By T.J. Mathewson
Contributor, 750 The Game
Dan Lanning said it best.
“This is our Super Bowl.”
The Oregon State side was a little more reserved about crowing this game more important than all the others, but the meaning for everyone else in the state reflects more of what Dee Andros used to say: “This game is for the right to live in this state.”
Oregon State fights an uphill battle to retain the rights after a thrilling win to cap off the 2022 regular season. This 2023 version of the Ducks is one of the most complete teams in college football in the second year of the Dan Lanning era. Vegas agrees, not only is Oregon a two-touchdown favorite, but also the odds-on favorite to win the Pac-12 Championship Game despite Washington beating them earlier this season and earning a spot in the CFP top four on Tuesday.
Anything is possible in the final Pac-12 regular season game played at Autzen Stadium. How do the Beavers come out on top? Here’s three keys to them doing so:
1. The Beavers win the line of scrimmage on offense
The Oregon State offensive line is in a rough spot. Starting LG Heneli Bloomfield is out for the year, C Jake Levengood is banged up, though returned to the Beavers’ lineup against Washington, and Grant Starck is also questionable to play vs the Ducks. Redshirt junior Flavio Gonzalez might be called upon more Friday if Starck isn’t good to go. None of this bodes well for Oregon State matching up with a good Ducks defensive line. The Beavers sprung the upset a season ago by controlling the LOS and hammering the run; they MUST control the tempo of the game on offense if they’ll have a chance. This is the only area of the game I see the Beavers having any sort of advantage in, and they need to pounce on it. If the Beavers play like they did down the stretch of the Washington game, it’s going to be a long night at Autzen.
2. At some point, the Beavers need win crucial battles on the outside
The Beavers’ secondary isn’t faring much better than the offensive line. Both corner Jaden Robinson and safety Akili Arnold are questionable for Friday, leaving Oregon State shorthanded against another elite group of WRs. This group was aided heavily by the downpour at Reser on Saturday, and yet still surrendered three backbreaking plays to Rome Odunze. Ducks junior wideout Troy Franklin is right up there with Odunze on many NFL Draft boards, racking up 1,221 yards and 13 touchdowns in 11 games. He’s a handful to defend and an explosive athlete who has the chance to take over this game. Alongside Tez Johnson and Gary Bryant Jr., the Oregon State defense could be reeling early. The Beavers played well on the road last time out against Colorado, but the rest of the road sample doesn’t offer too much optimism.
3. DJ U goes out strong
6/20. That’s how accurate DJ Uiagalelei was passing beyond five yards on Saturday against Washington. The Oregon State offense is built upon running the football and explosive plays in the passing game. When one of those elements gets taken away, as the rain and Husky defense did, the Beavers get a whole lot easier to defend. It’s going to be no easy task for DJ on Friday; Oregon ranks in the top ten nationally in yards per attempt allowed. But, if the offensive line does its job, the junior quarterback has to do his. Uiagalelei has had two excellent games on the road (SJSU, Cal), and three subpar ones (WSU, Arizona, Colorado). I think we see more of Uiagalelei’s legs against the Ducks, it was very successful (6 rushes for 53 yards) to balance his attempts vs a stout UW pass defense and keep the offense on track. For DJ’s sake, he should also run over his brother Matayo. Offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren said Tuesday they are going to be leaning on DJ’s experience in rivalry games to keep themselves focused, and his play needs to reflect that.
After all of that, I don’t like the Beavers’ chances. I see advantages for Oregon across the board in this game, though if it comes down to field goal kicking, Atticus Sappington has my vote. I think the better team and better quarterback get off to a hot start, and keep Oregon State chasing from behind for much of the contest, and that’s not how this team is built to win. For the first time all season, I’ll pick against the Beavers.
Oregon 35, Oregon State 21