Some games are just bigger than others. They look routine on the schedule, but then it plays out as something much larger.
This weekend presents an intriguing prospect for the Oregon State Beavers. The team travels to Pullman, WA to face the Washington State Cougars with opportunity knocking on the door. It almost feels like a second season. After wrapping up the ‘lighter’ portion of the schedule, and coming out of it with a 4-1 record, the Beavs must now let the rest of the conference know they are for real. A season which has taken the tone of adventuresome, can now turn to solid and stable. One bright side, to this point of the proceedings, is OSU has not turned the ball over at an alarming rate. If the Beavers can continue to pound their advantages while minimizing their short sided aspects, this OSU team should prove themselves problematic to overcome.
On some level for Oregon State, it would be wise to put a lot of the first part of the season behind them: almost everything about the Eastern Washington game (not the offense scoring a lot of points), the deficiency in rushing, and shaky stretches in the run defense. Forget it, ancient history, house cleaning time. Start fresh against the Cougars with ‘new and improved’ in all those areas. Seven game season now.
It is no secret OSU struggles in the run game and will try to put more rushing yards on the stat sheet. It also comes as no surprise the passing of Sean Mannion and receiving of Brandin Cooks. In other words, the book is out on the Beavers. What OSU must establish is even though opposing teams are aware of such information, to still bring it in a form which cannot be stopped. Coming off a bye week, the situation could not be better for the Beavers. Although a conference road game is not the most enviable scenario, having many players returning from injury makes it easier. Clearly no one is expecting a blowout this weekend; however, creating the foundation of superiority wouldn’t hurt.
OSU remains a far cry from the ranks of Oregon and Stanford. Somewhere in between the penthouse of the Pac-12 and the basement appears to be the right vicinity for the Beavs. Now facing the meat of the schedule, OSU can climb a few floors. Being just a notch behind their ranked conference counterparts would not be a bad place to reside. It can be their time, will they seize it?
Washington State (4-2) is eerily similar to OSU, although their schedule has had a higher degree difficulty. They don’t run a lot, yet pass plenty. In their four wins their defense has given up an average of less than 10 points a game. In their two losses, to Auburn (non-conference opponent from the SEC) and Stanford (ranked #5 nationally), they surrendered 31 and 55 points, respectively. Like Oregon State, they can be stout and soft. Hence, two teams in similar position finding themselves and their way.
Make no mistake, this game has the implications of setting the tone for the remainder of the season for Oregon State. A loss certainly won’t devastate the team’s chance of reaching a substantial bowl game. However, a win keeps the team in line for such a game in the upper echelon. Make or break game? Not necessarily, but perhaps a testimonial of where the team stands.