The Oregon State Beavers have two impressive victories over ranked teams, but history shows that could mean little on Saturday afternoon. The Arizona Wildcats have an intense recent streak of games against Mike Riley's crew. Upsets and late game heroics are likely. So we chatted with Andy Wooldridge of Building the Dam to discuss the matchup, and I also answered some of his questions over on the Beavs-happy blog.
1) In short, the Beavers' run defense has been fantastic against two of the best backs -- Wisconsin's Montee Ball and UCLA's Johnathan Franklin -- in the country. What have Mike Riley's crew done to keep those run games at bay?
The defense has injected speed. By running more nickel and some dime, its put speed on the field, and the DBs are good at getting up in run support. Also, LB D.J. Welch and DE Dylan Wynn are wicked fast. And lastly, Oregon St. is playing 2, sometimes 3 deep on the D-line, something they have never really done before, which has kept fresh troops on the field.
2) How do you think the Beavers defense will match up against Arizona's zone read offense?
Because of the changes discussed above, pretty well. The defense is flying to the ball instead of getting caught on their heels. I do expect some episodes of receivers getting into gaps as a result of mistakes from a secondary that still has a lot of inexperience in it, as we all saw against UCLA, but there should be plenty of times the Beaver defense meets the ball at the defender as well.
3) Sean Mannion has been very good through two games. What's his maturation process been like from his freshman to sophomore season, and how much do the Beavers rely upon him?
Sean realized as well as anyone that he had to work on his decision making, and applied himself in the off-season the way you would hope he would. The leadership came naturally from everyone seeing him doing the right things the right way. And though the Beavers did run better than they have in a long time in the second half against UCLA, Oregon St. is still a pass to set up the run offense, and depends on Mannion to make plays to get the offense going.
4) One guy who has stood out in the pieces of Oregon State games I've seen is Brandin Cooks, the sophomore wide receiver. Is speed his only skill? And how do the Beavers use him in both the run and pass game?
Speed is Cooks' best attribute, but he's quickly become a good route runner as well, and has very good hands. He learned from the master about these skills in James Rodgers, and this year, he's also learning from Markus Wheaton how to effectively block down field.
And the Beavers do run him on the fly sweep as well as using him as a receiver. Wheaton too; Riley is finding as many ways as he can to get the ball in the hands of his speediest players.
5) What's one thing about Arizona that should worry the Beavers schematically or personnel-wise?
If Matt Scott runs the read-option to the optimum, he will still find plays to be made. In breaking down the tape of the Oregon game, there were plays there to be made, and the array of receivers Arizona has means you can not key on taking away player/position and expect to shut the 'Cats down. The Beavers can't count on Scott to miss opportunities.
6) In your gut, how do you think this game pans out? Two Pac-12 teams with solid resumes going at it should make for a close game I'm thinking.
Tucson always seems to be a tough place to play, and for whatever reason, the 'Cats seem to play very physical when at home, at least historically. I don't expect that to change just because there's a new coaching staff in town. I have a feeling the game will still be in doubt quite late in the game, and for that reason, the heat could become a factor, even at night. Depth and conditioning will come into play.
That said, this Oregon St. team has an attitude of dictating and defining the game, and I look for that to put them in good position to pull out a win. And I think the Beavers can make a big play at some point, something they have lacked the last couple of years. The way the 'Cats defense shut down the Ducks for 2/3 of the game concerns me though. Prior to that game, I felt Arizona would need to recruit a few more players on that side of the ball to really live up to hopes down there.
And there's the law of averages that says the 'Cats are due against the Beavers. But this Oregon St. team has already proven they aren't subject to the law of averages or being the underdogs. I expect something like a 27-22 game either way, with a 60/40 chance its Oregon St. on top.
What do you think?