By T.J. Mathewson
Contributor, 750 The Game
The Beavers’ final non-conference test awaits on Saturday when San Diego State (2-1) comes to town. Oregon State leads the all-time series 3-2, winning the last three, including back-to-back wins in the 2013 and 2014 seasons under Mike Riley. The Aztecs got blasted by UCLA at home a week ago 35-10, and were dominated in almost every facet of the game. Oregon State opened as a 21-point favorite, but the line has already grown to -24.5, the most the Beavers’ have been favored this season. Here’s some of the keys I’m looking for on Saturday afternoon (12:30 p.m., FS1)
1. Turnover clash
If there’s one thing that San Diego State has done exceptionally well this season, it is forcing opponent turnovers. The Aztecs have forced a nation-leading eight turnovers so far (albeit in a game more than most, this is already their fourth game). The Beavers are one of ten programs that have not turned the ball over on offense yet. Turnovers are largely luck-based, bounce here, a batted ballthere, but the Beavers have also kept themselves out of turnover-worthy situations, like forcing DJ Uiagalelei to fit a ball into a tight window in a close game, or Damien Martinez exposing the ball to reach for a first down. You can credit those guys as well for protecting the rock. SDSU turned UCLA over twice last week, forcing a pair of fumbles late in the game when the contest was out of reach. The only way I see SDSU having a shot in this game is if they force Oregon State into multiple turnovers deep in their own territory.
2. Keep everything in front of you on defense
San Diego State does not have an explosive passing attack. They average just 5.5 yards per attempt, which ranks outside the top 100 nationally. In their first Power Five competition last week against UCLA, the Aztecs dropped back 38 times and gained only 5.2 YPA. The Beavers have allowed only six explosive plays (15+ yards gained through the air) in the two games (five of them came against fellow Mountain West program San Jose State, but only one came when the Spartans were within TWO scores). Quarterback Jaylen Mayden has really struggled to push the ball downfield in the air in his career, and I would expect the Beavers to be ultra-aggressive in the secondary against the senior who threw three interceptions against UCLA a week ago. The Aztecs only throw it around 43 percent of the time but will throw it more if they fall behind like a week ago (33 runs to 38 passes). The defensive back room, especially redshirt senior Jaden Robinson, has been phenomenal, but also look for more of the youngsters like Jermod McCoy, Wynston Russell, Josiah Johnson, and a rehabbing Alton Julian, who continues to ramp back up from a 2021 injury.
3. Time To See A Tight End Make an Impact
Now, I will clarify that this is something that will need to stretch over the next couple of weeks. This is a deep, experienced TE room with Jack Velling, Jermaine Terry, Jake Overman, Gabe Milbourn, Riley Sharp, and others. Yet, the group has only combined to catch seven passes through two games (two touchdowns though) in the 2023 season, mostly due to the staggering leads the offense has racked up against overmatched competition. Current Green Bay Packer Luke Musgrave caught 11 passes through the first nearly two games a year ago, before missing the rest of the year with injury. That kind of volume came without Uiagalelei under center for the Beavers. Oregon State has only thrown the ball 54 times (42 percent of the time) so feeding one guy the ball 20 percent of the time doesn’t make too much sense. The Beavers have at least seen glimpses of the different types of offense they can run on a given night, but not attacking the middle of the field with a mismatch TE over and over.
San Diego State can muck up the game early, run the ball a ton, and try and keep the Beavers off the field. However, I think the Oregon State team is better than the UCLA group that took care of business down at SnapDragon Stadium a week ago. Like the previous two weeks, the Beavers’ advantages in the trenches will lead way to a 3-0 record.
PREDICTION: Oregon State 38 SDSU 10