Washington State (2-3) at (14) Oregon State (3-0)
Saturday, October 6, 6:00 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Phil Neuffer, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The improbable run of the No. 14 Oregon State Beavers continues this week as the Washington State Cougars come to town for a Pac-12 conference tangle at Reser Stadium.
With the hiring of Mike Leach optimism was pumped back into the fans in Pullman, Washington but thus far the Leach era has gotten off to a slow start. The Cougars are just 2-3 after the first five weeks of the season including an 0-2 mark in the Pac-12. Leach's patented Air Raid offensive attack has taken some time to gel although in a 51-26 loss last weekend to No. 2 Oregon the Cougars hung around before falling apart in the second half.
There was very little hype surrounding Oregon State entering this season and even after downing a then nationally ranked Wisconsin team there was still questions about how legitimate the Beavers really were. After wins against a nationally ranked UCLA squad and Arizona last weekend the Beavers have officially proven they are for real. Oregon State is now 3-0 for the first time since 2002 and the team's No. 14 ranking in the top-25 is the highest ranking for an Oregon State squad since 2001.
"I thought that the approach and everything has been good since day one. They haven't really changed," head coach Mike Riley said of how his team has been affected by the early success,"This team seems to be pretty grounded and guys are pretty hungry. They know they're not perfect."
Last season Sean Mannion threw four touchdown passes to lift Oregon State over the Cougars 44-21 at CenturyLink Field. The win pulled the Beavers closer in the all-time series which they trailed 48-45-3 to Washington State. The Cougars have won two of their last three games in Corvallis.
Passing the ball is the top priority for the Washington State offense under Leach, just as it has been the past few seasons. The Cougars are still transitioning into Leach's system but have begun to improve in recent weeks. The Cougars have moved up to eighth in the Pac-12 in total offense this season (378.6 ypg), while ranking second in the conference in passing yards (1,665).
Marquess Wilson has been one of the best receivers in the country over the last few years and against Oregon he became arguably the best in Washington State history. Wilson caught 12 passes for 182 yards and now has 2,893 career receiving yards which is the most in school history. This season he has caught 30 passes for 499 yards and five touchdowns. Isiah Myers (26 receptions, 247 yards, 4 TDs) and Gabe Marks (22 receptions, 364 yards, 2 TDs) have also been dependable targets.
Who has been throwing to Wilson has been a bit of a mystery this season. The Cougars began the season with Jeff Tuel under center but he was only able to average 154.0 yards per game passing despite completing 72 percent of his pass attempts. So Leach turned to Connor Halliday who has been a bit better at least in terms of yardage throwing for 300.8 yards per game and 1,203 yards total to go with nine touchdowns and six interceptions.
Leach was never a defensive-minded head coach and that has been evident in his first season at Washington State. The Cougars are the second worst team through five games in scoring defense (32.6 ppg) and total defense (472.2 ypg). The Cougars have been especially weak in stopping teams in the red zone where opponents have scored 81 percent of the time to just 63 percent by the Cougars' offense.
Travis Long has been a bully on the defensive line this season with nine tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks, both team-highs, along with 32 total tackles. Darryl Monroe has also been an effective pass rusher with three sacks, while Deone Bucannon leads the team with 36 tackles and three interceptions.
Oregon State is scoring only 25.0 points per game this season which doesn't totally match the squad's 489.3 yards per game in total offense. Part of the issue has been a failure to consistently get into the red zone with the Beavers, making only 11 trips this season. Still with a 91.0 percent conversion rate, once within the 20 the Beavers are able to score effectively.
Sean Mannion is having a nice season under center. Mannion has completed 64.6 percent of his pass attempts this season with only one interception while racking up 1,088 yards and six touchdown passes. He is averaging 362.7 passing yards per game, which is the best mark in the Pac-12.
Mannion has been privileged with one of the more talented receiving duos in the nation in Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks. Wheaton has caught 27 passes for 403 yards and three scores, while Cooks has fewer receptions (21) and touchdowns (two) but slightly more yards (404).
"It always helps to have another guy that's talented that's with you and that's a big deal for both of them," Riley said. "They're unselfish guys. It's a good duo amongst a bunch of other guys that are helping them."
The Beavers had trouble finding a primary running back in the first couple games but clearly found their man in Storm Woods, who rushed for 181 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries in the win over Arizona.
For a team with such a high ranking, Oregon State's defense has been less than spectacular. The Beavers are allowing 398.7 yards of total offense per game, ranking seventh in the Pac-12. However, the Beavers have not given up points as easily (20.7 ppg). A major reason for that has come from dominating time of possession with the Beavers averaging more than 10 minutes more per game than their opponents.
Through just three games Rashaad Reynolds is leading the team in tackles (25), while proving to be a disruptive force in the secondary with seven pass breakups and eight passes defended. Schott Chricton has been the most skilled pass rusher with team-highs in sacks (three) and tackles for loss (five).
The last time Oregon State played in Corvallis it entered as a huge underdog to a nationally ranked Wisconsin squad. Now the Beavers are the nationally- ranked favorites and against a defense that has been suspect this season. Mannion should have no problem finding Wheaton and Cooks to win a shootout with Washington State.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Oregon State 35, Washington State 21
10/03 10:54:24 ET