10:30 PM EST, FS1 – Line: Washington -9.5, Over/Under: 65
A pair of division rivals heading in opposite directions of late clash ahead of the weekend, as the fading Washington Huskies hit the road to face the Oregon State Beavers, from Reser Stadium in Corvallis, Oregon. Coming into the season, Washington (5-4, 2-4 in Pac-12) was branded by many as a tepid favorite to ascend tot he top of the Pac-12, and in the early stages of the campaign, those assumptions were well on their way towards being validated given how wide-open the conference appeared to be. However, after a solid 4-1 start propelled them to No. 15 in the AP Poll, the Huskies have gone into a bonafide tailspin, losing three out of their last four games, the most recent against the likes of No. 12 Oregon (31-35) and No. 9 Utah (28-33). What has made this latest stretch so disappointing for Chris Petersen and Co. is the fact that they have failed to rise tot he occasion against their stiffest competition, with the Ducks and Utes representing the best that their league has to offer, while both of those defeats also occurred in Seattle, where Home Field Advantage is apparently a fallacy. Big things were expected from the Offense, particularly at Quarterback, where former Georgia Transfer, Jacob Eason (65.3%, 2,297 YDS, 8.1 Y/A, 20 TD, 5 INT), arrived on campus as a dark horse Heisman contender. After sitting out the previous term in compliance with NCAA Transfer Regulations, it’s debatable as to whether or not the Junior has indeed lived up to the hype; the towering, 6-6 Signal-Caller with a cannon hanging from his shoulder has completed 65.3% of his Attempts for an average of 255.2 Yards per Game on 8.1 Yards per Attempt, with Twenty Touchdowns opposed to Five Interceptions. He’s certainly enjoyed his ups and downs thus far, shredding Oregon’s stout Defense for 289 Yards and Three Touchdowns in that aforementioned matchup, but has also underwhelmed a good deal in others. Case in point; in Washington’s two losses to unranked opponents, California (19-20) and Stanford (13-23), Eason could muster just 34-of-66 (51.5%) Passing for 386 Yards, a Touchdown and Two Interceptions. And then there was the loss to Utah, in which we saw him at his best and worst; things started off smoothly, with Eason propelling the hosts to an early 14-3 lead in the Second Quarter, tossing a pair of Touchdowns, but shortly after Halftime, threw a questionable ball deep into Triple Coverage which was promptly intercepted by the visitors, followed shortly afterwards by another Interception, a duck to avoid the blitz, which was returned for a score to cut the lead to one. In the end, he struggled to complete 29-of-52 Passes for 316 Yards and Four Touchdowns, but committed Three Turnovers (including a Fumble in the First Half) that allowed the opponent to stay in striking distance. The Utes did a tremendous job of turning the Huskies’ attack into a predictable, one-dimensional charge, while controlling the Time of Possession with their own rushing stack, which despite amassing just 115 Yards on Forty-Four Attempts, kept the football firmly in their hands (34:34). Adding further insult to injury, Washington came out of that affair with a number of injuries, particularly on Offense, with Receiver, Puka Nacua (7 REC, 168 YDS, 24.0 Y/R, 2 TD), and Tailback, Richard Newton (64 CAR, 326 YDS, 5.1 Y/C, 6 TD), both of which suffered significant foot injuries, likely ending their respective Freshmen Seasons. Saturday’s loss also ended Petersen’s personal streak of victories coming off a Bye, which concluded at eighteen consecutive games. Moving forward, this is a team that has little left to play for apart from focusing on becoming Bowl Eligible, which should be a virtual certainty given the remainder of their schedule. However, 2019 has definitely been a down year for a program that under Petersen’s watch has won ten or more games in each of the last three seasons, and is already out of contention for a spot in the Pac-12 Title Game. Washington has won seven straight games against Oregon State, including all five of their meetings since Petersen’s appointment back in 2014. When these sides met last season, the Huskies throttled the Beavers in a 42-23 victory at Husky Stadium, in which the hosts rang up 503 Total Yards including 275 Yards on the ground, while the Defense forced a pair of Turnovers. In those previous five meetings, which have been profoundly one-sided they’ve averaged 42.8 Points per Game, while yielding just 13.4.
