It’s the Civil War, but the Beavers are trying to send the Ducks to the Alamo. If they succeed, it will be the most rewarding and jubilant 4-8 season in history.
For most of the year Oregon State hasn’t run the ball or defended the run. They’ve allowed 4.64 yards per rush this season and rank 84th in the country in rushing defense at 182 yards a game. On offense, they’ve only managed four games all year in which they ran for more than 100 yards, and in three of their last four games, against Utah, Stanford and California, Beaver ball carriers eked out 32, 33, and 27 yards on 64 total attempts. Last week OS pounded the Huskies for 145 yards on the ground, but 66 of that was by Markus Wheaton, on 3 fly sweeps.
When they faced Arizona State on the road earlier this season, the Beavers managed just 47 yards on 14 running plays, with freshman quarterback Sean Mannion dropping back to pass an astonishing 66 times, with four interceptions and 3 sacks.
Today’s game will go a lot like that, unless the Beavs can get a series of Matt Sieverson/Jake Cookus-type performances from a half dozen people.
Run the football and stop the run
Given the disparity in results, depth and talent, the keys to the game are simple. Oregon has to make this game about ability rather than emotion or devotion to the cause. On defense, they have to shut down the run, and make the Beavers beat them with a downfield passing attack that’s missing Jordan Bishop and suffering a hobbled and questionable James Rodgers. Mannion has a good arm, throwing for 3029 yards this year, but he doesn’t have the big, physical targets or the big-game experience that Matt Barkley has at USC.
Offensively, the Ducks should pound the vulnerable middle of the Oregon State defense. The Beavers’ defensive ends are pretty good. Defensive end Scott Crichton and Dylan Wynn, a redshirt freshman and a true freshman, lead the team in sacks, tackles for loss, fumbles and forced fumbles, and they’re dangerous. They line up wide to stay quick, and LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner should find room inside the tackles, where the Oregon offensive line can create holes and force advantages. The Ducks have the fifth-best running attack in the country at 284 yards per game, best in the conference. In the last two Civil Wars, the Webfoots ran for 346 and 288 yards, and this figures to be an even bigger total, as their orange and black-clad opponents don’t have Stephen Paea anymore to disrupt things in the middle.
Limit big plays and turnovers
The equalizer in upsets are usually sudden bursts of momentum, that allow an underdog to sustain emotion and play above their norm while holding a more talented opponent in check. If the Ducks don’t take themselves out of their rhythm with self-inflicted wounds, they have a great opportunity to win decisively today. Relentless and precise, they could put this game away in three quarters and empty the bench, and that’s important because Chip Kelly describes his roster as “the most banged-up team I’ve ever been around.” Either he’s forgetting 2007, engaging in coach-speak, or the Ducks are suffering a lot of bumps and bruises. Oregon State can’t stay with Oregon in a game of execution. If the Ducks don’t give them a head start, they will wear them down and impose their will.
Free De’Anthony Thomas
The most prolific scoring freshman in the country and number one among freshman in Oregon history, Thomas has never had more than 12 offensive touches in any one game, and most games he’s in single digits. There aren’t more than five linebackers in the country who can cover the guy, and with 13 touchdowns in just 79 offensive plays, getting him the ball in the open field sets off the foghorns with regularity. Get him the ball. Lay it out in front of him, isolate him on one side, send him out in motion, throw him the crossing pattern, run the wheel route, counter or reverse, but get him 12-15 touches a game, and make the defense suffer for not having the technology to clone Von Miller.
Bury last week in an avalanche of cheers
The Ducks suffered a miserable loss to the Trojans. They struggled early against a fast, talented SC defense, struggled to defend Matt Barkley with a hot hand throwing to two future NFL receivers, and dug a 38-14 hole before storming back to 38-35, missing a field goal at the end to tie. The loss ended a long home and conference winning streaks and took them out of contention for the national title. It reopened and revitalized all the tired generalizations about them being a team that can’t win games or defeat physical opponents, even though they beat #4 Stanford on the road a week before. The loss stung. It came with a hangover and inevitable disappointment, but Chip Kelly is counting on his young men to have short memories, and get back to the fun of playing football before their enthusiastic home crowd. The enthusiasm won’t be missing today, and LaMichael James, possibly playing in his last regular season game as a Duck, ought to give the home crowd another round of thrilling memories on his way to his fourth 200-yard game of the season, adding to his legacy as the number one rusher in Oregon history.