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Sports >  WSU football

First look: Washington State returns home with momentum to face surging Oregon State team

UPDATED: Mon., Oct. 4, 2021

By Colton Clark The Spokesman-Review

What is it? Coming off a bounce-back road win – its most complete showing of the season – Washington State (2-3, 1-2 Pac-12) returns to the Palouse for a homecoming game against one of the conference’s surprise teams in Oregon State (4-1, 2-0).

Where is it? Gesa Field in Pullman.

When is it? Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. Saturday.

Where can I watch it? Pac-12 Network will broadcast the game.

Who is favored? Oregon State opened as a 3.5-point favorite.

How did they fare last week? WSU’s defense smothered Cal, which entered the game boasting one of the league’s most productive offenses. The Golden Bears looked rusty on the way to just 152 passing yards, a 3-of-15 mark on third downs, seven punts and six points. The Cougars’ offense did enough early in the first and third quarters to separate for a 21-6 victory. The Beavers climbed to first place in the Pac-12 North, inching past Washington 27-24 to collect their first win over the Huskies in nine games. Oregon State kicked a clinching field goal as time expired to cap a night in which its offense bruised UW on the ground for 242 yards on 50 carries.

Why WSU will win: The Cougars showed flashes of their peak in Saturday’s clubbing of Cal, particularly on defense. They tamed a typically explosive Bears offense, conceding only a couple of chunk gains and stuffing Cal on potential momentum-shifting plays down the stretch. Defensive coordinator Jake Dickert’s crew faces Oregon State coming off two straight tenacious outings. WSU’s defensive front seems to be progressing steadily with each week, which is a positive sign considering the Beavers rely heavily on their power-running game. “It’s the perfect challenge that I think this team needs to see if we can compete with one of the best,” WSU coach Nick Rolovich said Monday. “Coming off a win, it felt like we took a step, mindset-wise. Now, knowing you have a good team coming in, if the defense can play with that kind of effort and tackle the way they did … the defense should have a lot of confidence.” The Cougars’ stingy defense will presumably match up decently against OSU. WSU’s run-and-shoot offense returned its previously injured backfield leaders in quarterback Jayden de Laura and Max Borghi. Rolovich said de Laura has established himself as the Cougs’ signal-caller going forward. Jarrett Guarantano, a two-game starter at QB, suffered an undisclosed injury at Utah the week before and did not travel with the team to Berkeley, Rolovich said. Consistency in its depth chart should help with the Cougars’ consistency in play, and de Laura’s mobility should come in handy against Oregon State’s blitz-happy defense. WSU’s passing attack – augmented by a solid day from its offensive line (one sack) – looked unstoppable for stretches in the first and third quarters against Cal, clicking on intermediate throws toward the sideline while keeping the Bears honest with the occasional shot down the field. The Beavers’ lone statistical deficiency has been their passing defense, which ranks ninth in the Pac-12 (252 yards per game). The Cougars have new life after last weekend’s impressive win. They also have a long history of beating OSU.

Why OSU will win: Behind one of the nation’s most prolific ground games, the Beavers appear to have made a breakthrough in Year 4 under coach Jonathan Smith. Their offense ranks first in the Pac-12 in the per-game categories of yards rushing (229.2), which also sits 15th nationally, and points (36). Multifaceted junior workhorse B.J. Baylor (5-foot-11, 205 pounds) has emerged as a standout halfback in the FBS. He paces the league in rushing yards (106.6 per game) and tops all of his Pac-12 peers – and all but two players in the FBS – with nine touchdowns. His 533 total yards is the country’s No. 12 total and his 6.58 yards per carry checks in at 16th in the FBS. The Beavers beat the Huskies between the tackles and overpowered Southern Cal’s defense a week earlier in a 42-27 beatdown. “They run unafraid,” Rolovich said, “and the quarterback does a nice job getting them to the plays they want. He has enough legs to scare you and there’s enough soundness to the passing game, and they know how to attack defenses.” Sophomore QB Chance Nolan throws for under 200 yards per game, but he completes passes at an efficient clip of 68.37% (25th nationally). He’s tossed nine scores against three picks. Rolovich called OSU a “complete team.” It’s the No. 1 Pac-12 outfit in converting third downs and red-zone opportunities, and its defense is “tightening up” behind a heavyset front seven that includes the Pac-12’s leading tackler in linebacker Avery Roberts. The Beavers are eighth nationally with 12 takeaways, and second in the conference in both sacks (12) and rushing defense (107.2 yards per game). The Cougar offense has struggled at times with giveaways, and sometimes fails to get a push against opponents’ pressure packages. The Beavers have allowed just two rushes of 20 yards or more. While its run stop is improving, the Cougars defensive front hasn’t been incredibly consistent in that area, permitting 141 yards per game (seventh in the Pac-12). No team in the conference is riding as much momentum as Oregon State, which has won four straight – including blowouts of Hawaii, Idaho and USC.

What happened last time? WSU has not dropped a game to Oregon State since 2013, winning seven straight matchups by a combined margin of 326-235. The Cougars’ most recent triumph in this series marked their first win under Rolovich. WSU handled OSU 38-28 in Corvallis last November despite missing 32 players because of either injuries or coronavirus-related measures. Quarterback Jayden de Laura made an impressive Cougar debut, passing for 227 yards, running for another 53 and scoring three times. Running back Deon McIntosh had his WSU breakout, totaling 153 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.

Things to know1. Rolovich gave a hat tip to Smith for staying the course in building the Beavers’ program. In its first three seasons under Smith, Oregon State went 9-22. At 4-1 this year, the Beavs are off to their best start since 2013 – a seven-win, bowl-championship season with longtime coach Mike Riley at the helm. OSU’s most recent win over WSU came in 2013, as well. “He’s an excellent X’s and O’s, situational coach,” Rolovich said of Smith. “His staff has stayed together and they believe in the process, and I think they’re really seeing the fruits of their labor and consistency.” Smith taught quarterbacks at Idaho from 2004-09 under three head coaches, two of whom formerly worked for the Cougs – Dennis Erickson, who was WSU’s boss in 1987-88, and Robb Akey, a Cougars defensive assistant/coordinator in 1999-2006. Rolovich’s 2019 Hawaii team defeated Smith’s Beavers 31-28 in 2019. A year earlier, Smith hired two of Rolovich’s Rainbow Warriors assistants. Beavers defensive line coach Legi Suiaunoa was Rolovich’s defensive coordinator in 2017. Kefense Hynson, OSU’s wide receivers coach, has experience with run-and-shoot pass-catchers, having held that same position at Hawaii from 2016-17.

2. The two programs share multiple coaching connections. WSU safeties coach Mark Banker served as OSU’s defensive coordinator under Riley in 2003-14. The Cougs’ offensive line coach, Mark Weber, instructed the big men in Corvallis in 1987-90. WSU offensive coordinator Brian Smith cut his teeth as a grad assistant for the Beavers in 2006. Former WSU offensive lineman Jim Michalczik (1984-88) is OSU’s run-game coordinator. Long-snapping WSU alum Ryan Saparto (2011-13) works for the Beavs as a special-teams assistant. OSU quality control assistant David Lose had a similar job under Mike Leach at WSU in 2011-16. Beaver linebackers coach Trent Bray still lists his hometown as Pullman. His father, Craig, was Erickson’s secondary coach at WSU and the leader of Mike Price’s Cougar DBs in 1994-99.

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