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3 keys to victory: No. 21 Washington State vs. No. 14 Oregon State

How will the Cougs break down the dam?

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Ashley Davis

Good morning, Coug fans!

I don’t know about you- but as excited as I am for tomorrow, I’m also pretty nervous. Oregon State is an impressive opponent, and this game (while highly joked about, myself included) is a chance to open conference play and show exactly who we are. The Beavers are favored, and have run through their last three opponents by significant margins.

There are a few things for Washington State to anticipate heading into the Pac-2 Championship, but I’ve named three!

KEY 1: Washington State needs to keep pressure off Ward

Oregon State’s defensive line is… really good. Not only will our O-Line need to keep pressure off Ward so he has plenty of time to make decisions, they need to be proactive about creating opportunities for the rest of our offense, and containing Oregon State’s defense, which has quickly morphed into something of a powerhouse.

In their last game, Oregon State’s defense got on the line for a four and drop seven, and managed to disarm the SDSU Quarterback with just those four downlinemen. Andrew Chatfield (linebacker) landed his first sack out of two for that game, which was made entirely possible by the rest of the line doing their jobs, and creating an opening through the right tackle.

Will they get away with that against us? I will be the last person to have that staring contest with fate.

These guys are slick, and operate like a well-oiled machine. They’re able to fluctuate between containing quarterbacks, and applying a difficult amount of pressure to them, as shown by their performance against San Jose State week one.

I’ll be bold enough to say it’s essential for us to anticipate their defensive pressure off the bat, contain those breakout rushes, and prevent them to our best ability from running up on Ward. I was anticipating more pressure from Wisconsin, and I believe Oregon State will bring it.

Granted- Ward has proven this season that he can be capable under pressure. There will be a degree of strain, that’s inevitable, but as long as our line is able to keep it relatively at bay, Ward should be able to make things happen.

For example- SDSU had some success with slants and drags, focusing on the middle of the field, forcing the OSU defensive back to scramble. Did he still make the tackle? Yes. But he had to hustle for it. Hopefully our quality of offense is higher than SDSU’s, she says with her tongue in her cheek, and will cause that mixup to prevent tackles, rather than open the door for them.

Oregon State made it clear at the beginning of the season that they would be prioritizing going after QBs. Their secondary has significantly improved since last season, and while we’re allies off the field, I fear there’ll be no holds barred during the game. Both teams will want this win. But more on that later.

KEY 2: Washington State needs to limit DJ Uiagalelei’s options

Oregon State runs an efficient offense, despite their struggles around pass protection, and will seize any opportunity to run away with the game. DJ Uiagalelei has more interceptions than Cam Ward (so does almost every quarterback, shameless flex), and he’s throwing 61.8%. That’s 11% and some change lower than Ward (72%), our defense should be tracking that, and keeping an eye on the way Oregon State makes up for it.

WSU should be able to recognize the limitations around OSU’s passing game if Oregon State tries to focus on it. Selfishly, I hope they do, so our standouts in Devin Richardson, Ron Stone Jr., and Brennan Jackson can really sink their teeth into Uiagalelei.

I thought about having this key be entirely about WSU capitalizing on that weakness, I even drafted something where I did go into it, but then I got to thinking. If Oregon State is worried about their pass game, and knows WSU will be looking for holes there, I bet they’re making sure that their running game is especially up to par in the event that they can’t put the ball in the air. Obviously the goal for any offense is to be strong on all schemes, and strengthening something you already have on lock doesn’t make a ton of sense, but I just have a feeling that when their backs are against the wall, they’re gonna try to run.

This concerns limiting Uiagalelei because he can basically do it all with the options he has.

For example, Damien Martinez rushed against SDSU for 102 yards over 15 carries, Anthony Gould and Silas Bolden both have strong and speedy games, and if Uiagalelei isn’t having a particularly excellent passing game (which he didn’t really against SDSU), he’s able to change things up quickly. Gould’s 75 yard rushing touchdown that came from a short pass is evidence of that. Also, yes, that video is in Spanish. It was either the Spanish version, or a horrible, Hudl-esque instrumental hype song. Sue me!

Basically, I find the entire Oregon State offensive spread rather slippery, and I hope our defense can catch ‘em.

OSU also sits further down the list than WSU for 3rd down conversions, 32nd compared to our 4th. If we keep them at third and long, I’ll feel more comfortable that they won’t be able to convert as well as other teams might.

Especially in Pullman.

Essentially, if we’re able to get them off the field quickly and contain Uiagalelei, we’ll be in decent shape. Seems easy enough, no? *eye twitches*.

KEY 3: Remain mentally resilient

I need to take a minute to praise these guys. We haven’t seen a mentally tough group like this in a long time. There were several points during the Wisconsin game where earlier squads would have let the Badgers take control, and the game would have been washed. Specifically, the third quarter. But they stayed strong!

I think mental fortitude as a key to success is undervalued, which is why I want to touch on it here. We can prepare for key aspects of Oregon State’s game, plan for their spreads, watch all the film we want, but at the end of the day, the ability to recover from mistakes and adjust when necessary will make a huge impact in this game.

Something I’ve noticed is the work Washington State has put in during the offseason in terms of both physical game, and mental game. The Cougs have some tricks up their sleeves for sure, but it’s clear that having a more stable leader in Coach Dickert, and having Coach McGuire back for the offensive line has improved their mental game.

At around 4:00, Dickert starts talking about how they’re getting ready for Oregon State. He talks about the need to take things “old school” - and keep up that mental fortitude against their opponent, who he says are undeniably strong on both sides of the ball. It’s important prep work to evaluate where you are mentally when facing a team like Oregon State.

The outside world shouldn’t be the focus when you’re on the field- but the narrative lately around both teams in the media has been pretty overwhelming, and I’m not even a student athlete at either school! I wouldn’t be doing my job well if I didn’t bring up things we could possibly be carrying onto the field, and point out how important it’s going to be to shove those thoughts back. This is an opponent that we genuinely respect, and are currently fighting a bigger war alongside. But we have to leave that behind, put it in the box and slide it under the bed, and take them down to our best ability.

This is Oregon State’s first real test this season, something that I’m sure is playing a mental role for both the Cougs and the Beavs. Having defeated San Jose State 42-17, UC Davis 55-7, and obviously SDSU 26-9 doesn’t give us a clear indicator at how the Beavers will fare against a Power-5 school.

Like it or not, that’s what we are.

Wisconsin was, undeniably, a huge win for Wazzu (both times!!)- but even Dickert said how he almost expected more from their running backs, and anticipates what he assumed Wisconsin would be, Oregon State is.

Either OSU gets cocky after their blowout success, or they come in cool and ready to work- but that shouldn’t impact our game. We can only control how we perform.

Overall- this is going to be an excellent game of football. Technically speaking, and otherwise. I am really excited to see what goes down.

Do you agree with my keys? Tell me what you think!

Go Cougs!