Don’t take your eyes off …
Two years ago, Jake Luton was carted off the field at Martin Stadium with a thoracic spine fracture after taking a violent hit from Washington State’s Jalen Thompson. Saturday’s game will be somewhat of a full-circle moment for the Oregon State quarterback as he attempts to lead the Beavers to their first bowl game in six years, and not only because Pullman is the place where he had his darkest moment. Luton was hardly noticed on the recruiting trail until the school closest to WSU offered him a scholarship. The QB’s roundabout journey took him from Moscow, Idaho, to Ventura College in California and back to Corvallis, Oregon, where Luton has battled numerous injuries in three seasons with the Beavers but now has one of the top touchdown-to-interception ratios in the country at 23-2. The 6-foot-7, 229-pound QB has thrown for 2,306 yards and is completing 63 percent of his throws.
When OSU has the ball …
Luton may not be the only Beaver throwing the ball, and not because head coach Jonathan Smith uses two quarterbacks. OSU is known to pull out a few trick plays to jump-start its offense, and Smith wasn’t conservative when the Cougars and Beavers met last year at Reser Stadium. Onside kicks, triple laterals and savvy reverse plays helped OSU take a two-point lead in the third quarter, but the tricks ran out and the Cougars ran away with an 18-point win. The Beavers have much more offensive stability and better health this year, and may not need deception to score on a WSU defense that has had an especially hard time limiting explosive plays. The Cougars came up with a few key interceptions in their last game, but they shouldn’t rely on turnovers to bail them out in this one. Luton’s interception rate is superb, and the Beavers don’t put the ball on the ground much. They’ve fumbled five times this season, but have only lost one of those.
When WSU has the ball …
Anthony Gordon’s fast release could come in handy. Washington State needs its quarterback to be prepared to make some quick decisions, because he’ll face a pass rush that’s second in the Pac-12 at 2.9 sacks per game and a pass rusher, Hamilcar Rashed Jr., who is leading the country in total sacks (14) and sack yards (109). OSU is leading the conference in tackles for loss at eight per game, but the Beavers are up against a WSU team that’s avoiding those better than almost everyone in the country. The Cougars have allowed 3.10 per game, fewer than every FBS team other than Army, and Gordon arguably has the best protection of any QB in the nation. Ten teams have allowed fewer sacks than WSU, but the Cougars’ numbers are more impressive because of how often they throw the ball. Gordon’s 515 pass attempts lead the nation, which means he’s getting sacked once every 43 times he drops back to throw the ball.
Did you know?
In 2015, WSU receivers Renard Bell and Jamire Calvin and OSU receiver Champ Flemings were on the same roster while playing for Los Angeles’ Cathedral High School. With three Pac-12 wideouts on the field – often at the same time – the Phantoms scored 38.6 points per game on offense and hit 83 in the third game of the season, in a shutout of George Washington Prep. The ball was distributed evenly – Bell, Calvin and Flemings combined for 2,493 receiving yards and 36 touchdowns, not to mention 1,030 punt/kick return yards for 3,523 all-purpose yards. The diminutive Flemings has 27 catches for 325 yards and two touchdowns at OSU this year, while Bell has 33 catches for 303 yards and four touchdowns. Calvin hasn’t played for the Cougars in 2019 because of a lower-body injury.
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