Oregon State is unexpectedly in sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 North heading into Saturday's clash with Washington State.
The Beavers (4-1, 2-0 Pac-12) have run off back-to-back victories over traditional conference powers Washington and USC and are just one of three teams still unbeaten in Pac-12 play. Oregon State has the league's top-scoring offense, averaging 36.0 points per game. It helped the Beavers rally to beat the Huskies 27-24 a week ago.
The Cougars (2-3, 1-2) got back on track after scratching out a 21-6 victory over California. Washington State snapped a two-game skid after holding the Bears to 273 total yards. The Cougars totaled five sacks and kept California from ever generating any real momentum on offense. It stood in contrast to earlier defensive struggles in back-to-back losses to USC and Utah.
Washington State leads the series 55-47-3. Oregon State has lost seven straight games to the Cougars dating back to 2013.
Oregon State at Washington State
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 9 at 4 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: Oregon State -3.5
When Oregon State Has the Ball
B.J. Baylor has quietly turned into a force in the backfield for the Beavers. How much of an impact has Baylor had offensively? Through five games, 36 of his 81 carries have either resulted in a first down or a touchdown. Baylor is gaining 3.3 yards after contact per carry. He has rushed for a Pac-12-best 27 first downs this season. Baylor is the league's top individual rusher with 532 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. He is averaging 6.6 yards per carry overall.
Having such a dominant running back has made Oregon State's offense so much more potent than in past seasons. The Beavers are getting solid play from quarterback Chance Nolan as well. Nolan has totaled 895 yards and nine touchdowns through the air over five games. He is completing 68 percent of his passes and has thrown only three interceptions thus far.
Washington State is vulnerable to getting gashed on the ground, which should excite Oregon State's coaching staff. In losses to Utah State and Utah this season, the Cougars allowed 220.5 rushing yards per contest.
When Washington State Has the Ball
Getting Jayden de Laura healthy again made a big difference for Washington State's offense. De Laura threw for 213 yards and three touchdowns against California and completed 61 percent of his passes. He finished with a career-best 25 completions and his three touchdown passes also matched a career high. When De Laura is at the controls, the Cougar offense just seems to be more consistent in execution.
The same can be said for having Max Borghi in the backfield. Borghi is an equal threat as a runner and pass catcher and matched his season high with 13 carries against California. Getting Borghi some carries was a big thing for Washington State after he was sidelined early against Utah with an injury. Deon McIntosh has split time with Borghi in the backfield this season. The duo has combined for 497 rushing yards through five games.
Taking care of the ball will be even more crucial than usual. Oregon State has a knack for forcing turnovers. The Beavers rank second in the Pac-12 with 11 takeaways and a plus-four turnover margin.
No Pac-12 team is hotter than Oregon State at the moment. The Beavers have run off four straight wins for the first time since winning six in a row in 2013. Washington State, on the other hand, is treading water. The Cougars have shown no ability to slow down any offense with a pulse. Oregon State will be able to run the ball nonstop for four quarters and finally snap its long losing streak in the series.
Prediction: Oregon State 38, Washington State 24
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– Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sports journalist based in Utah. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.