Beavers look to get to .500 when they host the bowl-seeking Sun Devils
That's a legitimate question facing the Sun Devils, one with no easy answer. Arizona State (5-4, 2-4 Pac-12) is suddenly reeling amid a three-game losing streak. The Sun Devils have not been able to overcome lifeless efforts on offense in their last three games. A bad first quarter doomed them in a 31-26 loss to USC. The Trojans jumped out to a 28-7 lead by the end of the quarter after holding Arizona State to a single yard on offense.
The story is much better for the Beavers, even after a 19-7 loss to Washington a week ago. Oregon State (4-5, 3-3 Pac-12) is in the rare position of pushing for a bowl berth late in the season. The Beavers have won three straight road contests against league opponents. Outside of struggles against the Huskies and Utah, their offense has been potent and productive. And the defense has taken major steps forward, after ranking dead last in several major defensive categories a year ago.
Arizona State holds a 29-13-1 lead over Oregon State in the series between the two teams. The Beavers have won five of the past six games played in Corvallis.
Arizona State at Oregon State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 16 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Arizona State -3.0
When Arizona State Has the Ball
Slow starts on offense have killed the Sun Devils during their three-game losing streak. Arizona State took a full quarter before sustaining any drives against USC. The Sun Devils were abysmal on offense for a full 60 minutes against Utah and were shut down until the fourth quarter against UCLA.
Will it change this week? That could hinge on how healthy quarterback Jayden Daniels is on Saturday. Daniels did not play against USC after suffering a knee injury in the second quarter of the loss to UCLA. Fellow freshman Joey Yellen started against the Trojans and threw for 292 yards and four touchdowns. When Daniels is healthy, he's an electric playmaker. He has thrown for 1,902 yards and 11 touchdowns through eight games. Daniels has three 300-yard games to his credit so far this season.
If wideout Brandon Aiyuk can have an impact, that should go a long way in reversing fortunes for the Sun Devils. Aiyuk has tallied 140 receiving yards over the past three games after eclipsing 100 receiving yards in three of his first five games. Arizona State is 4-1 going back to last season when Aiyuk finishes with at least 100 receiving yards.
When Oregon State Has the Ball
A consistent passing game has elevated the Beavers' offense beyond the one-dimensional attack that existed during the short-lived Gary Andersen tenure. Oregon State is finding a healthy balance between the run and the pass and is getting enough production to relieve some pressure from a defense only a year removed from the league cellar.
Receiver Isaiah Hodgins will likely cross the 1,000-yard plateau on Saturday. Hodgins leads the Pac-12 with 928 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns on 67 receptions. He totaled 876 yards and five touchdowns over the entire 2018 season. The junior is Jake Luton's favorite downfield target by a wide margin. No. 2 receiver Champ Flemings has only 284 yards and two touchdowns on 22 receptions. Kolby Taylor is slightly behind Flemings with 205 yards and a touchdown on 20 catches. Taylor and Flemings will likely need to step up to keep the Sun Devils from zeroing in on Hodgins for 60 minutes.
Artavis Pierce continues to be a reliable threat in the backfield. Pierce has accumulated 727 yards and run for six touchdowns while averaging 6.1 yards per carry. He has three 100-yard games this season, and his ability to get in an early rhythm is critical for the Beavers. Oregon State is 3-1 this season when Pierce rushes for 90 yards or more.
After bottoming out against Utah in late October, Arizona State has been plagued with slow starts and mental errors on offense. The Sun Devils have enough talent on defense to finish out the season strong if the offense can get out of its own way. Oregon State has struggled to move the ball when it has faced good defensive teams this season. The Beavers will continue their weird quirk of being winless at home and unbeaten on the road in Pac-12 play.
Prediction: Arizona State 27, Oregon State 20
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.