The Oregon State Beavers welcome the #9 Arizona State Sun Devils to Reser Stadium Saturday night. While the two teams are on opposite ends of the post-season spectrum in 2014, both squads have a considerable amount of leverage to gain within their respective situations.
The Sun Devils are currently ninth in the polls, and aside from eyeing their first appearance in the Pac-12 Championship Game, Arizona State is also clawing its way into College Football Playoff contention. After a dominating win over Notre Dame last weekend, the Sun Devils appear to be the real deal in the Pac-12 South.
Standing between those post-season dreams are match ups against Oregon State, Washington State, and finally, an I-10 showdown with #19 Arizona; for my money, the best Pac-12 rivalry game of 2014.
The Beavers are coming off a disheartening 39-32 home loss to Washington State, and having dropped five of their last six contests, need wins over #9 Arizona State, a road win at Washington, and a major upset in the Civil War simply to stay bowl eligible. The outlook is bleak, but Oregon State may have the tools to overcome their first of three tough games.
While Arizona State scores with the best of them, their defense can be porous at times. The Sun Devils are giving up an average of about 165 yards per game on the ground. Teams like USC, Notre Dame, and UCLA that move the ball well on the ground have had the best luck scoring points against Arizona State.
Counter to that, Arizona State has the second best pass defense in the conference. Teams like Stanford, Washington, and Utah that relied on their passing game, fell victim to the Sun Devil secondary, none of whom were able to score more than 20 points in match ups against Arizona State.
To no one’s surprise (especially opposing defensive coordinators..) Oregon State has leaned heavily on the pass in 2014. The Beavers are the only team in the Pac-12 (besides Washington State) that has yet to eclipse the 1,000 yard rushing mark as a team. It’s the reason The Beavers have been so inconsistent on offense this year.
Senior Terron Ward has led the way in 2014 with 548 yards and 9 touchdowns. Storm Woods has battled nagging injuries all year, but has still managed 466 yards on the ground, to go along with 3 scores. Though he’s only appeared sparingly this year, sophomore Chris Brown has shown flashes of quickness and an eye for the end zone. The Fresno, Calif. product has 90 yards and 2 touchdowns on 21 rushes this year.
While Sean Mannion’s arm will no doubt be key for Oregon State’s offensive potency. It’s hardly realistic to think that The Beavers could out run the Sun Devils. Arizona State will put up the points and The Beavers will need to move the ball quickly to keep pace.
The rushing attack could tilt the tempo of the game in Oregon State’s favor. Running the ball instead of passing on third and short, using the diversity of the Beaver backfield to establish consistency in the red zone, and controlling the clock are all things Oregon State is capable of, thus, an upset of #9 Arizona State, while a long shot, would still not be the biggest upset of the last decade inside the hallowed stairwells of Reser Stadium.