CORVALLIS, Ore. – Mike Leach is new to Washington State, but he has heard all about the manner in which Oregon State’s Scott Crichton and Dylan Wynn dominated the Cougars last season.
Fortunately for the Cougars, Leach has figured out how to control the defensive ends during this afternoon’s rematch at Reser Stadium.
“Take ’em out, make sure they stay out too late, Shanghai ’em and leave ’em in a foreign country,” the colorful WSU coach joked.
Crichton (a former Foss High School standout) and Wynn were no laughing matter for the Cougars last year in Seattle. The Beavers administered a 44-21 beatdown that left WSU players and fans demoralized and helped lay the groundwork for the eventual firing of coach Paul Wulff.
The Cougars were one of just three teams Oregon State defeated last year during a 3-9 campaign. Three games into a new season, the Beavers have shocked many by already matching last year’s win total and rising to No. 14 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.
“They’ve done a tremendous job,” Leach said. “They play really hard.”
The Beavers, despite their early success and WSU’s early struggles, may have to play hard and well to down the Cougars. Oregon State sports one of the best run defenses and worst pass defenses in the country, and Leach has long maintained that the only good football is an airborne football.
Oregon State gave up 403 passing yards last week at Arizona, but second-half interceptions helped the Beavers rally for a 38-35 victory.
“We’re going to be tested again (through the air) big-time,” Oregon State coach Mike Riley said.
The same can be said for the Cougars. WSU faces one of the leading passers (Sean Mannion) and two of the leading receivers (Brandin Cooks and Markus Wheaton) in the country. In addition, Storm Woods ran for 161 yards at Arizona.
WSU’s defense ranks among the nation’s most generous, yielding more than 32 points, 310 passing yards and 472 total yards per game. Oregon State gives up approximately 21 points, 312 passing yards and 395 total yards per game.
“Oregon State’s really physical (on defense),” WSU quarterback Connor Halliday said. “They’re big up front, they’re big in the linebacking corps, they’re big on the back end.
“They’ll hit you. They’re great at stopping the run, so we’re going to have to go out there and throw the ball over them.”
That suits Halliday just fine, although he admits to occasional lapses in reading defenses quickly enough and not taking advantage of open receivers on shorter routes. Halliday said he deserves some of the blame for WSU’s 18 quarterback sacks allowed, one of the highest totals in the nation.
“Halliday has improved every game he’s played,” said Leach, who seems committed to staying with Halliday over former starter Jeff Tuel. “He needs to improve this week. He’s got some big-play potential.”
Halliday said the latter statement also applies to many of his teammates.
“I feel we can play with anybody in the country,” he said.
WASHINGTON STATE (2-3 OVERALL, 0-2 PAC-12) AT NO. 14 OREGON STATE (3-0, 2-0)
3 p.m., Reser Stadium, Corvallis, Ore.
TV: Pac-12 Networks. Radio: 770-AM, 104.3-FM.
The series: Washington State leads, 48-45-3. Oregon State has won four of the past five meetings, but the Cougars pulled off a 31-14 upset on their last trip to Corvallis in 2010.
What to watch: Expect a high-scoring shootout because both teams have strong-armed quarterbacks, gifted wide receivers and suspect secondaries. The 14th-ranked Beavers have a decided edge in running the ball and stopping the run, but the Cougars rarely bother running the ball. WSU’s wobbly offensive line may be bolstered by the return of senior Wade Jacobson, who started at guard and tackle before missing most of the past two games with an undisclosed injury. Linebacker Travis Long spearheads the Cougars’ blitz-happy defense. “He’s just such a strong competitor,” WSU defensive end Steven Hoffart said, “and everyone thrives off what he does on the field. He plays with great emotion.” A strong pass rush could be pivotal for the Beavers, who occasionally employ six defensive backs in a dime defense, and for the Cougars, who know Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion loves to go deep off play-action.
The pick: Oregon State, 45-34.
89Travis Long (LB)6-4/245Senior
Tied for eighth in nation with 61/2 quarterback sacks.
12Connor Halliday (QB)6-4/189 Sophomore
In 3 starts, has passed 165 times for 1,127 yards, 9 TDs, 5 interceptions.
86Marquess Wilson (WR)6-4/185Junior
Ranks 17th in Pac-12 history with school-record 2,893 career receiving yards.
20Deone Bucannon (SS)6-1/192Junior
Hard-hitting safety has already matched his 2011 total of 3 interceptions.
95Scott Crichton (DE)6-3/263Sophomore
Foss High grad tied for second in OSU history with 7 career forced fumbles.
4Sean Mannion (QB)6-5/212Sophomore
Fourth in nation with 362.7 passing yards per game; thrown 6 TDs, one interception.
2Markus Wheaton (WR)6-1/182Senior
Sixth in nation with 134.3 receiving yards; dangerous on trick running plays, too.
7Brandin Cooks (WR)5-10/179Sophomore
Fifth in nation with 134.7 receiving yards; averages 19.2 yards per catch.Howie Stalwick, contributing writer