Beavers battle Sun Devils in Pac-12 action
Tempe, AZ (SportsNetwork.com) - The No. 21 Arizona State Sun Devils will be out to add to their lead in the Pac-12 South Division when they take on the Oregon State Beavers in a conference showdown at Sun Devil Stadium.
Last weekend the Beavers were idle as they enjoyed a bye week. It was certainly needed as Oregon State had dropped back-to-back games in the previous two contests. The first was a hard-fought, 20-12, setback against No. 5 Stanford, while the second was a 31-14 disappointment against USC. Oregon State is still bowl eligible at 6-3 overall, but at 4-2 in league play, the Beavers' hopes at a Pac-12 title are hanging by a thread. Oregon Sate would need both Stanford and Oregon to slip in the coming weeks for there to be a chance.
"This group will come back very strong to get ready for Arizona State. There is no doubt about it. This is a quality group of young men; the same men that we were winning six in a row with," Oregon State head coach Mike Riley said after the loss to USC. "They work really hard and they're not going to be controlled by their circumstances; they're just going to keep fighting."
Though it might not seem like it, Arizona State is in control of the Pac-12 South Division, with a mark of 5-1 against league foes. That has them a game ahead of UCLA, a team that is eight spots ahead of them in the Top 25. The Sun Devils struggled a bit against Utah last weekend but rallied in the fourth quarter to claim a 20-19 victory. It was the fourth straight win for the Sun Devils, who are 7-2 overall and at their highest national ranking in two years. With just two more wins the Sun Devils would also have their largest win total since the 10-3 campaign of 2007.
"I'm very proud of our team. Our guys have bought into how we're doing things" Arizona State head coach Todd Graham said. " I see defensive guys going down to the offense and saying 'Hey, just keep plugging. We can win this game. They're not scoring.' Then our offense goes down and scores."
Although Arizona State leads the all-time series, 26-12-1, the Beavers have been on the offensive recently, with wins in four of the last five meetings. That includes a 36-26 triumph last year in Corvallis.
During the last two losses for Oregon State the offense has struggled in part because USC and Stanford keyed in on the passing game. The Beavers have been incredible through the air this year, ranking second in the nation in passing yards (404.8 ypg), but they managed just 277 yards against USC.
Despite an off night against the Trojans, quarterback Sean Mannion has been ripping up secondaries this year. He has already surpassed the 3,500 yards mark and with 31 touchdowns is well on his way to posting one of the best seasons for an Oregon State quarterback in program history. Mannion has also been impressive in keeping his mistakes to a minimum as he has only been intercepted six times in 436 pass attempts. However he was picked off three times in the loss to USC, so the bye week certainly allowed for some doubt to fester.
Just like their is no secret that Oregon State is heavily reliant on the pass, it is also very apparent who Mannion prefers to get the ball to. Brandin Cooks (91 receptions, 1,344 yards, 14 TDs) is having an incredible year. Even in the loss to USC he still managed to bring in six passes for 88 yards and a touchdown. Cooks is tied for the national lead in receptions and leads every other receiver in the country in yards. Richard Mullaney (43 receptions, 659 yards, three TDs) is the closest there is to a second option for the Beavers.
Oregon State hasn't always helped itself on the defensive end. The Beavers are allowing 27.8 points per game and are among a handful of teams near the bottom of the Pac-12 in total defense (393.2 ypg). Oregon State has been especially weak when it comes to defending the red zone, ranking last in the conference in opponent red zone conversion rate (26-of-28). However, Steven Nelson (43 tackles, five INTs) and Rashaad Reynolds (38 tackles, four INTs) make the Beavers' secondary tough to handle.
Arizona State is just one of the many offensively dominant teams in the Pac-12. The Sun Devils are putting up big total in points (43.7 ppg) and yards (490.4 tpg) each week, though they did have issues dealing with Utah's pressure last weekend.
Taylor Kelly didn't have his best game against Utah, but he made the plays when he had to. Kelly threw his only touchdown pass of the game in the fourth quarter and also scored on a run in the period to lead the comeback. Kelly is one of the more versatile quarterbacks in a conference filled with signal callers that can throw and run. Kelly's passing numbers (214-of-341, 2,655 yards, 24 TDs, eight INTs) are impressive although he has been inconsistent at times in ball control and has been sacked 23 times. That included six times against Utah. However, Kelly opens himself up to pressure by extending plays with his legs. He has rushed for 306 yards and seven touchdowns this season.
Versatility is a real strength for the entire roster. Marion Grice is the leading rusher for the squad but he is also a dangerous threat in the passing game. Grice has totaled 783 yards and 12 scores on the ground and also has 353 yards and six touchdowns on 39 receptions. Grice is second in the country in total touchdowns and has had 100 all-purpose yards in six games this season. Grice didn't score against Utah but he did rush for 136 yards on 20 carries.
D.J. Foster (48 receptions, 511 yards, three TDs) is another player that can make plays both on the edge and out of the backfield. He leads the team in receptions and has had at least seven catches in four games this year. Jaelen Strong (52 receptions, 728 yards, five TDs) is the more traditional receiving threat, though he had just eight yards on three receptions against Utah. Chris Coyle (23 receptions, 365 yards, four TDs) is a reliable option at the tight end spot.
What has separated Arizona State from other squads in the Pac-12 is that not only is it extremely productive on offense but it can also dominate on defense. In fact, the Sun Devils are leading the conference in total yards allowed (332.7 ypg). Chris Young (62 tackles) is the leading tackler for the unit, while Carl Bradford (5.5 sacks), Davon Coleman (5.0 sacks) and Robert Nelson (34 tackles, four INTs) are also skilled defenders.
11/13 10:57:30 ET