CORVALLIS, Ore. – Two seasons ago, Washington State found some encouragement here amid an otherwise hopeless season.
That game ended with the Cougars on top, 31-14, a win that improved WSU’s record to 2-9 but also snapped a 16-game conference losing streak.
And that game started with WSU sending a message in the form of a late hit by former linebacker C.J. Mizell, who set the tone for the afternoon by driving OSU running back Jacquizz Rodgers well out of bounds before planting him into the turf.
The Cougars are hoping for a similar surprise – in terms of a final outcome, at least – Saturday afternoon when they face the Beavers in a 3 p.m. game at Reser Stadium, with OSU favored by as many as 16 points in some places.
This time, though, the Cougars would probably just prefer a whole bunch of early touchdowns instead of a message-sending late hit.
“We’re going to play them like we haven’t played them before,” junior safety Deone Bucannon said. “We don’t want to bring up anything in the past. Because in the past, they beat us last year. Anything can happen this year.”
WSU and OSU were picked by Pac-12 media to finish fifth and sixth, respectively, in the conference’s North Division.
The teams have since headed in different directions. The Beavers (3-0, 2-0 Pac-12) haven’t lost, using upset wins over Wisconsin, UCLA and Arizona to rise to a No. 14 ranking in the Associated Press poll.
The Cougars (2-3, 0-2 Pac-12), tabbed by many as a team capable of a breakthrough season, are coming off an encouraging-but-lopsided 51-26 loss to Oregon that was preceded by a disastrous loss to one-win Colorado.
“We’ve got a little bit of flash out there and some positive things, but it’s not as tight or automatic as it needs to be,” coach Mike Leach said. “Some of it is folks just need to work together for a longer period of time.”
If there is one advantage WSU has, it could be in the passing game. The Cougars haven’t been terribly efficient but still rank 12th in the nation in passing offense. OSU’s defense, while stout against the run, showed it still has some kinks to work out in its secondary after allowing Arizona quarterback Matt Scott to throw for 403 yards last week.
The Beavers have some star power on the back end – senior Jordan Poyer is the team’s most talented and experienced cornerback, and was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection a year ago.
Still, the Beavers allow 312.3 passing yards per game, ranking 113th in the nation – one notch below the Cougars, who will have their own hands full against sophomore quarterback Sean Mannion.
“Oregon State’s really physical,” WSU quarterback Connor Halliday said. “They’re big up front, they’re big in the linebacking corps, they’re big on the back end. They’re a big Pac-12 defense. They’ll come around and they’ll hit you. They’re great at stopping the run so we’re going to have to go out there and throw the ball all over them and hopefully put up some points.”