The stakes are high for both Washington State and Oregon State entering Saturday night’s Pac-12 football game at Martin Stadium.
Win, and you’ll end the season in a bowl game. Lose, and you need to win as an underdog against your state rival that has dominated recent matchups to earn that right.
Coaches won’t talk about possible bowl games with two games left in the regular season, but the implications of Saturday’s game are clear.
Both teams are coming off big victories to get to 5-5 on the season. The Cougars pounded Stanford 49-22, and Oregon State defeated Arizona State 35-34, continuing a season of proving wrong the prognosticators who picked them to finish last in the Pac-12 North.
As for the Cougars, WSU coach Mike Leach said it was the biggest one-week improvement he has seen from his team this season.
“I thought we played tougher, and we prepared well in that regard,” Leach said Monday at his weekly news conference.
That happened after starting cornerback Daniel Isom and reserve nickelback Trey Davis were kicked off the team for violating team rules.
“They played better, and they played more motivated,” Leach said of the secondary. “I think we isolated reps on guys who were more committed to playing, and I thought they played better together, too, because I thought they did a better job of doing what they were coached to do.”
Oregon State is led by sixth-year senior quarterback Jake Luton from Marysville. Luton has thrown for 2,306 yards, but easily his most impressive stats are 23 touchdown passes and just two interceptions. The Beavers also have a capable running game and are not afraid to take chances on defense.
“They’ve got a combination of hard-nosed running plays, and then some trick plays, and they’ve got a quarterback who I think is starting to play better and better,” Leach said. “Defensively, they blitz more than anybody we have played so far. … They’re just doing things better this year. It looks a lot like last year, it’s just more polished.”
Perhaps the Beavers’ biggest offensive weapon is receiver Isaiah Hodgins, who is second in the Pac-12 in receptions (73), receiving yards (1,021) and first in touchdown receptions (13).
“He is powerful,” Leach said. “Not just quick and fast, but powerful fast. He comes out of his cuts really quickly. I think he is really a good player.”
Coaches might not talk about bowl games before the end of the season, but after WSU’s win over Stanford, Cougar running back Max Borghi told reporters that he guaranteed a win over Oregon State and guaranteed that the Cougars would be going to a bowl game.
“They need to focus on their job,” Leach said. “If he does a good job focusing on his job, then our chances are better.”