Saturday’s rivalry football game in Eugene features two of the Pac-12’s top rushing attacks, with Oregon State first and Oregon third in the season statistics.
B.J. Baylor leads the way for the Beavers (7-4, 5-3) and is first in the conference with 1,200 yards on the ground along with 12 touchdowns. Travis Dye has been the top back for the No. 11 Ducks (9-2, 6-2), with 937 yards and 12 scores, after CJ Verdell was lost for season to an injury eight weeks ago.
OSU defensive players and coaches alike say going up against the Beavers’ veteran offensive line and rushers helps them prepare for what they will face Saturday.
“It helps every week to be able to practice with our guys. Iron sharpens iron and we are both competitive,” defensive lineman Simon Sandberg said. “We’re both going to do it physically and we’re both going to get better from it. It happens every week, and it doesn’t matter if it’s fall camp or the last game of the season.”
Beavers head coach Jonathan Smith calls it “a huge benefit.”
“And you’re trying to create that across the board. Competition at practice is only going to help each side of the ball,” he said. “Our O-line has played well and makes it challenging for our defense in practice, and I think we’ve improved on the defensive side because of that.”
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Oregon State interim defensive coordinator Trent Bray says having those repetitions against a strong and talented offensive line practice is good preparation for the various schemes and players the defense faces every week.
This week, OSU was named one of semifinalists for the annual Joe Moore Award, given to the nation’s top offensive line unit.
Lines are judged on toughness, effort, teamwork, consistency, technique and finishing.
The Beavers’ O-line, coached by Jim Michalczik, has allowed just 10 sacks, the sixth-fewest nationally. Oregon State has given up 37 total tackles for loss, third in the country.
Slowing down the pass
The Beavers’ pass defense has shown vast improvement the past two games since Bray was named the team’s interim coordinator. Stanford passed for 94 yards and Arizona State 166, two of the three lowest totals OSU has allowed in Pac-12 play.
Those two opponents completed 53.1% of their passes, combined for one passing touchdown and were intercepted three times.
“We’ve been getting a good rush on the quarterback, making it easier for us to cover. We don’t have to cover for very long. Then technique, eyes. That’s really it,” Beavers safety Kitan Oladapo said. “It definitely makes us more comfortable for our teammates to make plays front seven-wise. But we still have to cover our guys regardless.”
The Beavers recorded three sacks versus Arizona State after getting none the previous four games.
Oregon State ranks eighth in the Pac-12 against the pass at 238 yards a game.
Busy time of year
Oregon State will be preparing for a bowl game this year, something it hasn’t been tasked with in Smith’s first three seasons.
The Beavers could be playing in next week’s Pac-12 title game against Utah, which will create an even more hectic schedule during a period in which teams across the country are putting in work for early signing day on Dec. 15.
“You’ve got to make a couple sets of plans on what those two weeks look like. I know I’m excited to get out on the road and see a bunch of recruits and families and campuses,” he said. “The minute we’re able to do it we’re going to go. We’ll find out when that is, whether it’s next week or the week after.”
Smith says his team’s success has helped in recruiting. He added that the staff feels “very comfortable” with what they’re able to sell potential players and that they believe they’ve identified recruits that have the “right fit” for the program.
OSU inside linebacker Avery Roberts, who injured his ankle in the first quarter against Arizona State and wasn’t able to return, was able to do some light team work at Wednesday’s practice but didn’t get in a full workout, Smith said.
Defensive lineman Cody Anderson, who missed the Arizona State game due to back problems, practiced Wednesday and will be available Saturday barring a setback.
Running back Deshaun Fenwick, also limited by an injury, didn’t do much at practice Wednesday. Smith considers Fenwick “questionable, doubtful” for Saturday and said he will have to look better to play.
Jesse Sowa can be reached via email at email@example.com or on Twitter, @JesseSowaGT.