FACTS & STATS: Site: Martin Stadium (33,522) -- Pullman, Washington. Television: ESPN U. Home Record: Oregon State 2-1, WSU 2-0. Away Record: Oregon State 2-0, WSU 1-2. Neutral Record: Oregon State 0-0, WSU 0-0. Conference Record: Oregon State 2-0, WSU 2-1. Series Record: Washington State leads, 48-46-2.
GAME NOTES: The Oregon State Beavers will try to extend their winning streak to five games on Saturday night, as they challenge the Washington State Cougars in a Pac-12 Conference affair at Martin Stadium in Pullman.
Oregon State began the season with high expectations and a No. 25 ranking in the preseason poll, but it was promptly jettisoned from the ranks following a home-opening loss to FCS foe Eastern Washington, 49-46. The Beavers have not lost in the four contests since that humbling defeat, which includes a 2-0 start in conference play. They are coming off a bye week, and their last outing resulted in a 44-17 shellacking of Colorado at home on Sept. 28.
Washington State has been one of the most pleasant surprises in the Pac-12 during the first half of the season, as its four wins have already surpassed its total from the entire 2012 campaign (3-9). The Cougars have won two of their three conference matchups, the most recent of which being a 44-22 decision against California last weekend, and they have yet to lose at Martin Stadium this season.
After 96 meetings between these two programs, the series remains incredibly close, with Washington State clinging to a 48-46-2 advantage. The Beavers bested the Cougars in last October in Corvallis, 19-6.
The Beavers have found success this season behind one of the nation's most potent offensive attacks, as they rank 20th in scoring (41.6 ppg) and 24th in yardage (488.6 ypg), thanks mostly to the outstanding play of their junior quarterback.
Sean Mannion has taken huge strides in his third season under center. He has completed 67.2 percent of his passes and leads the nation in passing yards with 2,018 (403.6 ypg). After throwing just as many touchdowns as interceptions in 2011 and 2012 (31), Mannion has drastically improved his efficiency with an FBS-leading 21 touchdowns paired against only two picks.
Mannion's stellar play has led to a monster season for Brandin Cooks, who leads the nation in receptions (52), receiving yards (807) and touchdown catches (nine). With Cooks drawing a lot of attention, Richard Mullaney is able to take advantage of single coverage and has 25 receptions for 399 yards and two touchdowns.
While the OSU aerial attack is the best in the nation, the ground game has suffered, as the team averages just 68.0 rushing yards per game. Storm Woods (152 yards, two TDs) and Terron Ward (124 yards, two TDs) both average less than 3.5 yards per carry. Woods is recovering from a concussion, but is listed as probable for this matchup.
Luckily for the Beavers, their outstanding offense is able to hide their deficiencies on the defensive side of the ball. They surrender more than 31 points and 405.6 yards per contest, but on the bright side the unit is able to get off the field by holding opponents to just a 29 percent conversion rate on third down.
Steven Nelson has proven to be one of the nation's most opportunistic cornerbacks with four interceptions and seven passes defended. Tyrequek Zimmerman leads the unit with 40 tackles, while Scott Crichton has 8.0 TFL, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble.
At times, Washington State's offenses is just as explosive as Oregon State's, as it has posted more than 40 points in three games, but the unit has also been known to disappear, scoring 17 points or less twice. Overall, the Cougars sit with impressive numbers (30.8 ppg, 418.3 ypg).
Connor Halliday is equally everything right and everything wrong with the Cougars offense. On the positive side, he is only slightly off Mannion's pace as the FBS leader in passing yards with 1,993 and he has tossed 13 touchdowns, but he has also thrown 10 interceptions, second-most in the country, and has been sacked nine times.
Halliday spreads the wealth to several receivers, with nine players amassing at least 130 receiving yards and 11 tallying double-digit receptions. Gabe Marks is the primary beneficiary with 41 receptions, 478 yards and four touchdowns, while Dominique Williams has been a great deep threat with 275 yards and three touchdowns on just 14 catches.
Much like Oregon State, the Cougars largely ignore the running game when establishing an offensive game plan, as they rank 122nd in the nation with just 58.7 rushing yards per tilt. Teondray Caldwell (147 yards, TD) averages 5.1 yards per carry, but has only 29 attempts through six games.
Defensively, Washington State has played well in allowing just 20.8 ppg, but most of its success has come against lackluster competition. Against nationally-ranked Stanford on Sept. 28, the defense was torched for 55 points.
Deone Bucannon is one of the Pac-12's top defensive playmakers. Not only does he have a team-high 56 tackles, but he has also accounted for several turnovers with six interceptions, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Damante Hornton (three INTs), Daquawn Brown (two INTs) and Kalafitoni Pole (two FR, one FF) have also been active in the turnover battle, while Ioane Gauta has 6.0 TFL and 2.5 sacks.
These two remarkably evenly-matched teams will go toe-to-toe in what should be an exciting and high-scoring game, but even with the home field advantage, WSU will have its hands full considering the turnover problems its quarterback has been having. With Mannion slinging at an alarming rate while simultaneously playing mistake-free football, expect the Beavers to come out on top.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Oregon State 41, Washington State 38
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