No. 21 Washington State takes aim at weakened Oregon State (Sep 16, 2017)
It's never easy to stop Washington State's "Air Raid" offense.
Making matters worse for Oregon State's beleaguered defense this week as it prepares for the No. 21 Cougars is that three members of the secondary are either out or doubtful because of injuries for Saturday's game in Pullman, Wash.
Starting cornerbacks Dwayne Williams and Xavier Crawford were injured in the first half of last Saturday's 48-14 loss to Minnesota. Williams will undergo ACL surgery and is out for the season. Crawford won't play against the Cougars because of an injured shoulder.
Jaydon Grant, another cornerback, is doubtful with a shoulder injury.
Backups Kyle White and Jay Irvine played extensively in the second half last week.
"Losing your top two corners ... is that tough? Absolutely," Oregon State coach Gary Andersen said.
"But we did that last game. Some young men need to step up and play. Timing's not great when you're playing Washington State in that situation, the way they throw the football. But it's an opportunity for some young kids to step up."
Oregon State starting safety Jalen Moore is also suspended for the first half due to his targeting ejection in the second half against Minnesota. Freshman safety David Morris will make his first career start after recording 17 tackles last week.
The Beavers (1-2) rank 127th among 129 FBS teams in scoring defense, allowing 46 points per game, and 115th in total defense, giving up 483.7 yards per game. They have yet to record a sack.
Washington State (2-0) ranks second in the Pac-12 and eighth in the nation in passing offense, averaging 397 yards a game.
Washington State coach Mike Leach knows he has two capable quarterbacks in Luke Falk and backup Tyler Hilinski, who excelled in Falk's absence late last week in the 47-44 triple-overtime win over Boise State after the Cougars trailed 31-10 early in the fourth quarter.
Hilinski completed three touchdown passes while completing 25 of 33 passes for 240 yards.
Falk, who broke the school's career passing record in the first half, completed 17 of 24 passes for 144 yards by the fourth quarter. He did not throw a touchdown pass for only the second time in 32 games.
He exited the game with an apparent head injury in the fourth quarter after a hard hit. He fumbled, which led to a touchdown return for Boise State.
Leach said Falk is healthy enough to play against the Beavers. He wants his quarterback to be more "decisive" in his throws.
"He wants to overanalyze everything, and we're not looking for a guy that wants to overanalyze everything," Leach said. "We're looking for a guy that executes."
Oregon State's injury-riddled and porous passing defense is a good remedy to get Falk back on track. In three wins against Oregon State in his career, Falk is 121 for 157 (77 percent completion rate) with 1,293 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Despite what appears to be a dire situation, Andersen is trying his best to put a positive spin on the Pac-12 opener for both teams.
"It's a great opportunity to teach, teach, teach, teach, teach to battle and fight together and stay in this thing together," Andersen said. "We're at a crucial moment, a crucial time, and we have to be able to come back and battle."
Washington State's defense, which ranks third in the Pac-12 and 26th nationally allowing only 272 yards per game, figures to be a difficult challenge for Oregon State's offense.
Defensive end Hercules Mata'afa leads the conference with 5.5 tackles for loss.
Andersen noted his offense has little or no "identity." The Beavers were supposed to have a run-first attack to set up a stronger passing game. But the running game has not been consistent and the passing game has not taken shape with a new starter -- junior college transfer quarterback Jake Luton. He has thrown four interceptions in four games.
Luton could have a new target, though, as wide receiver Seth Collins was listed as probable on Tuesday after a broken finger kept him out of the first three games.
Washington State will attempt to start 3-0 for the first time since the 2005 season.