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October 31, 2008

Beavers welcome struggling Sun Devils

Maybe it's a good thing the Oregon State football team is coming off a bye week, because it's never good to underestimate the wounded. And that's exactly what the Beavers opponent on Saturday is. Arizona State (2-5, 1-3) has lost five straight games and is in eighth place in the Pac-10.

So hopefully having an extra week to prepare for the Sun Devils will prevent the Beavers from suffering a setback in their quest toward the Pac-10 title.

"The letdown is one thing that Coach is always afraid of . . .," OSU quarterback Lyle Moevao said at Tuesday's press conference. "We are definitely looking forward to this challenge. Their record doesn't really show how good they are. They are a better team than what it shows."

However, this season has indeed been one to forget for Dennis Erickson and Co. The Sun Devils have been a huge disappointment, despite lofty preseason expectations. They began the season ranked and were expected to contend for the Pac-10 title. But at this point, they will be lucky to make a bowl game, which is far cry from last season.

In his first season at the helm, Erickson led the Sun Devils to a 10-3 record, a share of the conference title and a berth in the Holiday Bowl. But the honeymoon appears over for Erickson. His team ranks in the bottom half of the Pac-10 in nearly every statistical category. About the only thing that's gone right for the Sun Devils is their passing and punt return games, in which they rank third.

Going through the air may be their best chance to upset the surging Beavers (4-3, 3-1) at Reser Stadium. Despite being banged up this season, senior quarterback Rudy Carpenter has played effectively. He has completed 63 percent of his passes for 1,620 yards and nine touchdowns, while throwing seven interceptions. He holds an efficiency rating of 134.97.

And he'll be facing a secondary that has been prone to giving up big passing plays this season. Even though the Beavers defeated Washington 34-13 two Saturdays ago, Husky freshman quarterback Ronnie Fouch threw for 276 yards, including several deep passes. Futhermore, the Beavers' secondary has been dinged up as well. Keenan Lewis, Brandon Hughes and Al Afalava have all missed time in recent weeks.

"This is a dangerous team," OSU coach Mike Riley said. "They are searching for that last stretch run in the season that can form an identity for themselves, as we are. I think with that, and the fact they have good talent, and have a lot of potential with what they can do with that talent, makes them very dangerous."

However, the Beavers defensive line has stepped up big in recent weeks as it has finally come together. It should be able to stop a paltry Sun Devils running attack which is averaging just 2.8 yards per carry this season. If that happens, the Beavers should be able to put plenty of pressure on Carpenter. Two years ago, as a sophomore, Carpenter had arguably the worst game of his storied career in Corvallis. A repeat of that scenario likely means a Beaver victory.

But at this point in the season, the Beavers simply need to focus on one thing at a time. While talk of the Rose Bowl is premature, there's no doubt they control their own destiny right now.

"It's a five-game season," defensive end Victor Butler said. "We've got to take it one game at a time. You can't jump the gun and get ahead of yourself, because that's when you make mistakes."

BeaverBlitz's Five Things to Watch

1. Can the Beavers get to Carpenter early?: If the Beavers are able to get in Carpenter's face or knock him down from the get-go, he will have a tough time getting into a groove. And if the past is any indication, a rattled Carpenter struggles to get back on track.

2. Can the Beavers defend the deep ball?: You know after seeing game film from the Oregon State vs. Washington game, Erickson will have Carpenter looking downfield often on Saturday. And why not? Carpenter is a much better QB than Fouch. So the Beaver secondary needs to be ready. A few big plays could give the Sun Devils the spark they need.

3. Can the Beavers protect a lead this time?: Last season against Arizona State, the Beavers built a 19-point lead, only to blow it and fall to the Sun Devils in Tempe. They need to finish this time. Maybe this would be a good game to run up the score… Maybe Riley can finally silence all the Erickson apologists out there.

4. Will the weather impact the game?: There's a good chance it will be wet on Saturday. That could play into the Beavers' favor, as their running game has been far more effective this season than the Sun Devils. But maybe Arizona State will be prepared since Erickson was at Oregon State for four seasons.

5. Will there be continued versatility in the running game?: Against the Huskies, Riley and Co. unleashed several running attacks that were extremely effective. A little more razzle-dazzle never hurt anyone and would get the crowd at Reser extremely rowdy.


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