After a successful trip to Berkley, the Cougs (2-3, 1-2) will be coming home from their first road trip of the year, fittingly for their annual homecoming game, against the Oregon State Beavers (4-1, 2-0) who have been off to their hottest start since 2014 when they also started 4-1 that year before finishing 5-7.
It’s been a dominant run as of late for the Cougs in this series as they will look for their 8th straight win over the Beavers on Saturday. In four of those seven straight wins, the Cougs have put up at least 52 points.
The last time the two met in Pullman, it was what the old NCAA Football video game would call an “ESPN Instant Classic.” With the Cougs sitting at 5-5 and a trip to Seattle the next weekend, it felt like a must-win for Mike Leach’s Cougars to get to bowl eligibility for the fifth straight season. The Cougs trailed by 11 with just a hair over four minutes to go. A seven play, 75 yard drive would finish with the ball in the hands of Dezmon Patmon in the east endzone to cut the lead to five with nearly two minutes to go. Needing just 10 yards to put the game on ice after recovering an onside kick, the Beavers failed to convert on fourth and three after the ball went through the hands of Beavers TE Teagan Quitoriano. A fourth and eight conversion helped keep the drive alive for the Cougs as they would find themselves at the two yard with just three seconds to go. Anthony Gordon would put the trust in Max Borghi as he called an audible at the line and handed to Borghi who punched it in to give the Cougs the 54-53 lead and eventual win with just a second remaining.
In May of 2018, Nick Rolovich sent out a tweet bashing Oregon State head coach Jonathan Smith and his staff for allegedly sending Hawaii players recruiting materials and invites to Oregon State’s spring game and included the hashtags #leakydam and #sloppybeavers. The two finally got to settle it on the field in 2019 as Rolovich and the Rainbow Warriors came out on top in the 1st “tampering bowl” 31-28. The two would get to meet again last year as Rolovich would take a commanding 2-0 lead over Smith in the head-to-head rivalry as the Cougs would open up the 2020 campaign with a 38-28 win in Rolovich’s debut as the had coach of the Cougs.
The 2021 Oregon State Beavers.
The Jonathan Smith led Beavers are on a mission this season. After picking up their first win over USC in the LA Memorial Coliseum since Eisenhower was sitting in the oval office, the Beavers doubled down and snapped their decade long losing streak to the Washington Huskies last week on a game-winning field goal 24 yard field goal from Everett Hayes.
To call the Beavers a run-focused team would be an understatement. The most attempts in a game by a Beaver quarterback so far was now-starter Chance Nolan in week two against Hawaii with 29 attempts. Junior running back B.J. Baylor will do the heavy lifting for the Beaver backfield. Baylor has 81 carries for 533 yards and already has totaled nine touchdowns on the ground. Both his yards and touchdowns sit alone at first in the Pac-12. Behind Baylor will be sophomore Deshaun Fenwick who is averaging five and a half yards on 35 carries.
Junior Tyjon Lindsey leads the receiving scoring for the Beaver aerial attack with three of his 10 catches resulting in six points. Senior Trevon Bradford leads the team in receptions with just 13 but his 180 yards have made Bradford an efficient and reliable threat for Nolan.
The defense is nothing to sneeze at either. The Beavers have done an excellent job of building a mighty fine dam that has been stopping the flow of any offense who tries to go through it. The team is third in scoring defense, second in rushing yards allowed and fourth in the conference total yards allowed. They are anchored by junior linebacker Avery Roberts, who leads the conference in tackles at 51 total. The defensive line has a another pair of linebackers in Andrzej Hughes-Murray and Riley Sharp who are both tied for first in the conference with three sacks each which are apart of the conference’s second best 12 total sacks recorded by the OSU defense.
ESPN’s Power Football Index is rolling with the Beavers at a 70.1% chance to spoil WSU’s homecoming festivities and are slated as 3.5 point favorites.
Keys to Success
The defensive line has continued to get better and better as the weeks have gone on. Especially Ron Stone Jr. who ranks third for edge defenders in the Pac-12 according to Pro Football Focus. This will be a big test to see how far they’ve come along against an Oregon State team that loves to establish the run early and often. Linebackers Jahad Woods and Justus Rogers will likely be spending a majority of their time playing close to the line and stuffing the box to sniff out any Beaver rushing attempts.
Because of the run-heavy nature of the Beavers, they will likely be in control of the ball for a good majority of the game. We’ve seen what happens when the defense has had to stay on the field for too long in games, especially in the second half of those games. The offense is going to have to step up, control the ball and carry some long drives to give the defense a chance to catch their breath after trying to bring down Oregon State running backs all game.
It seemed Max Borghi was still affected enough by his elbow injury he suffered in the Utah game to see a reduction in snap counts against Cal. Pending any setbacks at practice late this week, we should we an uptick in field time for the senior running back. Having Borghi on the field will be a big key to the offense’s success in holding onto the football.
The Beavers have proved in back-to-back weeks that they are out to cut down any losing streak in their way. They ended the 61-year drought in Los Angeles and the decade long losing streak to the Huskies. Now they have an opportunity to end another streak this weekend and prevent the Cougs from celebrating homecoming with an eigth straight win over the northwest rival Beavers.
In order to keep this winning streak alive, ball control is going to be key. Keeping the ball out of the hands of the Beavers to prevent them from wearing down the defense early on will help keep this game close enough for the offense to hopefully capitalize and put some points on the board early and often.
The ball will be kicked from the 35 yard line at Gesa Field at Martin Stadium at 1:00 p.m. and can be seen on the Pac-12 Network.