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September 30, 2005

CougZone Keys to the Game - Oregon State

OSU is going to be a tough game. It will be the Pac-10 opener for the 3-0 Cougars, although the 2-2 Beavers have already faced Arizona State. It will be in Corvallis and kickoff is 1:00 - no television on this one.

The Beavers look vulnerable. The Beaver pass defense is among the worst in the nation. OSU took heavy hits to the secondary before the 2005 season started, and is having a real hard time keeping opponents from passing at will. The OSU running game is struggling, averaging well under 100 yards per game. The Beavs are coming off two back to back thumpings at the hands of Louisiville and at home in Reser against ASU. Considering that the Beavers looked underwhelming in their season opening win over Portland State and then had to mount a big second half comeback to beat Boise State in Corvallis, there have to be questions in Beaver Land about whether their team is strong enough to compete in the Pac-10.

The 2005 Beavers certainly are not the team that pretty much handled the Cougars in 2004, and these aren't the 2004 Cougars. WSU has shown steady improvement and ran the non-conference schedule 3-0, but there are stubborn questions about strength of opponents. Grambling was D-1AA although seeing the Tigers out in Seattle playing the Cougs was a lot of fun. As far as the other wins, WSU had a surprisingly competitive game with Idaho before throttling Nevada on the road. The opening win over Idaho remains an enigma considering that the Vandals went into Husky Stadium and were pounded by a very questionable UW team, and it's unclear how good Nevada is this season. Bottom line is, who can say how good the Cougars are as it remains to be seen how the 2005 Cougars will do against a BCS opponent, particularly in a road game at a hostile stadium.

The Beavers need a win bad to firm up shaken confidence, and will like the fact that OSU soundly beat the Cougs in Reser last season. If the Beavs lose, it will drop them to 0-2 in the Pac-10 which would just about kill any hopes to contend for the conference title, and would put the Beavs into a sense of urgency for the remaining season just to become bowl eligible. That's tough stuff when it's still the first week of October. The Cougs need a win to establish that the 3-0 start isn't just a reflection of a soft non-conference schedule. A win in Corvallis would give WSU a big push in lots of ways. Here's our CougZone Keys to the Game:

1) Stuff the Run: OSU has had to rely almost entirely on the pass to move the ball and score points. The Beaver running game is not good, and doesn't particularly look like it's been merely flustered and is about to take off. OSU just doesn't seem to be able to run the ball well, or at least not yet. All everything receiver Mike Hass has been crucial, and is responding with a huge senior season. Still, that hasn't helped the Beavers win. Having to throw the ball a lot, the Beavers barely won, then were crushed, then were thumped. The lesson is if you make the Beaver offense one dimensional, Hass may get his numbers but the Beavers overall will struggle. The big bonus is if you can both take away the run - which four games show is doable - AND contain Hass. Do that, and OSU does not move the ball.

2) Early Lead: An early WSU lead would go a long way to a Cougar win. If the Cougs can get on top of the Beavers early in Reser, it could fuel lingering OSU doubts and affect morale in both the crowd and on the sideline. Psych 101 aside, an early lead could also help lead the Beavers to move towards passing and away from the run. Get an early lead of two scores, and OSU possibly abandons the run entirely in order to play catchup. Fewer OSU running plays called helps the Cougs shut down the run and focus on pass pressure and double teaming Hass. The end goal? OSU's offensive wheels falling completely off by the late third quarter and a Beaver defense tired from spending time on the field.

3) Special Teams: There is the potential for WSU to score a lot of points in this game. The Cougar offense looks to be rolling both passing and running. Still, the Cougs have yet to face a BCS opponent and this is a game against a potentially desperate Pac-10 team on on the road. The game could easily be tight, and that is the prediction of most pundits. If you're the betting type, the line is within a field goal. That's what it may come down to - a field goal. Special teams may have a huge impact on the outcome of this game, and the game could in fact ultimately come down to who can kick the field goal, Alexis Serna or Loren Langley? If it's going to be that tight, the Cougs can get a lot of help towards a win if no WSU punts are blocked and cover teams both cover well and tackle. A big Michael Bumpus punt return or two wouldn't hurt, either.


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