7:30 PM EST, FOX – Line: Oregon State -2.5, Over/Under: 63.5
As we steamroll to the climax of the final Pac-12 campaign, there is still much to be decided as two of its top contenders clash in this primetime battle in potentially foggy Corvallis, as the (No. 5) Washington Huskies look to remain perfect and clinch their spot in the Conference Championship Game opposite of upset-minded (No. 12) Oregon State. In just his second season in Seattle, (Head Coach) Kalen DeBoer has the program well ahead of schedule, steering Washington (10-0, 7-0 in Pac-12) to their first perfect start through ten games since 1991. Why is that significant, you ask? Well, the last time that the Huskies got off to a 10-0 start, they finished a perfect 12-0 and laid claim to the school’s first and only National Championship. This really has been a remarkable turnaround for DeBoer, who inherited an underperforming 4-8 team and has since won all but two of his twenty-three games in charge. Stellar recruiting, development, and playcalling have played a hand in his success thus far, though it would be impossible to ignore the home run that he hit with the Transfer Portal, acquiring the services of (Senior Quarterback) Michael Penix Jr, who has easily exceeded any and all expectations placed upon in the Pacific Northwest. After a middling four years in Indiana marred by injuries and the COVID-19 pandemic, Penix (pictured below) opted to head west, where he has completely reinvented himself as the trigger man for the most prolific offense in the country. Last Fall, he led an offense that averaged 39.7 points per game (7th in FBS) on 515.8 total yards, including 369.0 yards through the air, en route to completing 65.3% of his throws for 4,641 yards on 8.4 yards per attempt with thirty-one touchdowns opposed to eight interceptions. Fast forward to the present and this unit has been even more formidable, posting 41.0 points (5th in FBS) on 503.9 total yards, with 378.0 coming via the pass. For his troubles, Penix has thrown his hat in the Heisman race, completing 68.0% of his passes for 3,533 yards on 9.7 yards per attempt, with twenty-eight touchdowns in comparison to seven interceptions. However, after a blistering start it hasn’t been easy for Washington, who have been forced gut out the bulk of their last nine wins, all of but one of which coming by one score. During this stretch, the attack has proven one-dimensional and overly reliant on Penix’s arm, which has led to some sloppy play with ten turnovers committed. These issues have extended to Penix, who after completing 70+% of his passes in the first four games, has been relegated below 60% three times, tossing five of his interceptions during that sample size. Furthermore, the defense has been getting touched up for an average of 454.8 total yards along the way, including 500+ yards on two occasions. This brings us to their most recent outing, a 35-28 win over (No. 16) Utah, who held three different leads throughout the affair. Trailing 24-28 at halftime, UW pulled within one point following a 38-yard field goal courtesy of (Sophomore Kicker) Grady Gross, only to take the lead via a 33-yard score from Penix to (All-American Receiver) Rome Odunze. From there (Junior Linebacker) Alphonzo Tuputala intercepted Bryson Barnes at the hosts’ 24-yard line and returned seventy-four yards, though he would be stripped of the football and recovered by the Utes. However, backed up in their own end zone, the visitors’ attempt to run their way out of trouble backfired as they were brought down for a safety. Now in the fourth quarter, both teams would punt, and while Washington had a golden opportunity to extend the lead to ten points, Gross’ 32-yard attempt was blocked, setting up Utah for one final try to tie the game. Thankfully, DeBoer & Co had other ideas, as Barnes was intercepted for the second time of the evening, this time by (Senior Safety) Dominique Hampton, ending the threat for good. At its conclusion, saw the dogs outgain the visiting side 457-382, as Penix outdueled Barnes to the tune of 332 passing yards and two touchdowns on 24-of-42 passing, while also rushing for another score to boot. Odunze caught both touchdowns, highlighting yet another stellar performance on the gridiron with 111 yards on just three receptions. Credit the resolve of a team that managed to overcome their own mistakes, as they were flagged eleven times for 100 yards in penalties, while that first interception return was salvaged only by the safety on the ensuing play. Despite converting just 5-of-14 third downs, the Huskies were successful on both of their fourth-down tries, while running the football enough (125 yards on 33 carries) to control time of possession (34:58) and keep their Quarterback clean.
