With all the different ways the Oregon State football team won games this year the one constant has been defense.
That was the case again on Saturday night as the No. 7-ranked Beavers leaned on the defense to defeat Utah 21-7 in a Pac-12 Conference home game.
OSU also moved up one to No. 7 in the Bowl Championship Series standings. Receiver Markus Wheaton already dropped the first hint of a national championship run since the team is 6-0.
“It’s good to have goals but I think it’s good to focus on the next game,” coach Mike Riley said in response to Wheaton’s statement.
The Beavers (6-0, 4-0) caused four turnovers against the Utes (2-5, 0-4). Two of them set up 14 points and one saved a probable score.
All of those stops were needed since the offense stalled. The running game produced just 52 yards and Cody Vaz passed for only 174 yards, both significantly less then the team’s averages.
“It wasn’t pretty, but we’ll take it, especially with how our defense played,” running back Storm Woods said.
OSU ranks first in the conference and eighth nationally in turnover margin at plus-1.7 a game. Cornerback Jordan Poyer is first in the Pac-12 and tied for second nationally in interceptions with 0.83 a game.
The Beavers have forced 16 turnovers and lost only six in six games. There have been 12 interceptions and four fumble recoveries.
“The goal of the defense is to get the ball back to the offense,” defensive end Dylan Wynn, who recovered a fumble against Utah. “That is our key point. We would rather get more forced fumbles than sacks. Other defenses might look at that different, but that’s what we have to do. If we get in that position, we have to get the ball out.”
Woods converted the two short fields into two touchdown runs in the first half. Being in so close after the turnovers motivated the offense to finish.
“It’s excitement when they cause a turnover,” Wheaton said. “It makes it easier on us and we want to take advantage of it.”
Besides the 67-yard fourth-quarter drive for a touchdown to seal the game, the offense just kept the ball away from Utah enough and played a game of field position.
Punter Keith Kostol averaged 38.1 yards on his eight punts with five downed inside the 20-yard line. The team’s punting average of 40.3 yards ranks first in the conference.
Once the Beavers had the lead they put the pressure on Utah to rally. The run defense, now ranked fifth in the country with 80.8 yards allowed a game, contained the Utes and forced freshman quarterback Travis Wilson to try and win the game.
“It’s being in the right place at the right time and being opportunistic,” Riley said of the defensive success. “When you can dictate good situations for yourself and being good on first down, that really helps opportunities to force something and make the offense push the ball down the field to get a first down.”
As the Beavers move into the second half of the season to challenge for a conference title, the defense must continue to carry the load while the offense continues to be a work in progress.
“Our defense, we really think we are going in to change the momentum,” Wynn said. “A lot of these big games have been a brawl so our defense wants to change the momentum and bring it back to our side.”
The running game is still inconsistent at 108.3 yards a game and a quarterback controversy seems to be brewing. For the second straight day, Riley pushed off a decision on who the starter will be at Washington on Saturday.
Sean Mannion is expected to be ready physically to take over as the starter after minor knee surgery. Vaz is 2-0 without an interception in his absence.
There were no major injuries to come out of the game, Riley said. Poyer sprained a wrist and offensive guard Josh Andrews sprained an ankle.
Poyer will practice with a soft cast today and Andrews will be limited.
Freshman offensive lineman Gavin Andrews limped around Sunday, so an MRI is scheduled today to look at an old knee injury.