Could Washington‘s matchup Saturday with Oregon State be deemed a trap game? If you listen closely enough, you might be able to hear Admiral Ackbar in a galaxy far, far away shouting about this Pac-12 North contest.
Yes, Washington holds a distinct advantage in every conceivable facet, rolling with one of the nation’s most talented defenses and an offense that, while inconsistent, should capitalize on Oregon State’s glaring deficiencies. But the on-paper mismatch has the classic trap-game vibe due to next week’s pairing of Washington with Washington State.
The two highest-ranked Pac-12 teams in the College Football Playoff standings will square off next week in Pullman with a berth in the Pac-12 Championship Game on the line — assuming both, or at least Washington, wins this week. And while the Huskies draw an opponent at a disadvantage in terms of experience, Oregon State’s uniquely familiar with Washington’s personnel and strategies. Beavers head coach Jonathan Smith spent the previous four seasons helping to mold UW into the annual Pac-12 contender it is now, serving as offensive coordinator to most of the players donning purple-and-gold on Saturday.
Washington head coach Chris Petersen had an extra week as a result of the bye to ready what he described as “tweaks” necessary to counter Smith’s familiarity. That extra week could also be beneficial in sounding that all-important trap alert.
Oregon State at Washington
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 17 at 4:30 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: Washington -33.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Run distribution
Oregon State’s rushing defense this season has been dreadful, ranking worst in the Pac-12, and ahead of only Louisville among Power Five programs. With Myles Gaskin coming off his best game of 2018 (148 yards Nov. 3 vs. Stanford), and playing his last game at Husky Stadium, the senior could pile up yards — but that’s unlikely to be the case.
Washington’s deep running back rotation, with Salvon Ahmed, Sean McGrew and Kamari Pleasant all seeing carries this season, gives offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan options. With the marquee matchup against Washington State looming, the Huskies’ best option is to keep Gaskin fresh and spread the workload as much as possible. Expect the youngsters McGrew and Pleasant to see significant touches.
2. Jake vs. Jake
Quarterbacks Jake Browning and Jake Luton have dealt with their own ups and downs this season. Browning’s shown flashes of the playmaking ability that made him a Heisman Trophy contender before a shoulder injury in 2016. He’s also faced some of the decision-making errors that plagued his 2017 campaign.
Oregon State’s Luton engineered some impressive performances down the stretch, completing around 70 percent of his passes with four touchdowns after his return from injury. He’s coming off of a turbulent outing at Stanford, completing just 54 percent of his 26 attempts with an interception, but also tallying two touchdowns and a healthy 8-yard per attempt average.
With some of the best running backs in the Pac-12 on both sides of the ball, with Washington’s Gaskin and Oregon State’s Jermar Jefferson, each offense needs their Jake to distribute the pass and keep the defenses honest.
3. Score early, score often
Although Jefferson’s been electric carrying the ball, and the Oregon State offense in general has shown life even in some losses, the Beavers will struggle mightily against an outstanding Washington defense. It’s on the Huskies offense to handle its business early and capitalize.
Washington failed to mount a consistent attack at Cal on Oct. 27, resulting in the monumental upset that effectively eliminated any hope the Huskies had of crashing the Playoff. The Oregon State defense is a far cry in every phase from Cal’s stingy side, but that doesn’t mean Washington can afford to squander early opportunities. An underdog like the Beavers thrives on hope: The Huskies need to mount some efficient, time-consuming drives in the first half, a la the Sept. 29 rout of BYU, and squeeze out any hope for an upset early.
The Apple Cup looms large, but Petersen will have his team focused on Oregon State. A week off should have the Huskies looking spry after a rash of October injuries. To that end, expect Washington to try coming out of the gate quickly, so that first-stringers can take the second half off in preparation for Washington State. For that reason, and because of the close ties to its opponent, hitting that massive 33.5-point number may be a stretch. Otherwise, the Huskies will roll.
Jonathan Smith has done an admirable job in Year 1 instilling some excitement on the offensive end. Smith’s rebuilding job is a sizable one, and showing more tangible results will have to wait another year. Building with a freshman running back worked for him once before — just look at Myles Gaskin.
Prediction: Washington 42, Oregon State 14