career yards. However, his efficiency rating so far in 2004 is ninth among PAC-10 starting QBs (though WELL ahead of any Husky signal-caller), and his two career starts against UW have been downright dreadful. Anderson's combined stats in those two games: 36-for-88, 594 yards, 2 TDs, 8 INTs. He'll be attempting to atone – and turn the Beavers' season around – with one fell swoop.

Junior receiver Mike Haas has the leagues' surest hands, and has been the Beavers' best player. He leads the league in receptions and yardage, and was honored by the PAC-10 as its' Player-of-the Week for his 293-yard, three-TD explosion at Boise State. He also ripped Arizona State for 14 catches and 172 yards. RS-freshman Anthony Wheat-Brown has two TD receptions, as does sophomore TE Joe Newton. Newton suffered a shoulder sprain two weeks ago and could still be iffy here.

The Beavers simply haven't had a ground game to speak of. And it hasn't been easy for tailback Dwight Wright to step in for the departed Steven Jackson, but the speedy senior can break the big one – his three scores have covered 49, 49, and 45 yards. Wright netted a career-best 108 yards against New Mexico. Former South Kitsap standout Ryan Cole will spell Wright in short-yardage situations.

Seniors Doug Nienhuis and Matt Brock are three-year stalwarts on the offensive line, but sophs Josh Linehan and Adam Koets and freshman Roy Schuening are all in their first seasons with the top-flight. Nienhuis will likely be a first-team All-PAC-10 pick at tackle. The unit has allowed 13 sacks.

GAME OUTLOOK: The Husky defense has allowed the least amount of passing yards in the PAC-10, while the Beaver offense generates the most. Oregon State has killed themselves with turnovers (minus-seven for the year, worst in the conference), and may try to go with the running game early against a defense that gives up over 200 yards on the ground – even though nationally the Beavers rank 116th in rushing offense, better than only BYU. At least it would help Anderson settle in against a Washington team that has owned him the last two years.

OREGON STATE DEFENSE
TEAM STATS:     31.6 points, 318.0 yards
                (6th PAC-10, 138.6 rush, 179.4 pass) 
                18-21 in Red Zone defense
                (.857, 9th PAC-10)

TACKLES/TFL:    Trent Bray 54/3.0
                Aric Williams 27/2.0
                Keith Ellison 26/6.0

PASSES DEF/INT: Sabby Piscitelli 9/3
                Aric Williams 8/3
                Brandon Browner 5/0

SACKS:          Keith Ellison 3.0
                Alvin Smith 2.0
                Three players with 1.0


Who'd have thought that all-conference candidate Bill Swancutt would still be searching for his first sack five games into the season? The senior co-captain has 26 of them in a stellar four-year career, and constant double-teams have slowed him accordingly. Swancutt still leads the defensive front with 24 stops, while sophomore Ben Siegert has 19. Junior DE Sir Henry Anderson (it's his given name, not a title) is finally playing regularly after battling arm injuries throughout his career.

MLB Trent Bray has a sideline-to-sideline motor, and is the PAC-10's third-leading tackler with 54 stops - including 19 in the loss to Boise State. SAM linebacker Keith Ellison had a career game in the win over New Mexico with three sacks and four solo tackles, and senior Jonathan Pollard broke the career 100-tackle barrier two weeks ago against the Bears.

It's an experienced and hard-hitting secondary for Oregon State. Safety Sabby Piscitelli and corner Aric Williams have three interceptions each, tops in the conference. They also lead the PAC-10 in passes defensed with nine and eight, respectively. Senior free safety Mitch Meeuwsen will be making his team-leading 34th career start, and has 14 career thefts to go with his 171 career tackles, while opposite corner Brandon Browner picked off six passes a year ago.

GAME OUTLOOK: The Beavers allow a conference-low 44-percent pass completion rate, which is actually higher than the Huskies' dreadful 42.6 percent on offense - even though the UW O-line has given up only seven sacks. Sooner or later, the Huskies will have to prove to someone that they can do something besides sputter through the air or teams will just stack the box and dare them to throw. It wouldn't surprise if the Oregon State defense did just that, figuring that their experienced secondary should be able to man-cover the Washington receivers.

OREGON STATE SPECIAL TEAMS
PLACEKICKING:  Alexis Serna 2-2 FG (long 40), 3-6 XP 
               
PUNTING:       Sam Paulescu 36-41.9 (long 62),
               .167 inside-the-20
                
KICK RETURNS:  Yvenson Bernard 5-18.2 (long 31), 0 TD
               Sammy Stroughter 4-22.2 (long 37), 0 TD
                               
PUNT RETURNS:  Yvenson Bernard 12-5.8 (long 14), 0 TD
               Sammy Stroughter 3-9.3 (long 24), 0 TD


RS-freshman Alexis Serna's three extra-point misses at LSU were well-documented nationwide – junior John Dailey took the reins for a couple of weeks, missing his first two three-point efforts before Serna won the job back. And to be fair, though he hasn't had a lot of opportunities, Serna hasn't missed a kick since.

Third-team tailback Yvenson Bernard, from Boca Raton, FL, began the season as the primary kick returner, but some poor decisions at the goal line opened the door for true freshman speedster Sammy Stroughter, who assumed both duties in the Cal game and will do the same in Seattle this week.

GAME OUTLOOK: Don't expect a ton of points from special teams – the two sides have combined for only 10 field-goal attempts, and have made just half of them. Neither team has come remotely close to breaking a return of any kind, either – the Beavers have replaced their return tandem, while the Huskies' Anthony Russo still looks tentative in Charles Frederick's stead. Oregon State is a plus-two in blocked two kicks, while Washington still searches for numero uno while being a minus-three.


KIBBLES AND BITS

In the 10 PAC-10 conference games played so far, the visiting team has won six times ... For the season, California has completed one more pass than Washington – in 77 less attempts ... The Huskies haven't allowed a single fourth-down conversion in eight tries against them. Conversely, Oregon State has allowed three-of-four ... Manase Hopoi's 12 tackles-for-loss leads the conference by 2.5 over Oregon's Devan Long. His five sacks tie him for eighth in the nation ... It's been 70 games since the Beavers have started someone else at quarterback besides Anderson or (before him) Jonathan Smith ... Already half-way through the season, and neither Washington or Oregon State has scored a single defensive point ... Of course, the two most notable Husky names on the Oregon State coaching staff are secondary coach Nigel Burton and admin assistant Taylor Barton ... The Huskies have still scored only 16 points off of turnovers ... Joe Lobendahn sits ninth in the NCAA in tackles-per-game with 11.2. Evan Benjamin's 10 tackles per contest ranks him 24th ... ODD LOOKING STAT OF THE WEEK: The Nebraska offense leads the nation in pass interceptions against with 16. They must be loving Bill Callahan in Lincoln ...
Rick Samek can be reached at rsamek1@comcast.net

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