To slow it down or play a shootout? That is the question.
Oregon’s opponents have been asking that all season when going up against the high-powered Ducks.
Oregon State is no different as it prepares for Saturday’s Civil War football game in Reser Stadium.
The Beavers have the ability to pass the ball, throw deep and score quickly. If they use that approach — successfully or not — the defense will be scrambling to counter the Ducks, the fourth-ranked offense in the country that averages 458.3 yards a game.
And what are the chances the Beavers can keep up with the second-ranked scoring offense in the country at 51.1 points a game?
“You would like to score as many as you can, but every drive has to count,” offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said. “We don’t need to change our philosophy at all. We have to convert third downs and score touchdowns.”
Grinding out possessions to keep the score low may be the answer. That’s what Stanford did last week in a 17-14 overtime victory over the Ducks (10-1, 7-1).
OSU’s running game continues to improve with an average of 120.2 yards a game, but is still not something the team relies on compared to the 303.4 passing yards a game.
The Beavers (8-2, 6-2) pass the ball first to set up the running game.
“The best for us is the balance of running and passing,” Langsdorf said. “We have been good with time of possession all year. We’ve sustained drives and we’ll need to do that against these guys. Taking a bunch of three-and-outs against these guys, we’ll be in trouble.”
The Ducks and Beavers are opposites when it comes to offensive approach. Oregon coach Chip Kelly is fond of saying time of possession doesn’t matter since the Ducks score quickly. They hold the ball 27 minutes, 38 seconds a game — ranking 106th out of 120 teams.
OSU is second in the conference and 15th nationally in time of possession at 32:10 a game. The Beavers have a school-record 24 scoring drives of 74-plus yards and 10 drives of 80-plus yards.
“We have to make no mistakes at all,” running back Storm Woods said. “This is one the most high-powered offenses we’ll play. The time of possession will be key, therefore we have to establish the run early.”
While the Beavers hold the ball longer than the Ducks, that can also lead to more opportunities for mistakes.
In OSU’s two losses this season, the players walked off in disgust because of the mistakes they made. In both, turnovers and failing to execute a play stalled drives.
“We just can’t beat ourselves,” Woods said. “There’s no excuse. Against Stanford and Washington, we beat ourselves. We can’t allow that against a team that can put up points in a hurry.”
If the Beavers fall behind early, they can come back if they protect quarterback Sean Mannion.
Speedy receivers Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks stretch the field. If Mannion has time, he’ll find them deep.
“We just have to put speed on them,” Wheaton said. “I don’t know if they’ve seen speed like we have. All I can do is execute and do what coach wants me to do. Slowing it down running the ball or a shootout, I’m down for whatever.”
While the Civil War is a competition of which offense can outdo the other, they have to get by the defense. And Oregon’s defense is filled with playmakers.
Kiko Alonso and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu have three interceptions each, and Ekpre-Olomu has 15 pass breakups. Pass rushers Dion Jordan and Taylor Hart have combined for 12 sacks.
“I think their defense is very much underrated,” Wheaton said.
Langsdorf sees an active, athletic defense. Players move around a lot and give offenses different looks to confuse them.
However, playing a close game changes everything.
“They play a lot of times with the lead,” Langsdorf said. “They can give you more pressure and take more risks. You watch the games they are up by three or four touchdowns in the first half and they just go play. You look at the Stanford game, that’s a tight game and it’s a different defense. It’s a little more settled down. There’s not a lot of crazy looks with guys moving around.”
The Ducks’ loss to Stanford last week was the first time they played a tight game.
OSU has played nine of the 10 games this season with the outcome undetermined in the fourth quarter.
“I think we are completely battled tested in the fourth quarter,” Langsdorf said. “We’ve had so many tight games to grind out to the end with good teams. I think we have confidence knowing we’ve been in those close games and found a way to win. I hope it’s a close game and we can finish them off at the end of the fourth quarter.”