The 16th-ranked Oregon State Beavers will close out their 116th regular season on Saturday afternoon, as they welcome FCS foe Nicholls to Corvallis. This contest was originally supposed to be the season opener for both teams, but was rescheduled due to Hurricane Isaac.
Mike Riley's Beavers opened the season off strong, winning their first six games, including a pair of ranked foes to begin things in Wisconsin and UCLA. The team did struggle down the stretch in Pac-12 play however, with losses to Washington, Stanford and finally last week's 48-24 loss to rival Oregon in this year's e Civil War.
Riley is in no way looking past this game a the bowl season.
"I think that this one (The Nicholls State game) is about the preparation, really wanting to win and setting a tone for the complete identity (of the team)," said Riley. "The identity of a football team lasts for the year, It is felt throughout the course of the season. We are down for the last couple of chapters and we need to talk to the team about putting an exclamation point on who they want to be remembered as. One of the first ways a team is remembered is their record, so we want to make that record as good as we can."
Struggles are something that the Colonels are quite familiar with this season, as Charlie Stubbs's squad has just one win against nine losses. That lone victory came in week three against Evangel (73-17), but was followed by seven straight losses.
This is just the second time ever that Nicholls will be playing a game in the month of December, with the only other time coming in 1986 against Georgia Southern in the Division 1-AA playoffs.
This marks the first-ever meeting between these two teams on the gridiron.
Wins have not come easy for the Colonels, who snapped a 12-game skein with their blowout win over Evangel. The team racked up a Southland Conference record 751 yards in that victory, but it is an anomaly, with the team struggling the rest of the year offensively.
Nicholls enters the season finale averaging just 19.2 ppg and doing so on 349.9 yards of total offense. Quarterback Landry Kann hasn't exactly excelled under center this season. He has completed just 56.5 percent of his passes, for 1,885 yards, with only eight touchdowns against 12 interceptions. As a result, there is no dominant receiver on the outside, as tailback Jesse Turner leads the team with 34 receptions, for 348 yards and two TDs.
Junior tailback Marcus Washington leads a rushing attack that is averaging a modest 123.0 yards per game. The junior is averaging a solid 5.1 yards per carry, pacing the Colonels with 550 yards and six TDs on the ground.
The problems have not been exclusive to the offensive side of the ball for Nicholls, which is allowing 34.9 ppg, on 433.0 yards of total offense. The team has been gashed by both the run (188.9 ypg) and the pass (244.1 ypg) this year, with a mere 11 total sacks through 10 games. The one area the team has produced at times is in creating turnovers, with 21 on the season.
Senior middle linebacker Jordan Piper leads the team with a Southland Conference-best 102 total tackles. Fellow senior Rashar Knight has made the most of his opportunities along the defensive front, with team-highs in TFLs (10.0) and sacks (4.0).
Although the Beavers were unable to match Oregon's offensive firepower last week, not many teams can. Oregon State comes into this contest averaging 420.8 yards of total offense, thanks to a lethal passing attack that is generating 304.1 yards per contest.
Quarterbacks Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz have both seen time under center and have both had their moments. Mannion is listed as the starter for this contest though and has completed 62.9 percent of his passes on the year, for 2,215 yards. The one area the sophomore has struggled with is his ball control, throwing as many touchdowns passes as he has interceptions (13).
Regardless of who is throwing the ball downfield, the target of choice has been senior wideout Markus Wheaton. The 6-foot-1 veteran doesn't get the kind of national publicity that some of the other gifted Pac-12 wideouts receive, but he has had a terrific season to date, leading the team with 76 receptions, for 1,084 yards and 10 TDs, en route to All-Pac-12 First-Team honors.
The ground game plays second-fiddle in Corvallis, but tailback Storm Johnson (768 yards, 4.8 ypc, nine TDs) is more than just serviceable and can provide offensive balance when called upon.
The Oregon State defense has had its ups and downs this season, struggling against the better offenses in the league, while dominating the rest of the competition. On the year, OSU is yielding 21.3 ppg, giving up 365.5 yards of total offense.
Juniors Michael Doctor and Rashaad Reynolds are tied for the team lead with 70 tackles apiece. Doctor has made a habit of creating big plays with 10.0 TFLs, one interception and one fumble recovery. Reynolds likes to mix it up from his right cornerback position and ranks second on the team with three interceptions, trailing only ball hawk Jordan Poyer, who is responsible for six of the team's 17 interceptions. The top playmaker up front is sophomore end Scott Crichton. Of his 40 total tackles, 16 have come behind the line of scrimmage, including a team-high nine sacks. Poyer and Crichton were both tabbed All-Pac-12 First-Team members.