ASU vs. Oregon State game preview

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Marion Grice runs against the Beaver defense in last year's game, a 36-26 Oregon State win. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images) By Steve Dykes Marion Grice runs against the Beaver defense in last year's game, a 36-26 Oregon State win. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images) By Steve Dykes

Oregon State Beavers (6-3, 4-2) at No. 21 Arizona State Sun Devils (7-2, 5-1)

Kickoff: Saturday November 16, 7:30 p.m. MST/9:30 p.m. EST

Where: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, AZ

Point Spread: ASU -14

TV/Radio: Pac-12 Networks/620 AM

Weather: High 60s, partly cloudy, moderate winds

Series History: ASU leads the all-time series over OSU 26-12-1. The Beavers won last year's meeting in Corvallis 36-26, marking their fourth win over ASU in the last five meetings.

Fun Fact of the Week: Marion Grice is the only player in FBS with over 300 yards rushing, receiving, and on kickoff returns.

ASU on Offense: Against Utah, we saw yet another example of the age-old adage that without adequate offensive line play, a dynamic offensive grinds to a halt.

Whereas the Utes were one of the best pass rushing teams in the nation, the Sun Devils will look to rebound this week against an Oregon State team that is roughly middle-of-the-pack in most areas.

The main focus will be in the trenches, where the ASU offensive line believes they will play much better at home against OSU's 4-3 scheme. Defensive ends Scott Crichton and Dylan Wynn are the primary threats with their quickness and athleticism, meaning tackles Evan Finkenberg and Tyler Sulka will need strong efforts.

Another intriguing match-up will be downfield, where ASU's wide receivers, led by a now 100-percent Jaelen Strong and a resurgent Rick Smith, will face a ballhawking Beaver secondary. Cornerbacks Rashaad Reynolds and Steven Nelson have combined for nine interceptions between them, and free safety Ryan Murphy adds three more. While OSU's overall pass defense ranks poorly and yards should be there for ASU's taking, any mistakes by the Sun Devils can be capitalized upon.

ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly may find his greatest success on Saturday underneath on intermediate routes, where the OSU linebackers do not match-up favorably against the dynamic running back duo of Marion Grice and D.J. Foster. Despite not scoring a touchdown over the last two weeks, Grice has rushed for 388 yards over the last three games. Both he and Foster are also very dangerous as receivers, and tight end Chris Coyle should be able to make some plays in the second level along the seams.

Key Match-ups:

  • RT Tyler Sulka vs. LDE Scott Crichton: OSU's sack numbers aren't impressive, but Crichton's talent is. His ability to rush the passer can rattle Kelly if he is not contained.
  • WR Jaelen Strong vs. CB Rashaad Reynolds: Strong has been quiet over the last three games, but is primed for a return to form. Reynolds is having a good year, and the senior will likely draw Strong often.
  • QB Taylor Kelly vs. FS Ryan Murphy: Kelly will look to rebound at home, but must be wary of Murphy, a talented and rangy player against both the run and pass.

ASU on Defense: There are no surprises here. Oregon State is going to run very little, pass a lot, and get the ball to Brandin Cooks any way they can.

Stopping—or rather, limiting—Cooks will be the No. 1 goal for the Sun Devils defense. The 5-foot-10 Beaver playmaker is a rare talent with the ball in his hands, possessing the speed and moves to take it to the house on every touch. He is quarterback Sean Mannion's top target with 91 receptions for 1,344 and 14 touchdowns, and he is also a threat on speed sweeps and end arounds, as he has 23 carries for 174 yards and two more scores. ASU's top cornerback, Osahon Irabor, will see plenty of Cooks, but he will have help in trying to limit Cooks' damage. 

Cooks, however, is far from the only Beaver weapon. 

Opposite Cooks, receiver Richard Mullaney presents a big-bodied (6-foot-3) and sure-handed target, and has 43 catches for 659 yards on the year. While running backs Storm Woods and Terron Ward don't get too many carries, the pair are involved as receivers, combining for 59 receptions. Woods is a speedier back, while the compact Ward is a bullish power runner.

One potential mismatch is at tight end. Starter Connor Hamlett. At 6-foot-7 and 265 pounds, the junior is second on the team in touchdown catches with four. ASU's secondary has struggled with tall tight ends this year, and this will be a focus in the redzone. Behind him, 6-foot-6 Caleb Smith and 6-foot-5 Kellen Clute have combined for 33 catches and five scores.

The man at the center of the aerial circus is Mannion, a rifle-armed 6-foot-5, 220 pounder. Mannion put a disappointing 2012 behind him to become one of the most prolific quarterbacks in the nation. He's completing nearly 68 percent of his throws for 3,540 yards and 31 touchdowns on the year, and has limited his mistakes with just six interceptions. Mannion, however, has limited mobility, so the best pass defense ASU can pull off is to continue their recent pass rushing success on Saturday night.

After a slow start, the Sun Devil front seven has been excellent over the last four weeks, tallying 17 sacks and generating consistent pressure. Will Sutton has been playing up to his All-American form, while Davon Coleman and Gannon Conway have made huge strides on the year. Along with Devilbacker Carl Bradford, they should be able to create consistent pressure on Mannion. Look for a greater emphasis on quicker passes from the Beavers to counter the ASU threat. 

Key Match-ups:

  • CB Osahon Irabor vs. WR Brandin Cooks: The Devils will need plenty of help to shut down Cooks, one of the nation's top weapons.
  • S Alden Darby on TE Connor Hamlett: ASU has had some difficulty defending big tight ends, and the 6-foot-7 Hamlett will be another challenge, especially in the red zone.
  • DT Will Sutton vs. C Isaac Seumalo: Sutton is starting to play like the All-American he is, and Seumalo, the anchor of the OSU line, will be hard pressed to stop him.

Special Teams: ASU's Zane Gonzalez is very much in the Lou Groza Award discussion, riding a streak of 13 consecutive made field goals. Beaver kicker Trevor Romaine has missed five of his 14 tries on the year, including two from under 40, but has the range to hit from over 50.

ASU's return game continues to underwhelm, while Cooks' presence as the OSU punt return is cause for concern. Look for more rugby style punts from Alex Garoutte to try to neutralize him. Beaver punter Keith Kostol is having a fine year, pinning 16 of his 35 punts inside the 20, along with five over 50 yards.

ASU's To Do List:

  • Limit damage/big plays by Cooks
  • Generate consistent pressure on Mannion
  • Start fast and grab and early lead
  • Protect Kelly

What It All Means: With this much offensive firepower on the field, points will be scored. The difference makers here are an ASU defense that is playing very well, and ASU's propensity for playing much better at home. Cooks and Oregon State's passing attack should keep the Beavers in the game, and this game could have long stretches where it takes on a track meet feeling. However, the play of the Sun Devil defense should ultimately swing the action into ASU's favor. A strong fourth quarter, a growing Sun Devil trademark, should seal the win.

Prediction: ASU wins 52-38