After losing to Texas and Utah in consecutive weeks, the Cougars are now on a three game winning streak, and will head back out on the road to face the Oregon State Beavers in Corvallis. The Beavers haven’t been good this year, and the Cougars haven’t been great. It should be an interesting game, as both will be looking for something to build on here at the halfway point of the season.
After going 5-7 last season, with a low point of losing at home to then 1-9 Washington State, I’m sure the Beavers had hoped for better things this season. Unfortunately for the Beavers, they have started 1-4, opening with a home loss against FCS Sacramento State. Their lone win came against Arizona (1-5) last week. Arizona’s lone win came when they actually managed to beat their FCS season-opening cupcake, Northern Arizona. What do we know about the Beavers? They aren’t a good team this year, but they do feature a decent passing attack, averaging nearly 280 passing yards per game. They have given up an average of 30 points per game, while scoring an average of just 20.
Halfway through the season, the Cougars are nearly where I thought they would be, at least as far as their record is concerned. I expected them to be 5-1, with a loss at Texas. The Utah game was an unwelcome surprise, but I feel the team has responded well. Another unforeseen difficulty has been with Jake Heaps. Most people thought he’d be rolling along with around 1500 yards and a dozen or so touchdown passes by now. But as he has struggled, Riley Nelson has come in to replace him, for nearly the last game and a half. The Cougars are well on their way to the Armed Forces Bowl, but only time will tell if they will sort out their QB situation and get this offense really rolling by the end of the year.
Keys to the game
Doman. Coach Doman’s biggest challenge this game will be in adjusting to the Oregon State defense once they’ve adjusted to the Nelson-led offense. I’ve said it before, I don’t think Heaps would have a great game coming off the bench, so with Riley starting, Doman’s got to have a great gameplan for him.
Nelson. Riley had an amazing first half against SJSU last week. He threw for three touchdowns and at one point had a +330 passer rating. In the second half, the Cougars managed only two field goals, but it was more than enough to beat the Spartans. Riley is an all or nothing type of QB – the Cougars didn’t punt at all last game, either getting points or giving up a turnover. The Beavers will make Riley pay more for his mistakes, so he’ll have to make better decisions than he made against SJSU.
Receivers. This group has seen incremental improvement throughout the season, and really had some great moments last week. The highlight was a 40 yard TD grab by McKay Jacobson. A huge indicator for success in the passing game will be if the tight ends can be involved. Getting the ball to Wilson and Mathews early and often will be crucial.
The Rush Attack. Mike Alisa broke out last week with 91 yards rushing, and the team ended with 224 yards on the ground. If Nelson can rely on other runners like Alisa, and have open targets down field when he’s passing, it will free Nelson himself up to make even more running plays. The coaches love to reward performance, so I think Alisa will have the opportunity to repeat his great performance from last week.
Special Teams. Special teams determine field position, and field position wins close games. It takes pressure off of the defense and off the offense. Justin Sorensen has been great this season getting touchbacks on kickoffs, and he has been pretty good on his field goals as well. It would be a huge boost if Hoffman could break another big run, but I don’t think we’ll see any fireworks from him this week.
Bronco D. The Beavers actually have a decent passing attack, racking up an average of 280 yards through the air, and they add an extra 110 rushing yards. Unfortunately for them, all of those yards only translate to about 21 points per game. The Cougar defense will likely hold the Beavers well under 100 yards rushing, and will force them to win on their passing attack. This will put the pressure on BYU’s secondary to shut down the OSU receivers and really frustrate the Beaver offense.
The Beavers are 1-4, but make no mistake, this isn’t San Jose State. The Cougars will have to play a better game this week, and I think this will be a close game, decided by which team wins the turnover battle. I think the Cougars win a thriller in Corvallis, 23-16.