PULLMAN – Considering the circumstances 257 miles south, it’s somewhat appropriate the Washington State Cougars are playing Oregon State just down the road from the fictional Seattle Grace Mercy West Hospital.
After all, the Beavers from down I-5 in Corvallis, are making copious use of medical facilities this fall. And like the lives of the docs on Grey’s Anatomy, wins have been nearly unreal.
Oregon State coach Mike Riley said this week he’s never had as many injuries on defense as the Beavers have suffered this season, part of the reason behind the Beavers’ 1-5 overall and 1-2 Pac-12 record.
“We’ve had to juggle things around,” Riley said. “You have to adapt.”
The cast of Beaver players who will miss Saturday night’s game at CenturyLink Field is nearly as long as a soap opera’s.
Where to start?
The first to go was cornerback Brandon Hardin, who will miss the entire season with a shoulder injury suffered in August.
Run-stuffing defensive tackle Castro Masaniai will miss the rest of the season after breaking a leg last week against BYU.
Starting linebackers Cameron Collins (groin) and Feti Unga (leg) – two of only five defenders to start all six games – were hurt against BYU and have not practiced much this week. They may not play.
Safeties Anthony Watkins (shoulder), Lance Mitchell (groin) and Ryan Murphy (shoulder) should play but have missed considerable time and are nowhere near 100 percent.
“I think Mark (Banker, defensive coordinator) and the defensive staff are always adapting to who’s available,” Riley said. “I think they are doing a good job in their utilization of talent. We ended up playing a lot of nickel in the last game (after losing) two starting linebackers.
“You adapt and get the best players you can on the field.”
Washington State coach Paul Wulff understands injuries. His Cougars went through enough his first two years to make the Beavers seem healthy. So he may have compassion but still not be sympathetic.
“It looks like on film their d-line plays really hard, as do all their kids on the defensive side of the ball,” Wulff said. “They supply a decent amount of pressure on the quarterback.”
That effort and pressure have resulted in 12 forced turnovers, tied for third-most in the Pac-12.
The Beavers’ biggest problem is they’ve been giving the ball back to the opponent, with a conference-leading 16 turnovers, including 10 interceptions from quarterbacks Sean Mannion and former starter Ryan Katz, causing more injury to the defensive effort.
However, running back Malcolm Agnew returned from a hamstring injury last week and Riley said the freshman, who had 223 yards on 33 carries in the opener, will get the ball more against WSU. Just in time, too, as Jovan Stevenson, who started vs. BYU, has not practiced this week with a knee problem.
“They should be able to control the clock a little more, because they’ll be able to run it a little better,” Wulff said of Agnew’s return.
It’s not a panacea, but it should help keep the walking-wounded defense off the field.