A late season road game at Oregon State with the status of Keith Price uncertain - I feel like we've seen this before. The Huskies find themselves in a precarious position as their hopes for a big breakout season are fading and the possibility of a goose egg in conference road games looms. We've heard that players on the team are upset and angry at talk from some quarters calling for Sark's job. Well, the solution is pretty simple - win. Which is easier said than done with a gimpy QB, a LT with a very sore lower leg and a team that keeps finding new ways to sabotage themselves on the road.
Oregon State may be reeling from a very tough 2nd half stretch to their season as they are riding a 3-game losing streak of their own, but this is a good team. They have one of the best WR's in the country in Brandin Cooks, and pretty good other options in WR Richard Mullaney, TE Connor Hamlett and RB Storm Woods out of the backfield to help form the 2nd most productive passing offense in the country. QB Sean Mannion beat out Cody Vaz in the off-season and hasn't looked back, though he's had a bit of a rough patch in the last two games throwing 7 picks. It's a good thing for Oregon State the passing attack has been so effective, because for the 2nd year in a row their running game has really struggled.
This would seem to play into the hands of the Huskies, as their pass defense has been better than their run defense - they rank 16th in pass efficiency defense, but just 68th in yards/carry allowed. If the staff decides to assign Marcus Peters exclusively to cover Cooks, one would think they stand a decent chance of containing the damage from the super Junior.
The flip side is whether the Husky offense can keep rolling with either a banged-up Keith Price or an inexperienced Cyler Miles taking the snaps. They did reasonably well after Price went down last week, but one can be forgiven for being nervous about the QB status. And while the Beaver defensive numbers overall don't look great for the year, they've picked things up in Pac-12 play and rank among the better units in conference-only stats. You'd like to think the Huskies can lean on Bishop Sankey to carry them to the win, and perhaps if Miles gets the start we'll see a more legit QB/RB dual threat on the read-option. It's worth pointing out that the Beavers have been the 2nd best pass defense in conference-only games so far, which doesn't seem to bode well given the Husky QB situation.
So does that mean more misery on the road, or can the Dawgs break the string? Call me an optimist, but I think we'll see them play like their backs are against the wall, and the various bad breaks and breakdowns that held them back at Stanford & UCLA will vanish, and they'll keep the dream of 9 wins alive for another week: Washington 27, Oregon State 24
The Oregon State game represents Sark's last chance to set the fan base at ease as it relates to both the prospects for "success" for this season (whatever that definition is) and the Huskies ability - or lack thereof - to win on the road. I'm on the record as saying that I do not believe there is any difference to preparing a team to play on the road versus preparing to play at home. There are certainly logistical and officiating advantages that a home team gets, but I do believe that the best way to prepare a team is to set a relentless routine and follow it so that the opponent, the weather and the location of the game are minimized in terms of total distraction. In fact, if it were not for a housed kickoff return and a pair of highly uncharacteristic fumbles by our two best overall players, the narrative for this game would be completely different. We'd be talking about the chance at a winning road record and lauding Sark on how he "had turned it around". Indeed, the margin between success and failure in this regard is razor-thin this season.
I like this match-up for the Huskies on a variety of dimensions. Defensively, the Huskies kryptonite has been its ability to stop physical, straight-ahead rushing attacks. Conversely, the Huskies defense has prospered against teams that want to play sideline-to-sideline or pass-first. In fact, the Huskies boast arguably the best pass D in the Pac 12. I doubt they'll be able to shut down Brandin Cooks altogether, but they certainly have the physicality on the edges and the versatility in the LB corps to make his life difficult whether he is taking the post deep or running his fly sweep. Combine that with a staionary quarterback who has reverted to his old "happy feet" days in Sean Mannion, and I can see the Huskies really making some plays. I will say this: the Beaver O-Line has played far better then I had thought coming into the season. While they had suffered a stretch where they gave up 14 sacks in three games, they surrendered just one against ASU last week. A key to watch will be how they handle the Husky blitz, Danny Shelton's pocket busting and Hau'oli Kikaha's pass rush.
Offensively, the Huskies should move the ball against a relatively average (which is far better than expected performance) Oregon State defense. OSU is among the lowest rated scoring D's in the Pac 12, and they haven't yet played Oregon. Their rushing D is their achilles heel and, when backed up on their end of the field, the Beavers have the worst red zone D in the conference (yes, even worse than Cal). With the versatility in the Huskies offense, I see them being able to move the ball. QB shouldn't be an issue. If it's Keith Price, the offense will be more 50/50. If it is Cyler Miles, expect a full unleashing of the read-option offense. Either way, I can't discount the advantage that the Beavers will have in with Scott Crichton against whichever OT he ends up facing. Expect the Beavers to win this battle more times than not and create enough negative plays to cause the Huskies to have to punt more than what the typical fan is comfortable with.
