Washington's College Football Playoff push continues in Corvallis, Oregon against the Oregon State Beavers, who pose a significant threat to the undefeated Huskies.
The Beavers have been a monster at home under head coach Jonathan Smith, a former Washington staffer, and are one of the best running teams in the country. Can the team stack up against Washington, who has struggled to stop the run all season, but can hit the Oregon State secondary, which is incredibly vulnerable.
All eyes will be on this primetime PAC-12 showdown, so let's break it all down and figure out whose going to win this projected coin flip.
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Oregon State's Run Game Will Dominate Washington
This is a matchup nightmare for Washington, who is 127th in success rate allowed and 121st in EPA/Play allowed on the ground. The Huskies defense has struggled to stop every team that has had a decent run game all season long, and this may be the biggest inflection point of the game. Oregon State is second in success rate nationally, averaging the ninth most yards per carry at over five yards per carry.
The Beavers have a two-headed monster at running back with Damien Martinez averaging over six yards per rush (6.59) on 155 carries and is flanked by Deshaun Fenwick, who is just under six yards per touch. (5.80). Further, D.J. Uiagalelei has shown to be a capable runner as well when called upon.
While the running backs are vicious and run downhill, this is a credit to the Beavers offensive line, which is tops in Pro Football Focus' run blocking grade. Further, the team has allowed only 13 sacks this season, 19th in the nation. This is a veteran offensive line that is constantly giving DJU time to pass and the running backs room to operate.
As noted above, Washington's rush defense is incredibly poor. The team does a decent job of limiting explosive runs, top 50 in that mark, but is 130th in defensive line yards on the year and is 99th in tackles for loss this season.
While Uiagalelei has proven to be nothing more than a game manager, he has done far better in Smith's run-first scheme than at Clemson. The team's ability will force Washington to commit more men in the box, which should open up deep shots for the Beavers offense, where the veteran has shined. He is completing more than 52% of his passes on passes of 20 yards or more with 19 big time throws to three turnover worthy plays, per PFF.
I'll touch on this below, but Oregon State's ability to put together long sustaining drives that can keep Michael Penix Jr. and the Huskies vertical offense on the sidelines. Oregon State is 106th in plays per minute in the nation. The Beavers can limit the amount of possessions each team has and cash in from in close.
Keep in mind, Smith's team is third in the country in red zone touchdown percentage, scoring six on 81% of red zone trips, while Washington's defense is 113th in that same metric at over 70%.
Washington's Passing Game will Test Oregon State's Suspect Secondary
While all the points above are valid, Washington's offense presents a similar test to the Oregon State side.
The Beavers pass rush has been stout this season, fifth in sacks this season and while the numbers grade out nicely for the Oregon State secondary (top 25 in PFF's coverage grade), I believe this secondary is incredibly vulnerable.
The team has faced very few above average passing games, but the small sample size is jarring, the team allowed Washington State's Cam Ward to cook for 380 yards in a 38-35 loss and freshman Noah Fifita to engineer a 71st percentile EPA/Dropback compared to all games last season in a 27-24 loss.
Sure, Oregon State has proven to be a different team at home, but I believe this secondary that lost two NFL players this past offseason is far worse and ripe to be had against arguably the best passing offense in the country.
The Huskies are third in success rate through the air and sixth in EPA/Pass behind the nation's leading passer and the second choice to win the Heisman Trophy in Penix Jr.
I also believe this can be a big struggle for Oregon State's defense against a Washington offensive line that has allowed only seven sacks on the year, the fourth fewest in the country. If the Beavers pass rush can't get home, I think we see a big outing from Penix Jr.
Washington vs. Oregon State Odds, Spread and Total
Washington vs. Oregon State Prediction and Pick
This game is a project coin flip, and I agree with that sentiment. I believe there are matchup edges for both sides, but there's not some massive edge to be had betting a side in this game. I imagine this game will be determined on who wins the battle on fourth down and if Oregon State can keep Washington's offense off the field.
I'll give the nod to Oregon State, who is a wagon at home in the Smith era against his former club. Since taking over in 2017, Smith is 22-12 at home straight up and 21-11-2 against the spread, including a staggering 14-2 ATS as a home favorite.
Corvallis has proven to be a difficult place to play for PAC-12 opponents in the Smith era and Saturday nigth should be no different.
However, my eyes continue to look at the total in this one. While it may be high for a game that features a team that plays at an incredibly slow pace, I believe both offenses are set up for success and should be able to push into the 30's with plenty of positive drives and each teams ability to score from in close.
I lean towards the Oregon State side, but my favorite bet early in the week is on the over.
Game odds refresh periodically and are subject to change.
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