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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

First look: No. 21 Washington State hosts No. 14 Oregon State in clash of final Pac-12 teams

WSU QB Cameron Ward scrambles against Oregon State on Oct. 15 at Reser Stadium in Corvallis, Ore. The Cougars lost 24-10.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – Here’s a first look at No. 21 Washington State’s Pac-12 opener, a home matchup with No. 14 Oregon State on Saturday.

What is it? No. 21 Washington State, which climbed two spots in the AP Top 25 rankings thanks to a 64-21 win over Northern Colorado last weekend, opens conference play against Oregon State, the only other remaining team in the Pac-12.

Where is it? Gesa Field at Martin Stadium in Pullman.

When is it? Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. local time.

Where can I watch it? Fox 28 will broadcast the game.

Who is favored? Oregon State opened as a 2.5-point favorite.

How did the Cougars fare last week? Washington State had no problem dispatching Northern Colorado last weekend. Quarterback Cameron Ward totaled five touchdowns, four through the air and one on the ground, helping the Cougs build a 43-0 lead and cruise the rest of the way.

On its way to 715 total yards, WSU spread the wealth. Receiver Lincoln Victor hauled in six passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns, Josh Kelly secured five receptions for 74 yards and one score, walk-on running back Dylan Paine generated 81 rushing yards and a touchdown on seven carries and backup quarterback John Mateer – whose role is expanding by the week – completed 7 of 8 passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns, which went to first-time scorers Tsion Nunnally and Josh Meredith.

The Cougs’ defense didn’t force any turnovers, but they had their way, too. Star edge rushers Ron Stone Jr. and Brennan Jackson recorded one sack apiece. Northern Colorado didn’t score for the first time until the final seconds of the first half. The Cougs tallied five tackles for loss (three from Jackson and Stone Jr. combined) and, in some of the most telling numbers from the game, two of WSU’s leading tacklers were backups: Redshirt freshman defensive back Reece Sylvester led the team with six tackles, and redshirt freshman linebacker Taariq Al-Uqdah posted four tackles, two solo, good for third on the team.

That’s a roundabout way of stating the obvious. This Washington State win was about the Cougs’ reserves, who got a chance to shine in garbage time. In fact, WSU’s players of the game were its offensive linemen, head coach Jake Dickert said on Monday: Redshirt sophomores Rod Tialavea and Devin Kylany, starter Brock Dieu, backup Christy Nkanu – “There’s no doubt he had his best game sliding inside,” Dickert said of Nkanu – plus freshmen Luke Roaten and Ashton Tripp.

“They created space,” Dickert said. “It wasn’t against a different defense than the ones went against. It was the same scheme. So it was an attitude. It was a mindset.”

Plus, once Jackson and Stone Jr. exited with the game out of reach, the Cougs got a chance to test their depth at the edge position, playing reserves like true freshman Isaac Terrell, redshirt sophomore Raam Stevenson and junior Andrew Edson. All impressed, Dickert said, and that will matter when Jackson and Stone Jr. need rest during Pac-12 play.

“I think Raam usually comes in a lot of our pass-rush scenarios, and we gotta just get him loose,” Dickert said. “I think sometimes he thinks a little bit too much out there, and he’s just blessed with such God-given ability – just go rush. Just go rush. Eddie is just just one of those steady guys. I mean, effort, toughness, hands, determination, grit. He just adds it.

“Isaac is just a puppy, getting his feet wet, but plays a certain way that you just love. So the more reps we give him, the better he’ll get. And all three of those guys are gonna play a big role, and they’ve gotta play physical because Oregon State’s tight ends can move some people.”

Scouting Oregon State… We’ll get to their offensive and defensive lines in a moment, but the tip of the Beavers’ spear is quarterback DJ Uiagalelei, who had something of an uneven showing last week. In OSU’s 26-9 win over San Diego State, the Clemson transfer completed 14 of 30 passes for 284 yards, one touchdowns and two interceptions in the fourth quarter, which gave the Aztecs a chance to rally.

Uiagalelei, who left Clemson with a reputation as a volatile quarterback, has turned in a solid first three games this season. He led the Beavers to a season-opening win over San Jose State by completing 20 of 25 passes for 239 yards and three scores. In their next game, a romp over FCS UC Davis, Uiagalelei threw just 13 times, completing eight of those for 107 yards and two touchdowns.

He improved moderately last weekend. Uiagalelei hit his first touchdown pass on a throw-back to offensive lineman Joshua Gray, and midway through the fourth quarter, he laced a screen pass to speedster wideout Anthony Gould, who took it 75 yards to the end zone.

So while Uiagalelei might get the headlines, the weapons around him complete the Beavers’ offensive attack. Think about this: When Dickert was checking out the film of OSU’s win over SDSU and he saw Gould’s touchdown, he looked harder at his TV. Was the film sped up?

“That’s how fast that dude was running,” Dickert said. “So they’ll beat you in multiple different ways. So we’ve just gotta be really, really sound. But it will be won in the trenches.”

That’s the challenge facing WSU on Saturday: How will the Cougs match up with the Beavers’ linemen? Gray, a left tackle who earned Pac-12 offensive lineman of the week honors on Monday, is flanked by his other four linemen: Left guard Heneli Bloomfield, center Jake Levengood, right guard Tanner Miller and right tackle Taliese Fuaga.

That group makes up one of the Pac-12’s best offensive lines. The Beavers’ defensive line has impressed too. That unit includes edge Sione Lolohea, plus interior linemen James Rawls and Joe Golden.

“I think we can, on both sides of the ball, be efficient, effective and dominant at the line of scrimmage,” Dickert said. “That’s what that’s what it takes in his league. Make no mistake about the high flying offenses – you’ve gotta be good at the line of scrimmage. And that’s what it’s gonna take for 60 minutes.”

What happened last time? Last fall, in Washington State’s 24-10 loss to Oregon State in Corvallis, the Cougs couldn’t stop the run, yielding 203 yards on the ground. Damien Martinez, who is back on the team this year, carded 16 carries for 111 yards, including one 50-yard burst.

In that one, Ward aired it out 54 times, completing 25 of those passes. He threw one touchdown and one interception. The Cougs faced a 10-3 halftime deficit, and after the Beavers took a two-score lead early in the fourth frame, WSU didn’t score again.