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First look: Washington State travels to Corvallis seeking ninth consecutive win against Oregon State

Washington State wide receiver De’Zhaun Stribling (88) gestures as he takes the field before the Cougars’ Pac-12 game against USC on Saturday at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

What is it? Washington State (4-2, 1-2 Pac-12) looks to rebound from its road loss against USC and extend its winning streak versus Oregon State to nine when it visits a Beavers team (4-2, 1-2) that is coming off a dramatic win.

Where is it? Reser Stadium in Corvallis, Oregon.

When is it? Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. Saturday.

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

Who is favored? The Beavers opened as 3-point favorites.

How did they fare last week? The Cougars gave the sixth-ranked Trojans (6-0, 4-0) a fight, but stumbled in the second half of a 30-14 loss Saturday at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum.

WSU’s defense fared well in containing a high-powered Trojan offense, but the Cougars offense went stagnant after halftime and USC gradually pulled away.

“(The defense) has been a lot cleaner and we’ve controlled the explosive pass game,” WSU coach Jake Dickert said. “That was an explosive team we played, but there’s so much on both sides of the ball that we can learn and grow from.

“There was a lot of highs and lows and adversity, and some situations that maybe we felt didn’t go our way.”

WSU committed a season-high 11 penalties. The Cougars posted similar stat totals to the Trojans, but were outscored 13-0 in the second half after a back-and-forth first half.

“We got beat by a really good team,” Dickert said. “We just made some uncharacteristic mistakes in that game. You can’t beat a top-10 team on the road doing those things.

“We pride ourselves on discipline, and we made some undisciplined mistakes. As a coach, that fires me up. We still have a ways to go, but at the end of the day, I love where our team is at. We lost to two very good opponents (Oregon and USC) … but we’re excited about where our team is at and where we can still finish.”

The Cougars lost veteran receiver Renard Bell and starting running back Nakia Watson to injuries against USC. Both players will be sidelined for an indefinite stretch and will miss the OSU game.

Oregon State rallied back from a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter and stunned Stanford on a deep scoring pass late to win 28-27 on the road.

The Beavers were outplayed on both sides of the ball for much of the night against a lowly Cardinal team, but OSU churned out 192 rushing yards and got an exceptional effort from backup quarterback Ben Gulbranson, who completed 6 of 8 passes for 121 yards in the fourth quarter, including a go-ahead, 56-yard scoring pass to Tre’Shaun Harrison with 13 seconds remaining.

Scouting the opponent: The Beavers opened their season 3-0. They ran past Boise State and beat Fresno State on a walk-off touchdown, then routed FCS Montana State before falling 17-14 at home against USC. Oregon State’s defense bottled up the Trojan offense, which needed a two-minute scoring possession at the end of the game to slip by with a win. OSU sustained a rout at Utah the next week before eking out a victory at Stanford.

Considering the up-and-down results, the Beavers are somewhat difficult to evaluate, but Dickert considers OSU “probably the most undervalued team in the Pac-12.

“With just how veteran they are, how well-coached they are and how physical they are,” he added. “They played a heckuva game against USC at home. They’re tough to beat (in Corvallis).”

OSU’s quarterback position is up in the air. Returning starter Chance Nolan sustained a neck injury Oct. 1 at Utah and Gulbranson played well enough versus Stanford.

Interceptions have been an issue. OSU ranks last in the Pac-12 with 10 picks.

“People have been stopping them a little bit with takeaways,” Dickert said.

The Cougars have forced just seven turnovers this year.

The Beavers lean on a many-headed rushing attack, led by veteran Deshaun Fenwick (331 yards, four touchdowns on 73 carries). Two other tailbacks have produced more than 200 rushing yards apiece this season. The team ranks 44th nationally with 181 rushing yards per game. WSU boasts the nation’s No. 26 rushing defense (110 yards per game). Containing OSU’s ground game is the key for the Cougs.

“They’ve been rolling people off the ball and (Fenwick) is incredible,” Dickert said. “They are tough and physical at the line of scrimmage. We’ve done a good job this season against tough, physical football teams, and I think it’ll be another challenge.”

WSU ranks fourth in the FBS with 49 tackles for loss and 11th with 19 sacks. The Beavers have surrendered six sacks this season – four against Stanford.

Oregon State’s defense has only produced six sacks. WSU’s offensive line has given up a conference-most 20 sacks. The Beavers’ rushing defense has been above average this year, not exceptional. The Cougars’ rushing offense has been underwhelming, but freshman WSU tailback Jaylen Jenkins showed star potential last weekend, running for 130 yards on 13 carries.

The Cougars’ passing game stumbled in the second half against USC. The Air Raid will need a bounce-back effort versus an experienced OSU secondary that owns a top-40 coverage grade in the nation, according to the NCAA’s pass-defense efficiency rankings.

“I haven’t seen every secondary in the league … but I think it’s one of the top secondaries we’ve played,” Dickert said. “They’ve got great length and they’re being good playmakers. It’s going to be a big challenge to go into their place and get the win.”

What happened last time? WSU and OSU traded highlights in an entertaining matchup at Gesa Field on Oct. 9, 2021. The Cougars made a red-zone stand late in the fourth quarter to seal a 31-24 win.

Things to know:

1. The Cougars have won eight consecutive games in their series with the Beavers. WSU/OSU matchups have been high-scoring affairs in recent memory. The teams averaged 77 combined points per game over the past eight meetings – WSU 45, OSU 32.

2. Dickert, a first-year coach who is early in the process of building his program, commended fifth-year OSU coach Jonathan Smith for his patient rebuild of the Beavers’ program. After three losing seasons, Smith turned OSU into a winner.

“We’re invested to build our program for the long term, and that’s why I have a lot of respect for what coach Smith has done at Oregon State,” Dickert said. “He came in there and it probably wasn’t great, and he’s done a good job of developing depth all the way through their roster. … We’ll have the ability over time to do that, too.”

3. OSU offensive line coach Jim Michalczik played on the Cougars’ O-line in the 1980s. Quality control assistant Ryan Saparto was a WSU long snapper from 2011-13. He served as a WSU grad assistant for two years after his collegiate career ended. OSU linebackers coach Trent Bray is the son of former WSU volleyball coach Kaprice Rupp and Craig Bray, who oversaw WSU’s secondary between 1987-88 under coach Dennis Erickson. Craig Bray returned to Pullman in the mid-1990s and spent six years on Mike Price’s staff.

4. After playing OSU, the Cougars head into their bye week ahead of a home game against No. 20 Utah.

“With the bye week hanging out there, it’s an important (game) this week to leave it all out there as we get into a much-needed rest week,” he said.

“We still have a lot to prove. These last six games will define this team.”