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Oregon State Beavers vs. Washington State Cougars Preview and Prediction

Mike Leach

Mike Leach

Stopping Washington State will be a bigger challenge than usual for Oregon State. The No. 21 Cougars are on a roll in the midst of a five-game homestand to open the season.

Trojans vs. Cougars Prediction: Washington State QB

Washington State (2-0) is seeking its first 3-0 start since 2005. Last week, the Cougars rattled off three fourth-quarter touchdowns to rally from a 21-point deficit and beat Boise State 47-44 in triple overtime. It was the 10th fourth-quarter comeback for the Cougars over the last six seasons.

The Beavers (1-2) are searching for answers. Oregon State closed out its non-conference schedule with a 48-14 loss to Minnesota. The Golden Gophers scored 31 unanswered points to pull away from Oregon State and leave the Beavers in a precarious situation entering Pac-12 play.

Washington State leads the all-time series with Oregon State 51-47-3. The Cougars have claimed three straight wins, including a 35-31 come-from-behind victory in Corvallis last season.

Oregon State at Washington State

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 16 at 5:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: Pac-12 Networks

Spread: Washington State -16.0

Three Things to Watch

1. Is Luke Falk back to full strength?

A scary moment unfolded for Washington State when Falk exited the game in the fourth quarter against Boise State with an apparent head injury. Falk took a hard hit and fumbled the ball on the play, leading to a touchdown return by the Broncos.

Tyler Hilinski stepped up in Falk's absence and led the Cougars to a comeback win. He completed 25 of 33 passes for 240 yards and threw three touchdowns. Falk did not return as a precautionary measure, but he's expected to be ready to go against Oregon State.

"Luke's playing,” Washington State head coach Mike Leach said in his Monday press conference. “Luke's starting and will continue to play well, I'm sure."

Falk passed Connor Halliday to become the school's career passing leader with 11,397 yards and also passed Alex Brinks to become the career leader in total offense with 11,141 yards. He totaled 144 yards on 17-of-24 passing, but failed to throw a touchdown pass for just the second time in 32 games.

2. Can Oregon State's depleted secondary handle the Air Raid?

Injuries have turned Oregon State's secondary into a virtual MASH unit. Three key defensive backs are either sidelined or questionable because of injuries.

Both starting cornerbacks will be unavailable on Saturday because they suffered serious injuries in the first half against Minnesota. Dwayne Williams will miss the rest of the season after tearing his ACL. Xavier Crawford is sidelined with a shoulder injury. Jaydon Grant, a reserve cornerback, also is dealing with a shoulder injury and his status is questionable.

The Beavers also took a hit at safety. Jalen Moore will be suspended for the first half after he was ejected for targeting during the second half against the Golden Gophers. Moore's starting spot will be filled by freshman David Morris.

Morris leads Oregon State with 25 tackles. He totaled 17 against Minnesota, the most for a Beavers player since Lance Mitchell tallied 18 tackles against TCU in the 2010 season opener.

3. Which team can limit turnovers?

Turnovers were a major issue for both Washington State and Oregon State in their respective games last weekend. The Cougars coughed up a pair of fumbles and an interception against Boise State while the Beavers lost three fumbles against Minnesota.

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Washington State's final two turnovers led to back-to-back touchdowns that gave the Broncos a 31-10 lead midway through the fourth quarter. The Cougars responded by coming up with a pair of takeaways to set up scores during their rally to force overtime. Peyton Pelluer returned an interception 36 yards to trim Boise State's lead to seven points. Then, Dillon Sherman recovered a fumble on a punt return with less than three minutes remaining to set up the tying score.

Oregon State wasn't as fortunate in overcoming its own mistakes. Minnesota turned three Beaver fumbles into 17 points. Back-to-back Oregon State turnovers in the first half allowed the Golden Gophers to build a 17-0 lead.

Washington State is tied for seventh in the Pac-12 in turnover margin (0.50). Oregon State is 11th (1.33), ahead of only USC.

"Ball security is a big thing for us,” Beavers head coach Gary Andersen said in his weekly press conference on Monday. “Our turnover margin is horrible. We're putting the ball on the ground. We're putting it in bad spots at times. Those turnovers are coming at very difficult times for the offense a lot too. There are a lot of them with a short field and that makes a turnover even worse."

Final Analysis

Finding a way to slow down Washington State's Air Raid offense is never easy even when a team is at full strength. The problem for Oregon State is that the Beavers' secondary is decimated by injuries and a suspension. The Cougars will have no trouble picking it apart and have a strong enough defense to keep Oregon State from countering.

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Prediction: Washington State 42, Oregon State 17

— 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.