From a betting perspective, Washington may be a perfect 10-0 straight-up, but it has been a far different story for them against the spread, where they have covered just four games thus far (4-5-1 ATS), with only one win of that variety in their last six outings. As their record has improved, they’ve been tasked with covering larger lines every week, including three occasions in which they were favored by more than nineteen points, all of which were losses versus the spread. In last weekend’s survival against Utah, the Huskies failed to cover one of their smallest spreads the campaign (-9), marking only the third time all season that they were favored by single digits (1-1-1 in those games). Since DeBoer arrived in Seattle last Fall, this is a program that has posted a 12-10-1 record against the spread, including 1-0 as a road underdog, which is relevant because tonight’s trip to Corvallis marks the first time all Fall that they’ve been receiving points from the oddsmakers. Speaking of this matchup with the Beavers, these dogs have OWNED the series from a straight-up POV (10-1 since 2012), though it has been much closer in regard to the spread (6-5). Interestingly, the visitor 7-1 against the spread in this series since 2015, with the only non-cover coinciding with UW’s last trip to Reeser Stadium. Washington (+2) trailed 1-14 at halftime before pulling ahead 24-17 in the fourth quarter, only for the hosts to run off ten unanswered points, including a game-winning field goal as time expired. On the injury front, the Huskies are largely healthy, though there are likely to be absences that could tax their depth in that stellar Receiving Corps, with the likes of Denzel Boston and Giles Jackson listed as questionable with undisclosed ailments. The pair haven’t been nearly as productive as their more heralded teammates, combining for just sixteen receptions, 132 yards and a touchdown thus far. Looking ahead, victory tonight will send DeBoer & Co back to Husky Stadium with the mission statement being thus: beat (archrival) Washington in the latest edition of the Apple Cup and they will complete a perfect regular season for the first time in over thirty years, booking their trip to the final Pac-12 Championship Game in Las Vegas and strengthening their claim for a spot in the Playoff. Granted, a loss tonight wouldn’t be the end of the world, as they could still find themselves competing for a league title provided they best the Cougars next weekend, though you could all but cancel their shot at the latter.
Meanwhile, not to be overlooked in these last days of the Pac-12 as we’ve come to know it is Oregon State (8-2, 5-2 in Pac-12), who is still very much in contention for a trip to Allegiant Stadium for the Conference Championship Game. Right now, the Beavers trail the Huskies by two games in the league table, though with a victory tonight and another potential upset next weekend, could be sitting atop the conference in two weeks’ time. Of course, this furious finish would be the icing on the cake for a program that will embarking into an offseason of uncertainty come January. With many of their fellow residents within the Pac-12 moving on to greener pastures (I.E. Washington moving to the Big 10), this is a school that has entertained a number of different paths though has yet to settle on one in particular. With Washington State also failing to claim allegiance to any conference, the two universities could theoretically become their own two-team league instead of going the independent rout, simply dubbed the Pac-2, which would in turn form a loose partnership with the Moutain West Conference for scheduling purposes. In any case, the focus at the moment is on the gridiron and this battle with the Huskies, which could really prove to be a program-maker for (Head Coach) Jonathan Smith, who has really done a tremendous job of rebuilding his alma mater. Prior to his return to Corvallis, the 44-year-old inherited a team that had won just seven games under his predecessor, Gary Anderson, including an embarrassing 1-11 finish in 2017, matching the worst in school history. Though he got off to a slow start that included a setback due to the pandemic, he managed to finally turn things around with a 7-6 finish in 2021, followed by a stunning 10-3 campaign in 2022, which saw they destroy Florida in the Las Vegas Bowl (30-3) and enjoy their highest postseason ranking (No. 14) since finishing fourth overall back in 2000. In an attempt to match that success, Smith took a page out of his counterpart’s playbook and hit the Transfer Portal, outsourcing the Quarterback position in a major way, acquiring the services of (Junior QB) D.J. Uiagalelei. Billed by many as the heir apparent to Trevor Lawrence at Clemson, Uiagalelei (pictured below) struggled mightily during his time with the Tigers, failing to live up to the massive hype surrounding his recruitment. Injuries, weight issues, and sloppy play marred his two seasons as the starter, with his benching down the stretch of the 2022 