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November 18, 2011

Scouting report: Washington at Oregon State

Matchup: Washington Huskies (6-4 overall, 4-3 Pac-12) at Oregon State Beavers (2-8, 2-5)

Kickoff: 12:30 p.m., Pacific time, Reser Stadium, Corvallis, Ore.

TV, radio: ROOT Sports will broadcast the game to a regional audience. Tom Glasgow, Steve Preece and Jason Stilles will provide commentary. KJR 950-AM will broadcast the game. Bob Rondeau will provide the play-by-play, Damon Huard the color commentary and Elise Woodward will add sideline observations.

Coaches: Steve Sarkisian, Washington (third year), Mike Riley, Oregon State (10th year)

Series: The Washington-Oregon State series is the second-longest active series in school football history in terms of years and third-longest in terms of games played; the teams first met in 1897. The Huskies hold a 58-33-4 record all-time against the Beavers, having won 26 of the last 34, dating back to 1975. However, in recent years, the series has been more even. At Husky Stadium last year, Washington won 35-34 in two overtimes, thanks to a defensive stop on a two-point conversion. NFL first-round pick quarterback Jake Locker threw a school-record five touchdowns, four of them to Jermaine Kearse. Two years ago in Corvallis, tailback Jacquizz Rodgers and the Beavers pounded the Huskies 48-21; Rodgers ran for 159 yards in that game.

About the Beavers: This young team has been developing each and every game. Altogether, Oregon State starts four freshmen and eight underclassmen. Freshman quarterback Sean Mannion has stepped in for veteran starting quarterback Ryan Katz early on this season because of his subpar playing. Mannion leads the nation in interceptions but has consistently shown improvement in his decision-making skills while transitioning from short-field to downfield throws.
Against Arizona State in early October, he threw four picks; one month later against Stanford, he was 18 for 30, threw for 252 yards and a touchdown.

This season Mannion has completed 64 percent of his passes, thrown for 2,694 yards, 11 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He's coming off a 23-6 loss to California in San Francisco, where he couldn't get his offense moving. He was 25 of 39, throwing for 247 yard but also had two interceptions.

Speedy senior wide receiver James Rodgers has proven he is a threat Mannion can throw to now, after missing the first two games of the season to an injury last year. Coming into this season, he was second in the nation for all-purpose yards with 5,784 and fourth at Oregon State for career receiving yards with 2,064. Against Cal, he led all receivers with six catches for 76 yards. To complement him is junior Markus Wheaton, who is the leading receiver on this team with 822 yards. And senior tight end Joe Halahuni provides effective blocking and a big target in the middle. He entered the season on the watch list for the John Mackey Award, annually given to the best college tight end.

As prominent their passing attack is, this team is still 105th in the nation in points scored. In the past three games, they've averaged nine points per game.

The lack of balance in the offense is a huge factor why they haven't been able to put up points. Oregon State is second to last in rushing yards. After a stellar 223-yard effort in the loss against Sacramento State in the first game of the season, freshman running back Malcolm Agnew hasn't quite return to his full form. He was knocked out in that game and missed four games. Against the Golden Bears, he led all Beaver running backs with six carries - for three yards. Backups Jovan Stevenson and Terron Ward haven't been able to stabilize a solid running game either.

The Beavers usually boast a solid defense, but this year, they are experiencing a slight decline. Oregon State's rush defense is second to last in the Pac-12, as they haven't found a solid replacement for defensive tackle Steven Paea, who was picked in the second round of the draft. However, this veteran pass defense has stood strong; they are second in the Pac-12 in passing yards allowed and tied for second in interceptions. Junior safety Anthony Watkins leads the team with 67 tackles, while Jordan Poyer spearheads the secondary with three interceptions.

About the Huskies: Surprisingly, through a tweet Thursday, head coach Steve Sarkisian[/db\ named redshirt freshman [db]Nick Montana the starting quarterback. Montana will be taking his first start in his career Saturday. So far this year, Montana has complete 13 of 20 passes for 147 yards, one touchdown and an interception.

To get more acquainted with him, let's break Montana down skill-wise. In 2010, he was 22nd-ranked pro-style quarterback (according to our own rankings) out of Oaks Christian in Thousand Oaks, Calif. His best asset: agility. To go along with that, his footwork is excellent. Thus he's able to establish himself in the pocket very fast, and if that breaks down, he can scramble, throw on the run or tuck it in and gain a few yards.

Therefore, on bootlegs, he's a legitimate threat. His accuracy on short-to-midrange passes is exceptional; he's able to zip a tight spiral to anywhere in an arm's length of a receiver 20 yards away. Anything beyond that, Montana's a bit shaky. He possesses the arm strength, but his throwing mechanic isn't as fluid as it should be. So, on fade routes, his throws will lack spin, but mostly touch. Even on deep balls, his accuracy is still within an arm's reach, but the ball simply doesn't float.

To supplant him, tailback Chris Polk is there to power through defenses. He's hoping to bounce back from a below-average game at USC, where he rushed for 36 yards on nine attempts. This week, he'll definitely get more carries - and more chances - to break through and shine. With a backup quarterback, expect to see more of sophomore Jesse Callier. He adds a speed dynamic, accompanying Polk's bruising ways. This season, he's rushed for 198 yards on 38 carries.

The Husky has been lackluster all season, ranking near the bottom of major defensive statistical ranking. They've allowed 34 points per game on average, which is 102nd in the nation. Against USC, they were torched on the ground. Running backs Curtis McNeal and Marc Tyler ran for 198 yards on 25 carries. That's close to eight yards per carry.

This week, the secondary will be tested, leaving the burden on junior cornerback Desmond Trufant and sophomore safety Sean Parker to contain the tandem on Wheaton and Rodgers. This pass defense is 104th in the nation, allowing 272 yards per game.

What to expect: This is going to be an interesting watch, with two redshirt freshmen, who were highly-touted out of high school, going up against each other. Mannion (6-5, 218) may be more accustomed to running his college's offense more than Montana, because of the starting experience and similarities between his high school's and the Beaver offense. But this game could be determined by Montana's legs, Polk and Callier, due to the flabby Oregon State rush defense.

Expect to see Polk bounce back to his pulverizing form, and some solid play from freshmen Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Kasen Williams.

UDubNation.com pick: Washington, 27-17


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