Though Oregon State's offense has received a heaping amount of credit for the team's inspired performance this year (and deservedly so, in my opinion), the defense is what has tied this team into a full package. Through six games, they have the nation's fifth-best run defense and the 17th-best scoring defense. Oregon state runs a traditional 4-3 scheme that relies on its players to make smart, disciplined reads, which they have shown an ability to do in spades. If the Huskies stand a chance of staying in this game, it will be by keeping this a low-scoring affair, because this isn't a unit that looks likely to give up more than three or four touchdowns.
Defensive Line: Every courtship involves at least "one that got away," and for the Huskies, that moniker undoubtedly can be applied to redshirt sophomore defensive end Scott Crichton, pictured above, an unheralded two-star recruit from Tacoma's Foss High School whose development is best illustrated by his addition to the Bednarik Award watch list for the nation's top defensive player this week. When Sarkisian's squad decided not to offer the lifelong Husky fan a scholarship in 2010, he headed south to Corvallis, where he's been tearing up the field for the Beavers ever since. Crichton leads the conference sacks (8.0) and is second in tackles for loss (12.5), and that's with him having played one less game than virtually everyone else who is competing with him for those stats. Expect him to get fired up for this game too: Following his team's win over Washington State, Crichton indicated that his feelings for the Cougars didn't even approach the level of his emotions toward the Huskies, saying "I hate U-Dub." He had arguably his best game of the year in 2011 against the Huskies, registering 3.0 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks and forcing a fumble. If Crichton has a monster game on Saturday like he did last year, there's little question that it will be a long night for the Pups. Joining Crichton on the defensive line are first year-starter Castro Masaniai and returning starters Andrew Seumalo and Dylan Wynn.
Linebacker: OSU welcomes back two starting linebackers in Feti Taumoepeau at Mike and Michael Doctor at Will, while breaking in true sophomore D.J. Alexander at Sam. This unit has been absolutely key to stuffing opponent rushing attacks, with Doctor tied for the team's most tackles (37) and Welch coming in second at tackles for loss with 5.0.
Cornerback: The Beavers claim one of the best cornerback tandems in the nation, thanks to the play of Jordan Poyer and Rashaad Reynolds. Poyer in particular has played outstanding this year, making five INTs in six games (including a pick-six against BYU), while Reynolds leads the team with 30 solo tackles. Reynolds has also proven to be astute in pass coverage, having successfully defended 11 so far this year. Poyer sprained his wrist in last week's game against Utah, but is expected to play on Saturday.
Safety: Leading Oregon State at the strong and free safety positions are true sophomore Tyrequek Zimmerman and redshirt sophomore Ryan Murphy, respectively. Both Murphy and Zimmerman have relatively quiet stat lines in 2012 but have shown great awareness of where the ball is headed on any given play, with Murphy tallying 34 tackles to Zimmerman's 25. The relative youth of this unit is helpfully mitigated by the presence of 2011 starter and fifth-year senior Anthony Watkins, who missed the season opener against Wisconsin with a nagging hip injury but has played in every game since.