PULLMAN – When they play at Washington State today, the Oregon State Beavers want something they haven’t had much this season: the football.
“They’ve got an offense that scores a lot of points, so we need to be able to control the time of possession, and we need to be able to run the ball to be able to do that,” Beavers quarterback Jonathan Smith said after practice Thursday. “So we’re going in trying to run the ball and control the football game.”
Washington State (2-0 in the Pacific-10 Conference, 4-0 overall) will try to remain unbeaten, while Oregon State (0-1, 1-2) wants to get back on track in the game, scheduled to start at 2 p.m. in Martin Stadium.
The OSU rush will play into one of the Cougars’ strengths. WSU’s rushing defense is allowing fewer than 69 yards per game.
Oregon State’s rushing game has been down this year, averaging only 118 yards per game. Senior running back Ken Simonton has rushed for just 79 yards per game.
Strong safety Mitch Meeuwsen, the Beavers’ leading tackler, said possession will be crucial.
“We’ve definitely got to get the ball back to our offense’s hands and get off the field,” he said. “Last year’s team got a lot of turnovers and that helped the defense. So we’ve definitely got to start getting some turnovers.”
The Beavers have been outscored 104-58 in three games, including last week’s 38-7 home loss to UCLA. Washington State, meanwhile, has outscored opponents 178-68 in four games and is coming off a 48-21 victory at Arizona.
“Playing in Pullman, it’s their homecoming, and I’m sure they’ll have a full house,” said OSU coach Dennis Erickson, who coached at WSU in 1987-1988 before leaving for Miami.
“It’s a tough place to play, I know, I’ve been there coaching on the other side of it. I’ve been on both sides of it, in fact,” Erickson said. “We’ve just got to go play better than we’ve been playing.”
Cougars head coach Mike Price, who succeeded Erickson at WSU in 1989 and like Erickson is an Everett High School graduate, said the Beavers will bounce back.
“They have a lot of self-confidence,” Price said. ” … They’re coming off a great, great year. Their coach is an experienced leader who has the ability to motivate people, so they will be ready to play the Cougars.”
Erickson said his team is unshaken.
“We’ve got great leadership on this team and a lot of character on this team, and I know our players know they can bounce back and that’s what we’re going to do.”
The Cougars also feel that way about themselves, Erickson said.
“They’re just playing really, really well right now, they’re believing they can win,” Erickson said. “To me, that’s the key to the whole game: believing that you can get it done.”
Junior quarterback Jason Gesser is a key to the Cougars’ success, averaging 303 passing yards per game, hitting wide receivers Nakoa McElrath (135 yards per game) and Mike Bush (105 yards per game).
The Cougars have also been helped by improvements in the kicking game. Placekicker Drew Dunning has hit eight of 10 field goal attempts and 20 of 22 points-after-touchdowns.
Kickoff specialist Adam Holiday’s booming kicks into the end zone have prevented returns and given the Cougars additional yards, Price said.
Running back David Minnich is averaging just under 100 yards of the Cougars’ 145-yards-a-game rushing average. The Cougars average 515 offensive yards per game.
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