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Things to watch: Washington can clinch Pac-12 championship game berth with win over Oregon State

By Mike Vorel Seattle Times

SEATTLE – Here are three things to watch for when No. 5 Washington (10-0, 7-0 Pac-12) takes on No. 10 Oregon State (8-2, 5-2) on Saturday at Reser Stadium in Corvallis, Oregon. Kickoff is set for 4:30 p.m. with the broadcast on ABC.

A win would clinch the Huskies a spot in the Pac-12 championship game. The Beavers are 2½-point favorites.

Stuffing the run

UW’s coaches and players said repeatedly last week that Utah was the most physical team they’d seen all season. Better check again. No. 10 Oregon State (8-2) has found success through a consistently clobbering rushing attack, averaging 5.39 yards per carry (ninth in the nation) and 196.9 rushing yards per game (21st). Running backs Damien Martinez and Deshaun Fenwick and quarterback DJ Uiagalelei combine to systematically wear down defenses. On the other side, UW’s defense has been inconsistent – sitting seventh in the Pac-12 in rushing defense (140.3 yards allowed per game) and eighth in opponent yards per carry (4.37). After holding Utah to a more respectable 115 rushing yards and 4.3 yards per carry a week ago, can the Huskies repeat the feat (and consistently get off the field) against Oregon State? We’ll see soon enough.

The turnover tango

Against an efficient rushing attack intent on dominating time of possession, in perhaps the most hostile environment the Huskies will see this season, UW can’t afford to squander possessions or let momentum slip away. Oregon State sits sixth nationally in turnover margin (1.0), having gained 18 turnovers (12 interceptions, six fumbles) while surrendering only eight. Washington, meanwhile, is ranked a lowly 83rd (-0.20). And yet, timely takeaways have spurred several UW wins in recent weeks – including two interceptions against Utah, a forced fumble against USC and a pick-six against Arizona State. It’s likely a turnover or two will swing this game, one way or another. Can a UW defense that has surrendered just seven points in its past four fourth quarters continue to make plays when it counts?

Weathering the storm

You already know the narrative. On Saturday, here comes big, bad Washington against little-old-upstart Oregon State. Here comes the big-city team with College Football Playoff aspirations, against the underappreciated, overlooked spoiler. Here comes a program that, in setting its sails for Big Ten country, burned down the Beavers’ dam. Here comes Goliath, riding the wave of 17 consecutive wins, as David readies his rocks. That will be the narrative inside a renovated, frenzied Reser Stadium. How will the Huskies handle it? Can Washington withstand that surge of emotion? Can Kalen DeBoer’s team endure? Chainsaws will be roaring over the loudspeakers in Corvallis. It’s UW’s job to consistently cut through the noise.


On paper, Oregon State looks like a problem, with a rushing attack built to attack Washington’s weaknesses and ample motivation to pull off a top-10 win. But this Washington team just continues to find a way – whether it be a momentum-shifting safety against Utah, a forced fumble against USC, a pick-six against Arizona State or a trio of fourth-down stops against Oregon. It’s a cliché, but UW coach DeBoer continues to tell his players they’re “built for this” … and it’s time to believe him. UW quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and his receivers will be precise on Saturday, junior running back Dillon Johnson will chug through tackle attempts and UW’s defense will (again) do just enough. The Huskies’ winning streak will reach 18 games with another closely contested road win.

Final score: Huskies 31, Beavers 30