Heading into the 119th Civil War, it feels like we’re about to embark on a pity party more than a competitive football game.
Sadly, I don’t see it going any other way.
Two programs headed in extreme opposites will “collide” on Friday; and by “collide,” I mean that Oregon’s defense – ever-improving and full of confidence – will be “colliding” with hapless Oregon State players, probably in the backfield, and probably all game long.
Fresh off their 48-28 victory over USC last Saturday, Oregon – five weeks removed from a 3-3 start – is perhaps, outside of Alabama – the hottest team in the country. A healthy Vernon Adams at quarterback, an eligible Darren Carrington at receiver, and the previously mentioned defense, has combined into a recipe for disaster for anyone unfortunate enough to cross their path.
Unfortunately for the Beavers, things in Corvallis are the exact opposite.
At 2-9, and coming off one of the most uncompetitive, embarrassing losses in the past decade (52-7 against the Huskies), the Beavers look exactly like a program lost somewhere between rebuilding and rebranding. Gone is the conservative, deflating – yet somewhat effective – Mike Riley. He’s Nebraska’s problem now.
In his place, first-year head coach Gary Anderson stepped into a melting pot of problems: Lack of resources; lack of identity; most damning, however, is the eye-popping lack of talent. An argument could be made that no one on top of the depth chart at Oregon State – offensively or defensively – would crack the two-deep at Oregon. It’s not Anderson’s fault – you can’t control what you inherit – but the former Wisconsin coach must be baffled at the gap between his current school, and their rivals to the north.
This isn’t meant to be a Beaver-bashing pile-on: things in Corvallis are simply that bad.
The prevailing sentiment is that Anderson will get things turned around; for this, I have no doubt. He’s a proven coach, and will need time.
Friday will provide a glimpse into just how far he has to go, still. With that, here’s three things to watch.
1. 1. Does Oregon even need to pass? The answer is of course no. To ensure victory, Oregon can simply line up and run the ball 80 times, all the while daring Oregon State to stop them. The Beavers defense ranks 113th nationally in total team defense; 170 of those yards are coming on the ground. Worse for them, they’re giving up 36 points per game.
It’s not a recipe for a success against Oregon, who is averaging 43 points per game during their winning streak. The Ducks, behind a four-headed monster at running back, is 5th in the country, averaging 285 yards rushing per game.
Strength, meet weakness. Advantage Oregon.
2. 2. How much havoc will Oregon’s defense cause against a freshman quarterback? Oregon State will start their third different freshman quarterback for the season on Friday, when Marcus McMaryion steps under center. His timing couldn’t be worse: Oregon’s defensive line is playing its best ball of the season.
Led by seniors DeForest Buckner, Alex Balducci and Tui Talia – and getting huge reps from Rex Manu, Jalen Jelks and Henry Mondeaux – the line pressured Cody Kessler up and down the field last week, throwing the time off for the Trojan signal-caller.
Kessler is an experienced senior. McMaryion is not. Good luck, kiddo.
3. 3. Where’s the motivation? With Stanford’s win last Saturday against Cal, Oregon was officially knocked out the race for the Pac-12 North. They’re facing a far inferior opponent. Win or lose, Oregon is going to be relegated to a lower-tier for just the second time since 2008. Does the team – who scrapped, clawed and fought their way back from disaster, muster up one more round? Or do they succumb to the environment?
The only thing preventing Oregon from a 40+ point win is Oregon. Perhaps the fact that it’s Senior Day, and the school’s eight-straight 10-win season is still in play will provide them the spark they need. Complacency, not the opponent, will be the biggest challenge as the 2015 season – one for the ages in some many ways – comes to an end.
Unlike the past five weeks, this one won’t be tense as we enter the fourth quarter. Oregon seemed to have turn a corner last week, when their 10-point lead was quickly pushed to 20. The previous three games, it took last-minute scores to either secure a win or get Oregon out of trouble.
Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, we will all have this to be thankful for: A 56-21 Oregon win.