PROVO — The Cougars travel to Corvallis, Ore., to play their first road game since the second Saturday of September. They’ll be taking on an Oregon State team that had a slow start to their season, but has shown some life recently.
They’re coming off of the 37-27 win over a not-as-good-as-anticipated Arizona team. The loss led to the firing of their head coach, Mike Stoops.
So what type of team is Oregon State and what can fans look for come Saturday? Well, they’re a young team that starts and plays a lot of young and inexperienced players, including their freshman quarterback Sean Mannion, 6-5, 218.
The Cougars enter the game with almost an entirely different offensive mindset with new starting quarterback Riley Nelson. Defensive, they’ll present a group that has put together some solid, but hardly spectacular performances so far this year.
Overall, the matchups look very competitive on both sides of the football.
BYU rushing attack vs. Oregon State
The Cougars added a fourth head to its running attack in sophomore Michael Alisa last week. The converted linebacker responded very well with his increased workload, leading the team with 91 yards on 16 carries.
The veteran offensive line helped plow the way as the Cougars gained 224 yards on the ground, which was far and away they’re best effort of the year.
“The offensive line makes it easy for us,” said running back Joshua Quezada. “When we run well, it’s because they’re playing well. When we don’t run it well, it’s on us too, but sometimes the holes aren’t as big.”
A big aid to Quezada and his backfield teammates last week was quarterback Riley Nelson.
“With Riley back there, they can’t just key on us,” said Quezada. “They’re having to account for him running the ball on every down, so that takes a lot of the defensive pressure off of us being running backs. It’s definitely a help with Riley back there.”
The Beavers give up 130 yards per game on the ground and will likely pose a bigger challenge than San Jose State did a week ago.
“They’re definitely better than San Jose, that’s for sure,” noted Quezada. “They’re bigger, they’re more athletic and we know that it’s going to be a lot tougher running the ball against them than it was last week.”
Oregon State operates out of a 4-3 base-defensive system that is strong up the middle, with senior Kevin Frahm, 6-3, 281, leading the way. Frahm was someone BYU recruited heavily out of high school.
“Their tackles are their strength from what I’ve seen,” observed Quezada. “They’re very athletic up front. A lot like Texas.”
Another defensive player with BYU ties is Feti Unga, 6-1, 243, who is the brother of BYU linebacker and OSU transfeer Devin Unga. He’ll be manning the middle linebacker spot and comes into the game leading the team in tackles on the season.
Their most seasoned player on defense is converted safety Cameron Collins, 6-2, 238. He’s a senior and will be manning the strong side linebacker position.
“They’re very quick to the ball and they’re just really aggressive,” said Quezada. “I think they’ll be one of the toughest defenses we’ve faced so far this year.”
The Cougars should have a tough time matching last week’s output on the ground. The Beavers will come into the game with better athletes, but maybe more importantly, a better sense of what BYU will try to do offensively with Nelson at BYU than San Jose State had.
Furthermore, they’re coming off of a very good performance against Arizona, where they gave up just 53 yards on 19 carries.
BYU shouldn’t approach 200 yards rushing this week, but they should be able to mount more than the 130 yards the Beavers give up per game.
BYU passing attack vs. Oregon State
With the running game performing well, the offense was able to use play-action and misdirection very effectively last week. Receivers as a result were able to run wide open far more than they have at any time this year.
Several players were able to break free with receiver McKay Jacobson and tight end Richard Wilson being able to account for big plays.
“It helps with everything when we’re running the ball well,” said Jacobson. “We were able to spread the field well, and it makes everything more effective when you have running backs and a quarterback running it well.”
The Beavers present a passing defense that can be exploited. They give up 253 yards per game and gave up 378 total yards passing last week against Arizona.
It’s a secondary that features three first-year starters, which includes its two starting corners. They’re led by senior safety Lance Mitchell, 6-2, 207, who has started the past three seasons.
