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Oregon State football expert previews the Arizona game, makes a score prediction

arizona-wildcats-football-osu-beavers-preview-interview-uiagalelei-defense-prediction-pac12-2023 Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images

After a week to rest and recharge, Arizona is back like it never left with yet another ranked opponent. The latest in this gauntlet is 11th-ranked Oregon State, whom the Wildcats are playing for the first time since 2019.

OSU (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12) is also coming off a bye, having beat UCLA 36-24 at home on Oct. 14. The Beavers’ only loss is by three at Washington State.

To better understand this opponent, we reached out to Marcus Russell of SB Nation sister site Building the Dam. Here are his intense answers to our dull questions.

AZ Desert Swarm: Oregon State is off to its best start in 10 years. What has been most impressive about the Beavers’ performance this season?”

Marcus Russell: “To me the biggest thing has been how solid Oregon State has looked at home. The wins over Utah and UCLA helped Oregon State move up in the rankings nationally, but the Beavers really controlled both football games and played their style of football from start to finish. The newly renovated stadium has helped lead to increased attendance and the defense especially has thrived off the increased energy at home.”

The portal addition of former Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei seems to have transformed OSU’s offense. What are his best attributes, and where does he struggle?

“DJ Uiagalelei had some shaky performances to start the season (especially the first three quarters at Washington State), but DJU has been phenomenal the past few weeks. He said he’s feeling more confident in the offense and knows what reads to make. He also has a lot of faith in his offensive line. DJ has a huge arm and excels when he has time in the pocket and can get the ball down field to his playmakers. He struggles at times in the short/intermediate range when he has to force the ball into tight windows.

“Despite DJ’s strong performances, the coaching staff has been forcing highly touted true freshman Aidan Chiles in each game on the third offensive series of the game. I love Aidan Chiles, but the scripted rotation makes no sense to me.”

Reigning Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year Damien Martinez appears to be having an even better sophomore season, leading the Pac-12 in rushing with 676 yards. Describe his style and if it’s something Arizona can neutralize.

“Damien Martinez is the engine that makes this offense go. He’s been really good in every game, but Beaver fans are still waiting for him to pop off for 200-plus yards in one of these Pac-12 games down the stretch. He’s a big physical running back that has a knack for breaking tackles and getting positive yardage even in tough situations. Arizona has a tough run defense, if it can neutralize Martinez on 1st and 2nd down that would make life difficult for Oregon State’s offense.”

Tight end Jack Velling has 7 TDs on just 16 receptions. Is he a matchup nightmare or just in the right place at the right time?

“I’m inclined to say the right place at the right time. Don’t get me wrong, Jack Velling is a stud tight end, but most of his touchdowns have been wide open. He’s a huge target for DJU compared to wide receivers Silas Bolden and Anthony Gould, so that obviously helps. The Beavers are dangerous in the red zone, because they also use DJ in short yardage situations. With so much focus on the backfield in the red zone, Velling can sometimes get lost by opposing defenses.”

What are the strengths and weaknesses of the OSU defense? Are there any players that Arizona needs to be particularly worried about?

“The defense was terrible on the road against Cal and WSU; but amazing at home vs UCLA and Utah. The Beavers were missing a few key players against Cal, but they need to play much better if they are going to win in Tucson. Andrew Chatfield is an important pass rusher for Oregon State. Ryan Cooper Jr. is their top cornerback and Easton Mascarenas-Arnold has been the linebacker in the middle that is racking up tackles. The defense struggles against mobile quarterbacks, but has been fairly strong against the run.”

It took until the 7th game of his 6th season for Jonathan Smith to get to .500 (32-32) as a coach. Why was the OSU administration patient with him in the rebuild, and how glad are you that they were?

“When Jonathan Smith took over the program was in total disarray. Not to be dramatic, but I don’t think Deion Sanders and his plethora of transfers could have saved the Oregon State program back in 2017/18. Everyone was on board with giving Jonathan Smith plenty of time to get the rebuild going. Despite taking six seasons to finally crack .500 the turnaround has actually been much faster and more successful than the administration or even the most optimistic fan could have expected. The demise of the Pac-12 has been gut wrenching for Beaver Nation, but this is a special season and I know the team and it’s fans are enjoying it and trying to maximize every opportunity that they are presented with.”

Prediction time. Can Arizona knock off another ranked opponent and move one step closer to bowl eligibility or will the Beavers bring the Wildcats back down to Earth? Give us a score pick.

“This game terrifies me as an Oregon State fan. Beaver fans want to pencil in the next three victories and set up huge showdowns for the final two games of the season (Washington and Oregon). Overlooking Arizona would be a huge mistake though as they just pummeled Washington State and have looked like an elite football team the last few weeks. The Beavers will need to bring their ‘A’ game this Saturday. I’ll predict a thrilling 30-28 Oregon State victory.”