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The Countdown: The Civil War

Rusty Ryan looks at the keys to victory for both teams in the 116th game in the Civil War. Using advanced stats Rusty looks at tempo, first downs, and more.

Jonathan Ferrey

I’ve had many arguments with friends this season over how good Oregon State is. What makes Oregon State tricky is that they are not a sexy team. No recruit of there’s coming in made you say, "Wow, did they totally get a keeper that I’m not looking forward to see play against Oregon." The Beavers have a lot of guys who just execute with a few playmakers emerging.

Oregon State doesn’t do anything amazing, but they everything really, really, well. They force short possessions, they move the ball well, they get a few scores, and before you know it it’s the fourth quarter and they’re up by a score or two.

Oregon State does cause some concern for me. How will Oregon rebound after the Stanford loss? Does Oregon State smell blood in the water? Has Oregon fixed the downfield pass defense issues that were so evident against USC that Oregon State also has the tools to exploit? This is the first Civil War since 2009 where I thought Oregon State had a real chance to win. The Beavers are dangerous because of how sneaky good they are.

Oregon State Will Win If:

Throws deep downfield. Oregon showed that they have troubles defending against teams that throw the deep ball. With the secondary for Oregon also being a question mark the Beavers need to take advantage of this and get some explosion plays. The Beavers have Markus Wheaton, a Beaver I’ve thought was awesome since he first started, and Brandin Cooks, who make up a tandem that parallels USC’s Marqise Lee and Robert Woods in terms of production.

Make it easy on Sean Mannion. Run max protect packages and let Mannion find gaps in the defense. With two stud receivers I would let Mannion sit comfortably in the pocket and try to hit them.

Protecting Mannion will be a lot easier with an established rushing attack. Oregon has not been spectacular against the run, ranking only 43rd in the nation in Football Outsider’s S&P+ rating in rush defense. Storm Woods should break at least 100 yards on the day to keep the Oregon defense honest and the ball away from Oregon.

Get penetration in the backfield. The one thing that has been shown to guarantee what Oregon wants to do on offense is getting defensive linemen in the backfield. It ruins all the keys Oregon uses and messes up the mesh point on handoffs. Stanford got in the backfield often and it worked out pretty well for them. To keep it close the Beavers need to create negative plays by causing chaos.

Stay disciplined. Oregon State runs a pretty fundamental defense, but since they execute so well it works out for them. Against Oregon, everything the Beavers do will be magnified. They will need to have discipline in gap responsibility and pass defense while being sure tacklers in space.

Oregon Will Win If:

It wins first downs. As kalon pointed out in his advanced stats article, Oregon ranks 29th on passing downs according to S&P+. Whenever Oregon gets in a long second down it seems to turn in to a long third down and then a punt. With a solid first down play Oregon can take chances and try to put this game away early. When Oregon doesn’t do well on first down, the tempo also slows down, taking away the advantage Oregon works so hard to get.

Establish the run through Barner and Thomas. Barner only averaged 3.1 yards a carry against Stanford, and there really isn’t an excuse for Barner to only get 66 yards rushing. De’Anthony Thomas looked phenomenal running the football averaging 6.1 yards a carry. The coaches have to make a much better effort making sure that De’Anthony Thomas gets more touches throughout the course of a game.

Play fast. Oregon State’s defense doesn’t look that fast when I re-watched a bunch of their games. They do well at keeping the other team in front of them and making smart plays. However, they lack speed and I think they will be slower than Oregon’s offense at every position while on defense. Oregon needs to turn the tempo up a notch, try to get the Oregon State defense moving and get them out of position. Oregon State plays disciplined, fundamental, and vanilla, tempo is what will cause them to make the mental mistakes that they have rarely made this year.