“They run a lot of man, but they will zone up on you,” observed Quezada. “They’ve had some tough games and I think we have the guys that can beat them, to be honest with you.”
Oregon State presents a decent pass rush with nine sacks recorded on the year. Almost all the recorded pressure has some from the right-end position with junior Rusty Fernando, 6-3, 232, and freshman Scott Crichton, 6-3, 258, each recording three sacks on year rotating at the spot.
With Nelson at QB, the passing success will build upon the success the Cougars find on the ground much more than it did with Heaps under center. With the expectation on the ground being limited compared to last week, the passing game likely will follow suit.
Look for Oregon State to hold BYU to under 200 yards passing as a result, despite their youth and inexperience.
BYU rush defense vs. Oregon State
It’s been a bit of an all-or-nothing-type rush defense this year in Provo. The front seven has been very good up the middle, but have given up some big gainers, primarily on the edge of the defense.
Coaches will look to clean up the lapses in run coverage this week, as consistency has been the main issue plaguing this defense so far this season.
Oregon State comes in averaging just 110 yards per game on the ground. They did see some good success with sophomore Jovan Stevenson, 5-11, 193, rushing for 99 yards on just 17 carries.
“They have some fast guys that can beat you,” observed safety Carter Mees. “They’re quick outside and they have a lot of play-makers. We need to cut down on giving up the big play. That’s the main thing for us.”
The Cougar defense should be well-prepped for what the Beavers present offensively. They use a lot of spread formations, much in the same way San Jose State did last week and Utah State did the week before.
Don’t look for Oregon State to present near the threat on the ground that the Aggies did, but they should provide more to worry about than the Spartans last week. Considering the amount of prep time, look for the Cougar front seven to fix a lot of the mental errors that have plagued them in limiting the Beavers to under 100 yards rushing.
BYU pass defense vs. Oregon State
The Cougar pass defense has been relatively good so far this season. They’ve recently been able to clean up a lot of the gaffes in coverage that have given up big yardage.
Granted that they haven’t played a prolific pass offense so far this season, and the Beavers could be posing the biggest threat through the air that they’ve faced on the season.
Oregon State averages 279 yards per game through the air and have been improving steadily with every game they’ve played.
“It’s going to be on us as a secondary to stop what they do,” said Mees. “They like to throw it a lot and they have a lot of good receivers. They obviously have Rodgers, who has been there for a while, and number two on the team is very good from what we’ve seen on film.”
“Number Two” is junior Markus Wheaton, 6-0, 178, who is the Beavers' leading receiver on the year with 38 catches.
It’s an offense that will use a lot of spread formations, usually employing three and four receiver sets.
Their freshman quarterback Mannion is prone to turn the ball over having thrown seven interceptions on the year.
Mannion and the rest of the Beaver offense benefits from some good experience along the offensive front that includes three returning starter’s from last year’s team. Heading the group will be senior left tackle Mike Remmers, 6-5, 303, and senior center Grant Johnson, 6-4, 293.
BYU hasn’t faced a team that likes to throw as much as Oregon State so far this season. It will be interesting to see how they counter this type of attack.
It’s an offense that relies on quick-hitters over the middle and in the flat, and just the sort of offense that has given BYU defenses fits in the past.
It’s hard not to like the potential of this BYU secondary, however, and they should be able to hold Oregon State below its season average.
Prediction: BYU 20, Oregon State 17
While BYU’s offense won’t likely come out as strong as they did last week, Nelson should be able to make enough plays to put the Cougars on top. As mentioned, Oregon State will be much more aware of what is coming with Nelson at the helm and has the capability to defend it much more than the Spartans did.
On the defensive end, BYU should be blitzing much more than they have so far this season in order to fluster the relatively immobile and inexperienced Mannion.
The Cougar experience should win out on the road against a young and mistake-prone Oregon State offense and secondary. Fans can expect a close game with not much offense on Saturday.