On both offense and defense, the Utes have the potential to beat the Beavers. Proper use of the mobility of either or both Travis Wilson and Kendall Thompson could spell disaster for the talented Beaver defense. Good production from an incredible front 7 could do the same for the less talented Beaver offense. Let's see how the Beavers can avoid dropping to 1-2 in conference play.
Utah's offensive numbers have been a bit inflated by playing less than stellar opponents, but they still have it within themselves to put up points on the Beavers, if they use their personnel correctly. In last year's matchup between these two teams, Travis Wilson ran for 149 yards and 3 touchdowns. That's right, the quarterback now considered to be the better passer of Utah's 2 potential starters had a statline that a running back would be proud of. Consider Kendal Thompson is, at the least, a more willing runner, and there's a recipe for disaster for the Beavers.
However, the defense has improved from last year, and the linebackers, who are called upon to make many of the hits against quarterbacks outside the pocket, are the best and deepest group of the defense. Additionally, because of the widespread experience across the defense, coordinator Mark Banker has been more willing to make adjustments quickly mid-game than in year's past, a promising thought considering the very realistic scenario that Wilson and/or Thompson run all over the Beavs early. Oregon State's been pretty good against the run, and, despite recent injuries to defensive linemen, that shouldn't change against Utah. The Utes average a gaudy 202 yards/game on the ground, but their opponents have all been appallingly bad at defending the run. Idaho State ranks 70th (in the FCS) against the run, and their FBS opponents haven't been much better. Fresno State, Washington State, and UCLA are 106th, 71st, and 79th, respectively. Michigan is strong in this area, ranked 8th, but Utah ran for just 81 yards against them, below Michigan's stingy average of 91 yards allowed. If Utah has success running the ball against Oregon State, I predict it will be more due to Wilson and Thompson rather than Devente Booker, despite the latter's average of 5.7 yard/carry.
Where the Beavers will likely have more problems is on offense. Utah's the most fearsome pass rushing team they've faced, and they haven't exactly breezed through their earlier, lesser opponents. USC's pass rush is the closest Oregon State's seen to Utah's, and it was an absolute disaster. For Oregon State, an effective pass rush is even more problematic due to their current personnel.
The chain reaction starts, as one expects, with the offensive line. They don't do the greatest job of keeping Sean Mannion safe. However, the real problems come after that. The receivers this year, frankly, aren't that good. They're young, so they might improve greatly, maybe even during this season, but it doesn't take an incredible secondary to keep them from getting open. Luckily, Oregon State's group of tight ends are great pass catchers, and their running backs aren't too shabby coming out of the backfield either. Unfortunately, when the offensive line is getting beaten, especially by a defense that's only rushing 4 or 5, the tight ends and running backs have to stay in pass protection, leaving Mannion with nobody to throw to except the receivers on the outside, whose problems have already been covered.
Hopefully, the offensive line has improved over the two weeks, or Mike Riley has figured out a way to keep Mannion protected while still giving him some weapons to look for. The only other option to save Mannion is to establish and continue to use the run, which Riley seemed more willing to do against Colorado than he was against USC, a promising sign. If not, it will be a long, USC-eque night for Mannion and the offense.
Even if the Beavers do accomplish those things, it could still be a long season for the Beavers. Last week, the great Bill Connelly projected the rest of the Pac-12's conference games, and while we did learn some during last week's games, we can assume nothing's moved too much for the Beavs. The projections say that for 5 of their last 7 games, Oregon State has between a 30-39% chance of winning, and they have a 10-19% chance for the other 2. It's not pretty, but it should make for some great excitement. They've already played their only guaranteed win in Colorado, and every game they have after could go either way, with the exception of expected losses against Stanford and Oregon.
The stretch run of 2014 for Oregon State starts earlier than for most teams, as they've already gone through both of their bye weeks, and now stare down 7 games in 7 weeks that could end in 7 losses. They'll likely find themselves in close games with low margins for error. I doubt they win or lose more than 1 game by more than 14 points, and that fact could mean fans are in for something special, one way or another. This season has already had plenty of crazy games in the Pac-12, but the Beavers haven't joined in on the fun. I doubt it stays that way for long, so buckle up.