SALT LAKE CITY — Oregon State is making a case for having the top pair of receivers in the Pac-12, if not the nation. Senior Markus Wheaton and sophomore Brandin Cooks are doing well. So well, in fact, that they're ranking right up there — and then some — with players like USC's highly touted duo of Marqise Lee and Robert Woods.
"These guys are right in that same ballpark," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said as the Utes prepare to face the eighth-ranked Beavers Saturday night at Reser Stadium in Corvallis.
Wheaton enters the game with 41 receptions and six touchdowns, while Cook has 34 catches and two scores.
"Both of those guys are great playmakers and athletes," said Utah safety Brian Blechen. "Oregon State does a good job of really getting them the ball in different ways. Receivers are tough to stop when they're in a groove and doing that. So we're going to have to do a good job containing those two."
It won't be easy. Cooks leads the Pac-12 in receiving and ranks second nationally with 131.8 yards per game. Wheaton is third in the conference with 112.8.
"We've got a challenge ahead of us," Whittingham said. "No question about it."
It's a situation, though, comparable to one the Utes faced in a 38-28 setback to USC on Oct. 4. Lee and Woods combined to make 18 catches that night. The backbreaker was an 83-yard scoring strike from Matt Barkley to Lee in the fourth quarter that allowed the Trojans to pull away.
"I thought we held up pretty good against USC," Whittingham said. "We gave up the one ball over the top, otherwise I thought that was pretty good defense in the back end."
The Trojans wound up with 303 yards in the air — 35 less than what Oregon State's averages per game. Lee (9.0) and Woods (6.0) are first and seventh in the Pac-12, respectively, in receptions per game. Wheaton (8.2) and Cooks (6.8) are second and fifth.
"Nobody's been able to really stop them yet. You just try to slow them down," Whittingham said. "I think we're going to have to get pressure if we're going to have success."
Junior quarterback Cody Vaz made his first career start in last week's 42-24 win at BYU. He threw for 332 yards and three touchdowns in place of the injured Sean Mannion.
"They didn't miss a bit," Whittingham said. "They didn't modify their offense. They didn't do anything differently, at least from my perspective."
Defensive end Joe Kruger noted the need for Utah to be in Oregon State's backfield every play. Kruger added that Vaz was ready to "pick up the rifle and start going" last week.
"He looks like a confident quarterback and he knows what he's doing," Kruger said. "So it's going to be a hard game and we've just got to get after him."
Defensive tackle Dave Kruger agreed that Oregon State's offense presents a lot of challenges.
"They've got two good receivers and as long as the d-line gets the pass rush and contains the ball we should get the sacks before he can toss it up to those receivers," he said.4 comments on this story
The Beavers have players of note on defense as well. Senior cornerback Jordan Poyer leads the nation with five interceptions and sophomore defensive end Scott Crichton tops the country in sacks with eight.
"Oregon State is a very good football team. They play well together. They have good individual players on the team but how they are playing as a team is as impressive," said Whittingham, who credited head coach Mike Riley for getting the Beavers (5-0) back on track after a 3-9 season in 2011. "This is going to be a tough ball game. They are ranked No. 8 and are well deserving of that ranking."
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