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October 11, 2012

Ask the Expert: BYU vs Oregon State

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Saturday afternoon will mark an important game on both the BYU and Oregon State schedules. Oregon State, enters the game 4-0 with a #10 national ranking. They are looking to keep momentum rolling with backup quarterback Cody Vaz. Meanwhile BYU is looking for a win over a PAC 12 program and Coach Mendenhall's alma mater. As we count down the hours till kick-off, Lance Archibald of CougarNation.com and Angie Machado of BeaverBlitz.com take a look at the match-up:

Lance Archibald
CougarNation.com

Angie Machado
BeaverBlitz.com

WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?

Coming into the season we knew that the BYU front 7 was one of the best in the country. We knew the linebackers were deep but we weren't sure about the the depth on the defensive line. Both of the starting defensive ends are out for the season, and the replacement starters haven't missed a beat. Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah is one of the defensive ends who came into the season as a backup and he has NFL scouts really excited. We were confident that the defensive backs would be pretty good, but we didn't realize they would be this good. They're a big reason why this is the best BYU defense in the history of the program, and certainly one of the best defenses in the country.

There was optimism that this offense would be good. We knew the Cougar wide receivers were good, we knew BYU's running back was good, and we were pretty confident that the tight ends were good. The questions coming into the year were on the offensive line and at quarterback, and that's where the question marks still are.

Riley Nelson has struggled against quality opponents in his career but the hope was that his progress from his Jr to Sr year would get him to where he needed to be. We still don't really know if he is or isn't where he needs to be. He played well against Washington State and Weber State, two poor defenses. He fractured some of his vertebrae against Weber State and played hurt against Utah and Boise State. He wasn't very good against Utah and he was terrible against Boise State.

Taysom Hill came in for him in the 3rd quarter of the Boise State game and played pretty well against them, Hawaii, and Utah State. Hill hurt his knee against Utah State and is out for the season, and Riley says that his back is 100% now. This will be the game where all of the excuses are off the table and we see how good (or bad) Riley really is.

We learned that BYU's depth at running back is excellent, which was vital because the primary back is out for the rest of the season, but the run blocking up front has been poor. The O-Line coach made a change up front moving his best guard to center against Hawaii, and the O-Line has improved from terrible to average. It was a big upgrade, considering that the next two best guards on the team are both injured for the rest of the season as well.

The Beavers are coming into their fifth game of the season and we have yet to see the offense and defense play a complete game together. Each week it has been one or the other stepping up, and many feel that the Beavers are due for a big performance.

Offensively the team is led by two of the most dynamic wide receivers in the country in Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks. Both rank in the top ten in the Nation in receiving yards per game. Wheaton is seventh averaging 124.5 while Cooks ranks ninth with 121.5.

The Beavers have utilized several running backs this season, but the starter is redshirt freshman Storm Woods. While the run game is better than it was a year ago, the Beavers have not consistently dominated in the run game yet this season.

Like the Cougars, the Beavers strength has been on defense. Oregon State currently ranks number four in the Nation in rush defense and number one in the Nation in 3rd down conversion percentage.

They are led up front by a very strong and physical defensive line including sophomore defensive end Scott Crichton who is tied for second in the Nation in sacks and fifth in tackles for loss.

The numbers haven't looked great for the Beavers pass defense, but they made huge strides last week against Washington State. Jordan Poyer is one of the top cornerbacks in the country and he hauled in three interceptions last week agains the Cougars.

The big question mark is obviously at quarterback this week as starter Sean Mannion underwent knee surgery on Wednesday leading the Beavers to hand the reigns over to junior Cody Vaz.

Vaz is more mobile than Mannion and has a quicker release, but he has very limited game experience. He does know the Beaver playbook well however as he's been the backup for three years.

WHAT ARE THE KEYS TO A VICTORY?

BYU will win if...
...this offense can score two touchdowns. BYU is incapable of blocking for or kicking a field goal, so they'll have to put it into the end zone twice to win this one.

BYU will have very little success running the ball against this Beaver defense so there's going to be a lot of pressure on Riley to do it all through the air. He is going to have to get his other receivers involved while Hoffman is covered by Jordan Poyer, and Hoffman will need to get open and make some big plays in order for this offense to get anything going. This game will likely come down to Riley orchestrating a game winning drive in the final minutes of the game. As bad as he tends to be in the opening three quarters, he has an uncanny ability to make it happen when the game is on the line.

