By Jeff Hansen
It wasn’t the most attractive game that BYU has played, but the 6-3 win over Utah State last week was hard fought and well deserved. Kyle Van Noy and Ziggy Ansah stepped up huge for the Cougars as the defense shined. Taysom Hill managed the game very well but was lost for the season in the process. (Well, not actually in the process. He was lost for the season after the game was over, but that’s a different rant for a different day.)
Oregon State is coming off a less-than-impressive 19-6 home win over Washington State. Beaver quarterback Sean Mannion was also lost for an indefinite period due to a knee injury. Oregon State looked a lot like BYU in a dominating defensive effort and a good-enough offensive effort.
Heading into this game, Oregon State is ranked #10 in the country and BYU is favored in Vegas. It will be another close game, and will likely be another defensive effort.
WR Markus Wheaton: Wheaton is to Oregon State what Cody Hoffman is to BYU. He’s a big-time playmaker and undoubtedly the first target for any QB. He’s got speed, he’s got hands, and he makes plays. Wheaton currently carries a 27-game reception streak with him. He has 36 catches so far this year for 498 yards. That’s 10 more catches than any other Beaver. The BYU secondary will have their hands full trying to contain him.
RB Storm Woods: With a first name like Storm, you had better be an effective tailback somewhere, and that’s just what Woods is. He leads the Beavers with 74 carries for 357 yards a game. 86.8 yards a game isn’t going to blow anyone away, but when 86.8 yards on the ground is the secondary attack, then it’s pretty impressive. Woods is a powerful runner and has good speed. Even though Woods is just a freshman, he’s definitely going to be a key target for the BYU defense. BYU always tries to take away either the ground game or the pass game very early, so you can expect them to keep an eye on Woods.
CB Jordan Poyer: Poyer is an incredible player in the secondary for Oregon State. Against Washington State last week, Poyer had three interceptions. Yes, three; as in one less than the entire BYU team has this year. A Second Team All-PAC 12 player last year, Poyer is doing nothing but increasing his draft stock this year. He has four interceptions total on the year to go along with 14 tackles including three tackles for loss. In a game that will feature a less than 100% Riley Nelson at quarterback for BYU, Poyer will be looking to make his mark.
CB Rashaad Reynolds: Reynolds would be a much more heralded player if he wasn’t playing alongside Poyer. Reynolds is also a lock-down player in the secondary and also leads the team in tackles with 27. While Reynolds only has one pick on the year, he has seven pass break ups. These two corners are going to make it a very difficult day for Riley Nelson.
QB Riley Nelson: Nelson is the key for BYU. It’s simple really, if he plays well, then BYU will win. If Nelson plays poorly, then BYU will lose. Fortunately for Nelson, he plays on the same BYU team as Kyle Van Noy, Uona Kaveinga, and Ziggy Ansah, so he doesn’t have to do much. The BYU defense is good enough to carry them to victory if Riley doesn’t give the game away.
BYU has lost only two games this season, and by a combined total of four points. In those two losses, Nelson has personally accounted for five turnovers and just two touchdowns. If that ratio continues, then BYU won’t be able to stay in the game. The Oregon State offense isn’t overwhelming, but if given short fields and extra possessions, they are good enough to score.
I feel like a broken record, but if the defense keeps playing the way they’re playing, then BYU will at least have a chance to win this game.
Special Teams: We will see a change this week. Justin Sorensen will handle all field goal kicking duties rather than just the deep kicks. Getting a regular kicker healthy would normally be a sigh of relief for any team, but Sorensen has struggled immensely this year. If this comes down to a kicking game, BYU will be at a significant disadvantage.
Summary and Prediction
Oregon State is the most talented team that BYU has played up to this point. I don’t think that the Beavers are as good as their ranking, but they are a very talented team. To me, this game falls on the BYU quarterback’s shoulders, or rather his back. Nelson is not 100%. It doesn’t matter what he says or what the coaches say, you don’t recover from a broken back in a couple of weeks. The question is, how much can Nelson handle? Personally, I don’t think he can handle enough.
Call me a pessimist, but I don’t think that Nelson will be effective enough without the support of his backbone. If he takes a page from the Taysom Hill playbook and takes care of the ball and doesn’t force anything, then I think BYU can win. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s in Nelson’s DNA to do ‘just enough.’ I think we will see him try to force some plays and some throws. I also think we will quickly see that he’s still not healthy. It hurts me to say, but I think that if Riley Nelson finishes this game then BYU will be on the losing end.
Hopefully BYU’s black jerseys, excited crowd and re-energized quarterback can will the Cougars to a victory. But my gut tells me Oregon State wins this game 14-10.