The Huskies should be able to do enough to win this game given the advantages that they have and the slump that Mannion appears to be in. All this is for naught if Mannion gets hot, but I'm going with the Huskies in a close one. Call it Washington 35-32
I just cant pick Washington to win this week, because I have been told I am too positive. That being said. Peters returns a Mannion pick six. Shaq forces AND recovers a fumble. Sankey runs wild. Cyler Miles runs wild and picks up his first college victory in his first start. UW 31 OSU 27
Reser Stadium. Corvallis, Oregon. Another Pac-12 site where the Huskies don't typically play well. Getting the road monkey (more like gorilla at this point) off the team's back won't be easy. Whatever winning mentality and quiet confidence the Huskies have at home just doesn't seem to translate on the road, no matter the opponent. Granted, the Husky road games this year have been against truly great teams. But, this seems like a truly winnable game. It's very much a strength against strength type of match up. UW's less than stellar run defense is going against a team that hasn't even cracked 700 yards AS A TEAM rushing, and averages a paltry 2.7 yards per carry. However Oregon State has probably the best pass catch duo on the conference, if not the country. The Sean Mannion to Brandin Cooks connection has produced 1400 yards and 14 TDs for the 5-10 receiver. Not only is he fast, but he runs great routes, and most importantly, catches the ball. While I like what I've seen out of Kevin King this year, the return of 5th year senior Will Shamburger as Sean Parker's partner in crime should help the Husky secondary, which is currently tops in the Pac-12. What it comes down to however, as it always does with this team, is the play on the lines. I don't think Oregon State's O and D lines are elite, but they have some nice players. I think Scott Crichton will be in the Husky backfield a good amount, and the Washington pass rush won't do enough to frustrate Mannion to take him out of his rhythm. Lastly, even if Keith starts, he won't 100% which to me spells underthrown balls, and turnovers. I hate to do it again, but I don't have a good feeling about this one, regardless of the team's stats or talent level between the teams. Stringfellow has another big night, Bishop Sankey gets even closer to Corey Dillon's record, but special teams and crucial penalties let Washington down. Oregon State 35, Washington 27
The Huskies have seemingly found new ways to lose on the road each time this year in Pac 12 play. Against Stanford, it was atrocious special teams play. Against Arizona State, it was the offense's inability to move the ball. Against UCLA, it was early turnovers and the inability to finish on defense. Aside from the common threads of too many (and often untimely) penalties that have plagued the team all season, the Huskies really just aren't as good at anything on the road as they are at home. They don't block as well, they don't tackle as well, and they can't overcome their own mistakes nearly as well outside of Husky Stadium. Some of that is to be expected - most teams probably don't. It's the starkness in comparison that's the issue. And that's why, yet again, I think this game comes down more to how well the Huskies play than what Oregon State does.
I'm not discounting the Beavers, by any stretch. They present a challenge the Huskies haven't really seen that often this season - a wide open passing game that's successful and efficient, and a running game that's mostly an afterthought. That should play into the Huskies' strengths, though. I don't think they'll be able to shut the Beavers down, but they should be able to keep Sean Mannion and Brandon Cooks from making huge plays through the air. As long as the defense can be sound when the Beavers do run, they should be able to keep the Beavers offense in check enough to keep them from outscoring the offensive Dawgs.
I wish the QB situation was more settled. I'm not a huge fan of starting a guy that hasn't practiced all week, even if it's Keith Price. Especially since I'd hope the game plan they've worked on this week incorporates more of Cyler Miles' legs than we saw in the second half of the UCLA game. No matter who starts, though, this game should rest largely on the shoulders of Bishop Sankey and the Husky running game. Oregon State is significantly worse at home against the rush than they are on the road (and it isn't entirely a matter of schedule). They aren't "good" regardless. Sankey was good against Stanford, but has largely been bottled up by ASU and UCLA. That, hopefully, changes on Saturday. If Miles starts, I hope we see a rushing attack largely defined by the read option (with a legitimate threat of the QB keeping the ball) and shorter passes both wide and to the middle of the field. If Price starts, the game plan is going to be largely what we've seen the last few weeks, as long as Price has the strength to throw deep. It's going to be up to the offensive line to keep his jersey clean.
The Dawgs have lost each time I've picked them on the road in conference play. So my reverse psychology pick is Oregon State 31, Huskies 23. (But flip those numbers, and that's what I really think)