By T.J. Mathewson
Contributor, 750 The Game
The No. 11 Beavers emerge out of the bye week with a trip down to Tucson to face the 4-3 Arizona Wildcats. I can’t think of a record more deceiving than the one Arizona has right now. The Wildcats’ losses are as follows: 31-24 to Mississippi State in OT, a 31-24 affair at home to then-No. 7 Washington, and a 43-41 thriller to then-No. 9 USC in a game the Wildcats could have easily won. Arizona just pummeled then-No. 19 Washington State 44-6, making the Cougars look stupid in the building the Beavers’ only loss was this season.
This game has chaos written all over it. 7:30 on ESPN? It’s fitting that Halloween is right around the corner. Oregon State only sits as a 3.5-point favorite and is on major upset alert. How do they pull it out on the road?
1. Respect the rushing attack of the Wildcats
Arizona might not be an elite rushing team. They certainly don’t establish it, ranking 103rd nationally in rush percentage (46 percent), but they make it count when they do, rushing for an average of 4.7 yards per carry. The Wildcats ran for 195 yards and five touchdowns on the Palouse two weeks ago and ran it even better (42 for 232 yards) in the overtime loss to USC. The rushing attack is balanced between two backs, Jonah Coleman and DJ Williams, with sophomore Luke Rayshon mixing in as well. Oregon State has surrendered a mind-boggling 531 rushing yards in the two weeks before the bye. It’ll be hard for the Beavers to control the pace of the game if they are the ones getting run on yet again.
2. Noah Fifita or Jayden de Laura?
The 5-11 redshirt freshman burst onto the scene against Washington with de Laura unable to go, tossing three touchdowns in the loss to the Huskies. He followed that up with a five-touchdown performance against USC before leading the Wildcats to their biggest win of the season in Pullman. He’s completed over 70 percent of his passes and has been a revelation running the show in Tucson. While it seems like a no-brainer to stick with Fifita, Jedd Fisch is holding his cards close to his chest in regards to who will start on Saturday night. De Laura has been pretty good this season as well, passing for over 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns (has sprinkled in five interceptions), while also rushing for a career-high 121 yards and three touchdowns. If both play, this will be the fourth game in a row the Beavers will face either a QB mystery (Utah, Cal, Arizona) or multiple QBs (Utah, UCLA).
3. Attacking another bruising run defense
For the third time in four games, the Beavers are going up against a really stout defensive front. Overall, the Wildcats aren’t great on defense (poor, in fact, against the pass), but they stop the run amongst the best in the country. It’s a top-25 unit by yards-allowed-per-rush (3.3) and held the elite rush offense of USC to an entire yard under their season average. Both UCLA and Utah were able to stymie the Oregon State rushing attack, holding the Beavers well under their per-rush and per-game average. Oregon State was able to make it through that by trusting their bazooka-armed quarterback and dynamic playmakers on the outside, who should be geared up for another good day. Arizona ranks outside the top 100 in yards allowed per pass attempt.
You can’t underestimate how important it is for Oregon State to focus on this game and this game only. A 7:30 PM kickoff in Tucson facing a hot quarterback and a stout defense that stops the run and gets after the quarterback just reeks of upset potential. While the Beavers are going to need another good performance out of their quarterback DJ Uiagalelei, Oregon State needs a significantly better performance out of their defense on the road to stay on track. Both Pac-12 road games have been a defensive disaster and this hand shows all the cards for another offensive dual between these two programs. I can’t pick against Oregon State, though. They are the better team, there is nothing in their play which tells me I should pick against them. They will sneak this one out at the end with a late touchdown or field goal.
Oregon State 38, Arizona 31.