Meanwhile, it’s amazing how a little bit of perspective can change how you view a team, for while their opponent tonight has struggled to meet expectations, Oregon State (4-4, 3-2 in Pac-12) is on the verge of their most successful campaign in nearly a decade. Needless to say, this has been one of the most downtrodden programs in the country over the past few years, struggling to go 9-39 (.188) from 2015 to 2018, while not competing in a Bowl since 2013. However, it appears that they’re finally on their way out of that nightmare, sitting at .500 with five games remaining on the schedule, with only two needed to become Bowl Eligible. Don’t get it confused, folks, for this hasn’t been easy for the Beavers, who managed to rally back from a disappointing 2-4 start by winning back-to-back games for the first time since the end of the 2016 term. Ironically, the man that has steered them in this direction is none other than Jonathan Smith, who was hired by his Alma Mata following a very successful stint as Washington’s Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks Coach from 2014 to 2017. This meeting with the Huskies is no doubt one that the 40-Year Old has had circled on his calendar, for he and his counterpart, Petersen, go way back, with the former serving as an assistant on the latter’s Coaching Staff at Boise State from 2012 to 2013. In his second year back in Corvallis, the former Quarterback is beginning to see the fruits of recruiting labor, particularly on the offensive side of the football, where Oregon State has been nothing short of solid, averaging 33.6 Points per Game (38th Overall) on 431.1 Total Yards, including 254.3 Yards through the air and another 176.9 Yards on the ground. Senior Quarterback, Jake Luton (60.8%, 1,930 YDS, 7.6 Y/A, 19 TD, 1 INT), may just be the only Signal-Caller taller than his counterpart in Washington, and depending on who you ask, may just be the better player. Luton has completed 60.8% of his Attempts thus far for an average of 241.3 Yards per Game on 7.6 Yards per Attempt, with Nineteen Touchdowns opposed to only One Interception, proof of his veteran decision-making. When we last saw him, he and the Beavers looked well-rested coming off their Bye Week, and proceeded to author their finest offensive performance of 2019, scoring a season-high Fifty-Six Points in a 56-38 blowout victory on the road at Arizona. The visitors totaled 572 Yards on Thirty-One First Downs, including 328 Yards courtesy of Luton, who deftly completed 20-of-26 Passes with Three Touchdowns. As he has throughout the season, he connected with Junior Receiver, Isaiah Hodgins (63 REC, 895 YDS, 14.2 Y/R, 12 TD), to the tune of 150 Yards and Two Touchdowns on Seven Receptions. The best Wideout that you likely haven’t heard of, Hodgins has raised his stock in scouting circles considerably, leading the Pac-12 in Receptions (63), Receiving Yards (895), and Touchdown Receptions (12), with that last figure ranking second in the country. At 6-4, 209 lbs, this guy is nightmare to cover downfield, with his ability to go up and catch the football at it’s highest point making him arguably the most effective receiving threat within the Red Zone. The Beavers also enjoyed a great deal of success on the ground, rushing for 244 Yards and Five Touchdowns with a pair of players passing 100 Yards, with Artavis Pierce (112 CAR, 697 YDS, 6.2 Y/C, 6 TD) amassing 114 Yards and a score on Fifteen Carries, and Jermar Jefferson (78 CAR, 401 YDS, 5.1 Y/C, 4 TD) accounting for another 105 Yards and Three Touchdowns on Twenty-Two Attempts. Saturday’s performance was the result of two week’s worth of preparation meeting a team that has relinquished yards and points wholesale since parting ways with both their Defense Coordinator and Linebackers Coach. Indeed, the Wildcats are a bonafide mess right now on Defense, and credit to Smith’s charges for exploiting them. And speaking of Defense, this team is going to have to solve their problems on this side of the football if they are in fact going to become Bowl Eligible over these final five weeks of the season. Simply put, Oregon State has suffered in this regard, allowing 32.4 Points per Game (104th Overall) on 439.3 Total Yards, including 253.1 Yards against the Pass and another 186.1 Yards versus the Run. For all their issues, Arizona still managed to put up 526 Total Yards against them, which was the third time this year that that has happened. However, the biggest issue has suddenly become discipline, for in Saturday’s trip to Tucson, the Beavers were flagged a dozen times for a whopping 120 Yards, two weeks after drawing the Official’s ire thirteen times for a loss 102 Yards. Three of those flags were Facemask Penalties against the Defense, which has to have Smith and his Staff pulling their collective hair out, particularly after enjoying a Bye Week in which there was no doubt an emphasis placed on cleaning that up. We’ll see if they’ve grown enough to learn from those mistakes, for they won’t be able to keep winning games in which they’re conceding such a wealth of free yardage.