We’ll find out Saturday night at Reser Stadium in Corvallis where Oregon State hosts Washington State in a Pac-12 rivalry that appears to be stacked in favor of the visiting side.
It’s the third conference game for both teams, with the Beavers still searching for their first Pac-12 victory after losing to both Arizona rivals — to the host Arizona Sun Devils last week, 52-24, and to the visiting Arizona Wildcats the previous week, 35-14.
The Cougars, meanwhile, come into the Week 6 contest fresh off a huge home win, 28-24, over the defensively stout Utah Utes after losing one week earlier on the road to USC, 39-36.
The Cougars (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) are currently third in the Pac-12 North Division with the Beavers (1-4, 0-2) currently starting up at everyone else in the standings.
Washington State at Oregon State
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 6 at 10 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Network
Spread: Washington State -16
Three Things to Watch
1. Washington State’s Air Raid offense
Sure, Luke Falk has moved onto the NFL, but that hasn’t seemed to slow down the Cougars' aerial attack under head coach Mike Leach.
The Air Raid is still a matter of concern for defenses, with QB Gardner Minshew — following in the footsteps of Falk and Connor Halliday before him — the current trigger man.
Last week, Minshew was 31-of-56 for 445 yards and three touchdowns. Even more impressive was that the senior pivot did it against the nation’s top defense and did it — like Falk and Halliday — in the clutch. Utah’s D, which came into Week 5 allowing 12.3 points and 204 yards per game — not only bent but broke, with Minshew finding wide receiver Easop Winston Jr. for an 89-yard touchdown strike late in the game, a play that electrified the home crowd gathered in Martin Stadium in Pullman.
Minshew currently leads the FBS in passing yards per game (398.4) and his 1,992 yards are second only to Hawaii's Cole McDonald, who has thrown for 2,100 over six games. Minshew also leads the way in total offense at 406.0 yards per game.
2. Washington State's attack vs. Oregon State’s defense
Minshew isn’t doing it alone, with six of his receivers having accumulated at least 200 yards.
The Cougars' top-ranked passing attack is needed since the team is second to last in the country in rushing yards per game (62.0). Even with a pedestrian ground game, Washington State is 30th in total offense (476.6 ypg) and 27th in scoring offense (39.0 ppg).
That spells deep trouble for Oregon State, which is simply awful without the ball. The Beavers field the second-worst defense in the FBS, a unit that is allowing 543.6 yards per game.
Fortunately, Oregon State’s pass defense isn’t nearly as bad on appear as it has been against the run, but the Beavers haven't faced a prolific aerial attack like the Cougars' since Week 1 against Ohio State. In that game, the Buckeyes finished with 346 passing yards and five touchdowns in a 77-31 rout of Oregon State in Columbus.
So what will happen when the nation's No. 1 passing attack goes up against a defense that's giving up nearly 550 yards per game? We'll find out Saturday night but it sure doesn't look a good matchup for the home team.
3. Oregon State RB Jermar Jefferson
You couldn’t miss seeing the freshman running back if you tried, at least based on his totals so far.
Jefferson rolled up 254 yards on 31 carries for Oregon State in last week’s loss to Arizona State. With the sparkling performance, the freshman became just the third Beavers player to top 200 yards in a game multiple times in a season. Jefferson ran for 238 yards earlier in the season in a win over FCS opponent Southern Utah.
Only the Sun Devils' Eno Benjamin, who tore through Oregon State’s defense for a school-record 312 yards, had more rushing yards in the FBS or FCS ranks last week than Jefferson.
For the season, Jefferson has 727 yards and eight TDs on 105 carries. He is averaging nearly seven yards per carry (6.92) and is second in the FBS to only Memphis' Darrel Henderson (760) in total rushing yards. Jefferson will look to add to his totals against a Washington State defense that has held teams to 122.6 rushing yards per game (34th in the FBS).
This one appears to be all Washington State. The only hope Oregon State might have is if the weather gets chilly, which is quite possible with 41 degrees forecast as a low for Saturday. Since it’s a night game, temperatures could dip, and since Cougars head coach Mike Leach eschews running the ball, cooler conditions might slow up the Air Raid.
On the flip side, with Jermar Jefferson piling up the yards on the ground, the Beavers could try and control the tempo by grinding things out.
The other bugaboo for Washington State is a bye next week followed by a date with Oregon. So there's a chance the Cougars could get caught looking ahead.
All that said, Washington State appears to be too strong — even facing a few possible physical and mental hurdles — to fall victim to an upset at the paws of the Beavers.
Prediction: Washington State 48, Oregon State 20
(Top photo by Karl Maasdam/Oregon State Athletics, courtesy of osubeavers.com)