Two Pac-12 North teams that are surprisingly on opposite trajectories meet Friday night at Reser Stadium, as Jonathan Smith's suddenly surging Oregon State Beavers host Chris Petersen and the Washington Huskies. After losing a one-possession heartbreaker to Utah last week — Washington's second consecutive one-score loss to a top-10 opponent and the Huskies' third single-digit home loss this season — Petersen's bunch aims to regroup against a familiar face.
Smith coordinated the Washington offense from 2014 through '17, including the high-scoring College Football Playoff team of 2016. He's shown a similarly prolific touch in his two seasons now at Oregon State. The OSU alum has Oregon State playing inspired football, last week cruising to a road win at Arizona. With three Pac-12 wins on the season, Oregon State is one shy of tying its total from the previous three seasons combined.
More surprising is that Oregon State enters the season's stretch run as the only team that could catch Oregon in the North division race. With a Ducks loss in one of its final two before the Civil War, and the Beavers winning out, they would represent the North in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
While that's most unlikely, that it could happen is a testament to Oregon State's turnaround. A win over Washington would be monumental for the Beavers — and, coincidentally, would mark the first home conference win of Smith's tenure.
Washington at Oregon State
Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 8 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Washington -10
When Washington Has the Ball
Facing the loaded front seven of Utah a week ago, Salvon Ahmed — third in the Pac-12 with 89 rushing yards per game — saw just 14 carries. That's likely to change against an Oregon State defense that ranks 11th in the conference with 186.1 rushing yards allowed per game. However, it's not a guarantee that the Huskies will just move the ball at will on the ground.
The Beavers held Arizona's J.J. Taylor to 3.71 yards per carry in last week's win, roughly the same output as Ahmed managed against Utah a week ago. Washington's offensive line should, in theory, get more push than an injury-ravaged Arizona front, but it's not a guarantee. Oregon State won't be able to load the box against the run, though, as offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan's willingness to put a heavier workload on quarterback Jacob Eason is proven.
Washington attacked both Oregon and Utah with the pass, and it was the most effective that any offense has been against either opponent this season. Eason's top two targets, Aaron Fuller and Hunter Bryant, are reliable and able to spring huge gains on virtually any route. The Beavers need to put pressure on Eason, and that starts with Pac-12 sack leader Hamilcar Rashed Jr. The junior linebacker's 12 sacks trail only Ohio State Heisman hopeful Chase Young among all players in the FBS. With the emergence of freshman Omar Speights opposite Rashed, Oregon State has a dangerous one-two pass rush to throw at the Huskies' veteran offensive line.
When Oregon State Has the Ball
With a balanced — and equally effective — emphasis on pass and run, Oregon State quietly ranks in the nation's top 40 for scoring offense through Week 10. Should the Beavers put up points on Washington during a window in which they play the only college football game of the night, that success won't be so quiet for long.
Defensive prowess has been Washington's hallmark during Petersen's tenure, and the Huskies still rank in the top half of the Pac-12 this season despite heavy losses from last year's conference championship squad. However, with Oregon and Utah putting up totals in the 30s in the past two outings, it's evident that the 2019 Washington defense doesn't approach the stinginess of the 2016 or '18 editions.
Oregon State's two-headed monster in the backfield, Jermar Jefferson and Artavis Pierce, has not been at full strength much this season. Both are healthy now, though, and it might be the toughest rushing duo in the Pac-12. Pierce is fifth in the conference with 87 rushing yards per game, and Jefferson is coming off his best league game of 2019 with 105 yards and three scores.
The Beavers could come out throwing to test a young Washington secondary, however. Jake Luton has been both efficient and prolific, and so far no defense has had an answer for wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins, whose 12 touchdown catches are second-most in the nation.
Friday night's affair under the Reser Stadium lights is a season-defining game. Washington has hit a tough road, and the heartbreak of two near-misses against playoff-contending competition would be an understandable mental hurdle that the Huskies might fail to clear. On the flipside, Oregon State is playing its best football in a few years, perhaps since 2012. A win over Washington to get the Beavers above .500 and one win shy of a bowl bid would mark a huge milestone in Smith's rebuilding project.
Washington has shown some vulnerability on defense, so expect an underrated Oregon State offense to make a game of it. Washington's offense has not played poorly, though, so the Huskies could find themselves trying to win in a shootout.
Prediction: Washington 35, Oregon State 31
— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.