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Rivalry Week: How Can the Underdogs Prevail?

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Four out of six rivalry games are scheduled for this weekend, and some teams could use a win more than others

Storm Woods looks to help pull off another top 10 upset in Corvalis
Storm Woods looks to help pull off another top 10 upset in Corvalis
Steve Dykes/Getty Images

This weekend, the Civil War, the Apple Cup, the Territorial Cup and the Rumble in the Rockies will be contested. Some of the underdogs in these matchups have this week have reasons beyond bragging rights. Oregon State is looking to become bowl eligible by beating a probably playoff-bound Oregon team. Colorado is searching for a Pac-12 win, after coming so close on multiple occasions this season. The Territorial Cup looks evenly matched, without a real underdog, but both teams need a win for a chance at winning the Pac-12 South. Like with most weeks of drunken Pac-12 football, anything can happen.

The Civil War

The Oregon-Oregon State matchup takes off on its 118th iteration with both teams headed in opposite directions. The Ducks look to seal up a playoff berth in the next two weeks, while the Beavers need a win to even become bowl eligible. It's a tough sell for Oregon State, a team that hasn't won in this rivalry since 2007. It doesn't help that the Beavers struggle at stopping the run, the bread and butter of the Oregon offense. Oregon State does have a bevy of upperclassmen on their defense and an upset against a talented Arizona State team. Anything is possible on a Saturday night in Corvallis.

What the Beavers have to do is twofold. The game plan for stopping Oregon, laid out by Arizona, is to keep solid pressure on Marcus Mariota all game, and to limit his escape routes when he scrambles. This is made easier for Oregon State by the loss of center Hroniss Grasu for Oregon. This is a defense capable of getting sacks, with Dylan Wynn leading the team with 4.5. They need to continually apply the pressure for any hope of victory, preferably through twists that can mess with blocking assignments that a center needs to assign. Having someone with inexperience will stymie Oregon in their protection, and could lead to the same problems that affected the offensive line when left tackle Jake Fisher was out.

The second step is to control the clock through the run game. Arizona had a seven minute advantage in time of possession, which was due to the run game and causing turnovers. The turnovers were fumbles caused by the pass rush, so that can be skipped, but the run game was effective for multiple reasons. If Oregon State can manage to seal the edge like the Wildcats did in this play, then Storm Woods should be able to take advantage of as much space as Nick Wilson on that play. The Oregon defense also has trouble with overpursuing, and if the Beavers can run some misdirection into their sets, perhaps with the fly sweep to Victor Bolden, they can capitalize on an Oregon defense that is not nearly as sharp as years past.

The Apple Cup

The 107th Apple Cup is being played in Pullman this year, and even though Washington is favored, the Cougars won the last matchup in Martin Stadium. Both teams have arguably more talent than in 2012, and Washington State will want to win the Cup back against a 7-5 Washington club that may not have too much to play for. The strengths of each team directly combat each other, with the Air Raid directed by Luke Falk up against the pass rush of Danny Shelton and Hau'oli Kikaha. Washington State needs to confront this, and exploit the other holes that Washington has.

When the Huskies have lost, it has been for a few reasons. Either there has been an excellent defensive performance (Stanford, Arizona State), a great individual performance (Oregon, UCLA), or committing a bunch of turnovers and blowing the game because you want to ice the kicker (Arizona). One of these performances was made through the passing game of Brett Hundley. Their two touchdowns through the air came on a slant route, something that Falk and Tyler Baker have worked on together and is one of the most used routes in the Air Raid. The second was on a deep ball when the Bruins were given time to throw and Hundley completed a deep ball for a touchdown. The Air Raid can do a great job in protecting Falk, even given Washington's pass rushing prowess. The DBs are suspect for the Huskies, given the dismissal of Marcus Peters, so the time may be right for the Cougars to take back the Cup.

Territorial Cup

There doesn't appear to be a traditional underdog in the Territorial cup this year. Both Arizona and Arizona State have had success in moving to 9-2 records, and both of them need a UCLA loss to Stanford in order to win the Pac-12 South. Either way, this game is what they can control, and winning it is imperative at this juncture.

First, for Arizona, a need is to establish the running game early. Oregon State's Terron Ward put up 148 yards on the Sun Devils, along with Storm Woods adding 125 of his own, just through a couple of simple runs. The first Storm Woods touchdown went up the middle, and one from Ward went off tackle without him being bothered by the Sun Devil defense. This bodes well for an Arizona team that has two big weapons in the run game in Terris Jones-Grigsby and Nick Wilson. This can take some pressure off Anu Solomon, who was injured last game and struggled against Washington the week before that.

The Sun Devils can take advantage of the struggles of Solomon, which plays into their hand of aggressive blitzes. In the beatdown they laid in the first half against Notre Dame, the Sun Devils blitzed early and often, forcing a quarterback similar in play style to Solomon in Everett Golson to make a multitude of mistake. ASU should blitz early, since Solomon suffered a foot injury during the game. Making him one dimensional will give the Sun Devils a good chance to win, and their pass rush will give them a great opportunity to do so.

Rumble in the Rockies

Apparently this is the name of a the rivalry between Colorado and Utah, a rivalry lost in the 60s due to conference realignment that has returned. It may need a different name, so this game shall be known as the Battle for the Rocky Mountain Oyster, or something of the sort. Either way, the Buffs need a win. A 2-10 year wouldn't bode well for Mike McIntyre, after a 4-8 one the year before. Colorado has come close on several occasions this year (Cal, Oregon State, UCLA) but that one Pac-12 victory has eluded them. A matchup with a Utah team that looked suspect at best against Arizona may be the cure for what ails them.

A weakness to exploit is in Utah's cover 2. Arizona exploited the defense by stacking receivers, and using the front receiver to clear out the press coverage, on this play for example. On the bottom pair of receivers, the front man runs a curl, taking the press man with him and drawing the other corner to cover him

UAUtah1

UAUtah2

That receiver draws the coverage as the back receiver runs a streak underneath him. There's another safety dropped back deep, but the curl route takes the defensive back out of the play just enough to leave a huge gap for Solomon to drop it in to Austin Hill.

UAUtah3

Colorado needs to exploit the hole in the cover 2, and Sefo Liufau has a good enough arm and accuracy to get it in to the area between the corner and the safety. Arizona also ran all over Utah, and if the Buffaloes can use their three headed running back monster to overcome the aggressiveness of the Utah defense, that will open up the cover 2 that much more.

The bigger issue for Colorado is finishing. Utah's offense outside of Devontae Booker can be a little stagnant, with the passing game being an issue. Colorado can get a lead on Utah, like they did against UCLA. Then they need to clamp down. Eliminating the broken plays and assignment mistakes, ones that led to the goal line stop against Cal and allowing the final touchdown against UCLA. Colorado is more than capable of winning, and they need to do just that.

All of these games have capable underdogs. Something lost on the observer is that these players are often the cream of the crop, and have played with and against many of the players on opposing teams. The talent is all there, but whether the execution is will be seen on Saturday.