campaign all but sealing his fate as he opted to head to the Pacific Northwest for a fresh start. Now in the best shape of his collegiate career, the big fella is rewriting his own narrative, completing 58.6% of his throws for 2,254 yards on a healthy 9.1 yards per attempt, with twenty touchdowns opposed to just four interceptions, while rushing for another six scores to boot. A former Quarterback himself, Smith has helped him to improve his decision-making, while offering a more balanced approach offensively so that he doesn’t need to overextend himself. After a stelar freshman season, (Sophomore Tailback) Damien Martinez has been even better this Fall, rushing for 1,024 yards and seven touchdowns on 6.6 yards per carry, (Sophomore Tight End) Jack Velling has filled the void left by Luke Musgrave, a fifth-round draft choice of the Packers last April, reeling in twenty-seven receptions for 418 yards and eight scores. Defensively, the Beavs have remained strong despite returning just five starters from last year’s unit, posting similar numbers, including 20.5 points allowed (33rd in FBS) on 333.1 total yards, and enjoying a +10 turnover differential thanks in large part to eighteen takeaways. When we last saw Oregon State, blew the doors off of struggling Stanford in the final meeting as league residents, running away with a convincing 62-17 beatdown. This one was as one-sided as the finals core would suggest, as the Beavers held significant advantages in a slew of categories, including total yards (598-324), first downs (29-18), rushing yards (277-82), passing yards (321-242), and turnovers (+4). Uiagalelei completed an efficient 12-of-19 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns, while his understudy, Aidan Chiles came in and seventy-five yards and a score of his own on 5-of-8 passing. Martinez ran roughshod through the visiting defense to the tune of 146 yards and four touchdowns on just fifteen carries, while his fellow Tailback, Deshaun Fenwick added two scores of his own, one on the ground and another through the air, with Chiles even rushing for one himself. (Defensive Coordinator) Trent Bray must have loved what he saw out of his troops, as they amassed a season-high six sacks and twelve tackles for loss, along with those four turnovers, all of which were interceptions, including two from (Senior Safety) Kitan Oladapo.
From a betting perspective, Oregon State has also been much better straight-up (8-2) than they have been against the spread (6-4), though that is also a byproduct of facing stiffer competition within a conference that has featured aa plethora of ranked schools. After covering a season-high three consecutive games, the Beavers failed to cover two in a row, including an outright loss to Arizona as a 3-point road favorite. However, Smith’s troops managed to get back into the good graces of the betting community with last weekend’s demolition of Stanford in which they were favored by 21.5 points, their third-largest spread of the campaign. Under the direction of Smith, this is a program that has been more than a solid play in this regard, owning a 40-26-1 record against the spread in nearly six seasons, including a commanding 14-2 mark as a home favorite! In fact, OSU has covered four consecutive games as a home favorite of 0.5-3.0 points, while riding a 5-game streak of covers in their last five home contests against +.500 opponents. As we stated earlier, the home team in this series has been dominant in winning ten consecutive meetings straight-up, though are just 3-4 against the spread dating back to 2016. Since 2004, the Beavs are 8-11 straight-up but a whopping 113-6 against the spread, including three straight covers. This includes last year’s narrow 21-24 loss in Seattle, which saw them fall out of the rankings after breaking ground for the first time in nine years. In a remarkably even matchup that saw the two sides exchange scores throughout the night, the visitors held close on the strength of their opportunistic defense which returned an interception thirty-seven yards to the house as time expired in the first half. However, the Huskies would strike last, with a 22-yard field goal to win the game. Martinez shined in this one, folks, rushing for 107 yards on nineteen carries, while adding a 40-yard reception through the air, with Fenwick rushing for a pair of touchdowns. On the injury front, Oregon State is also largely healthy coming into this clash in Corvallis, with the only absences being that of (Junior Linebacker) Makiya Tongue (leg) and (Freshman Receiver) Tastean Redicks (undisclosed) out for the season due to respective maladies. Looking ahead, the Beavers will finish up the regular season with the latest chapter of the Civil War at (No. 6) Oregon, which could present them with an opportunity to compete in the aforementioned Pac-12 Championship Game; with two losses in conference play, Smith & Co would leapfrog the Ducks if they manage to win out, setting up a potential rematch with the Huskies in two weeks.