Washington State visits red-hot Oregon State on Saturday afternoon looking for its first Pac-12 win under head coach Mike Leach. The Beavers are 2-0 in league play after consecutive road wins over UCLA and Arizona.
WSU offense vs. Oregon State defense
The Cougar offense has been steadily improving as the players adjust to Leach's Air Raid system. WSU has risen to No. 57 in S&P. A vast improvement over last season, when they finished at No. 89. Remember S&P adjusts for opponent, and the WSU offense had much of its success against the bad teams on the schedule in 2011.
The Cougars have been successful (gaining more than half of yardage on first down, 70 percent on second, and all on third and fourth) on just 36.3% of their offensive plays, which is 110th in the country. Their saving grace has been performance on passing downs, where they are almost 24 percent better than average. Might want to chalk that up to Connor Halliday's all-or-nothing style of play.
Interestingly, S&P says the Cougs have actually been above average in running and throwing.
The Beavers defense has been solid all-around, limiting opponents to just a 39 percent success rate. If there is a good sign for the Cougars, it's that pass defense looks to be OSU's weakest area. They are ranked 36th overall in passing S&P and 34th on passing downs, compared to 17th in rushing S&P.
OSU will certainly provide a challenge for the Cougars, but they aren't as good as the Ducks defense the Cougars just saw. Halliday showed some improvement in picking the right reads last week, and as he continues to grow the offense will go with him.
Look for the Cougs to have some success in the air, but ultimately have some drives stall because of an inability to keep Oregon State honest with the ground game.
Oregon State offense vs. WSU defense
Oregon State's passing game is currently ranked 9th in S&P, 54 percent better than average. They have been even more successful on expected passing downs, where they are 62 percent above average. Sean Mannion is running this offense well and has turned the Beavers into one of the better passing teams in the country.
Mannion may be licking his chops at the opportunity to play the Cougar defense. WSU is ranked 107th in passing S&P, 20 percent worse than average. Coug fans have lamented that WSU can't get off the field on third and long, and the statistics show that to be true. Washington State is 23 percent worse than average on passing downs, which puts them at 108th nationally.
The Beavers should be able to score points early and often on the Cougs. This defense has not shown the ability to defend in pass coverage at any point. The front seven will have to get pressure on Mannion and hope for big plays.
F/+ (a combination of Football Outsiders' two rankings systems) predicts the Beavers to win by a comfortable margin of 22. WSU is going to have to play near perfect on the road to come away with a win in Corvallis.
Game time, TV channel: 3 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Networks
Spread: Oregon State favored by 15.