This defense hasn't given up a touchdown since the third quarter of the Utah game on September 15th, and I wouldn't be surprised if they continued that streak with Sean Mannion out for the season. BYU will stop the run which will make things very difficult for Cody Vaz, but Oregon State should manage to get within field goal range a couple of times so I see 10 points being the magic number.

Oregon State will win if...
...the offensive line comes ready to play. This of course is tall order since the BYU defensive front is so physical, but for the Beavers to have success, they big fellas up front are going to have to protect the quarterback and help create some running lanes to help establish the run game.

With a new quarterback, it is imperative for the line to help establish the run game and protect him in passing situations.

Defensively the Beavers will need to win the turnover battle and it would help to see a defensive score since BYU has been stingy in allowing offensive scores.

If they are able to put pressure on Riley Nelson, that also bodes well for the Beavers chances if he is less than 100% healthy.

With Bronco Mendenhall being a former Beaver player, this game seems to mean more and he always has his players ready to go.

WHAT COULD LEAD TO A POTENTIAL LOSS?

BYU will lose if...
...Oregon State's defense scores any touchdowns. Riley is a turnover waiting to happen against quality defenses, and in both of BYU's losses the difference was a defensive touchdown scored on a Riley Nelson turnover. BYU fans everywhere expect Riley to at least fumble the ball once and throw an interception in this game, and this Cougar defense is good enough to keep Oregon State out of the endzone despite the good field position. The number 1 redzone defense in the country can't help BYU though if the Oregon State defense takes the turnover in for six.

The one way that I do see this Sean Mannion-less Oregon State offense scoring any touchdowns is if Wheaton or Cooks are able to get behind the defense. The last touchdown that BYU gave up was a 39 yard touchdown on a deep post route, and these Oregon State receivers are faster than Utah's receivers. BYU will need to keep these receivers in front of them to prevent any big plays, because making up for one touchdown scored on this defense might be asking too much of this BYU offense.


Oregon State will lose if...
...the Beavers lose the turnover battle and the BYU defense is able to rattle Cody Vaz.

This is going to be a very tight game and a mental lapse by either team could mean the difference between winning and losing.

If the Beavers have too many turnovers, that tilts the game in favor of BYU and it will be a very long day for the visiting Beavers.

WHAT IS THE STRENGTH OF THE TEAM?

Bronco Mendenhall's 3-4 defense is the strength of the team. Namely the linebacking corps. This linebacking corps has two Sr middle linebackers, USC transfer Uona Kaveinga and hard nosed run-stopper Brandon Ogletree. Spencer Hadley (Jr) is an excellent athlete and hard hitting outside linebacker, and Kyle Van Noy will have every opportunity to forgo his Sr season and play on Sundays next year. Oregon State transfer Uani Unga (Jr) brings excellent depth and will see a lot of time in the game with very little drop off from the production of the starters. The defense's primary strength is stopping the run but they are also very good against the pass, they do a very good job of making open field tackles on short passes.

The defense.

This defense is reminiscent of Beaver defenses of the past. They are aggressive and hit hard and have a tendancy to swarm to the ball.

Led by defensive ends Crichton and Dylan Wynn along with defensive tackles Andrew Seumalo and Castro Masaniai, running against the Beavers is a tough task.

The defensive backfield is also strong with Ryan Murphy, Anthony Watkins, Rashaad Reynolds and Jordan Poyer holding down the pass protection duties.

D. J. Welch may be one of the most athletic linebackers that the Beavers have had since Nick Barnett (currently with the Buffalo Bills).

WHAT IS YOUR PREDICTION?

If Oregon State still had Sean Mannion at the helm then I would put Oregon State as a 7 point favorite even on the road. Those receivers are too good, and he is too smart and too accurate for any defense to keep them from getting into the endzone and putting some points on the board. With Cody Vaz in his first start against this defense and no run game to lean on I think this Oregon State offense will struggle even more mightily than this BYU offense. I see Riley Nelson struggling all game until the fourth quarter when he leads BYU on a come from behind touchdown drive to win the game.

The Beavers have rallied around Vaz and a close knit team appears to be even closer. They really have adopted an 'us against the world' mentality and have been able to pull out upsets on the road a few times this season.

The BYU defense will be tough, but I see this playing out like an SEC dual and think the Beavers can pull out the victory in Provo.

BYU 14 - Oregon State 9
Oregon State 10 - BYU 6



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