Corvallis, OR (SportsNetwork.com) - In the 118th rendition of the Civil War, the third-ranked Oregon Ducks pay a visit the Oregon State Beavers in a Pac-12 Conference showdown at Reser Stadium.
This is the final stop of the regular season for Oregon, which is very much alive not only in the Pac-12 title race but the chase for a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff. The Ducks, who secured the Pac-12 North Division title weeks ago, already have a date in the Pac-12 championship game next weekend and are currently riding a six-game win streak since their lone loss of the campaign, a 31-24 setback against 12th-ranked Arizona. However, even with a spot in the conference title tilt in hand, the Ducks are aware that they still need to be sharp.
"Everybody's dangerous, and that's why we just focus on our deal," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. "We'll certainly get ready for Oregon State knowing that they're dialing in, at the wrong time if you're an Oregon fan. We'll get our guys ready to go."
This game has more than just rivalry implications for Oregon State as well. A 37-13 loss to Washington last weekend was the fourth in the last five games for the Beavers, who are just 5-6 overall and playing for their postseason lives in this game.
"It's obviously going to be really hard," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said of trying to become bowl eligible against the Ducks. "We are going to look at it as a really good opportunity for our football team. We have to have a great week of practice and get the guys ready to go. I think our guys are excited about the chance and we'll go play."
This marks the 120th anniversary of the first meeting between the Ducks and the Beavers, who clashed in 1894. In 117 matchups since, the Ducks have won 61 times, while the Beavers have 46 victories, with 10 ties sprinkled in as well. Oregon's recent rise to college football's elite has come along with a dominant run in the series, as it has won each of the last six contests with the Beavers. There was a close call last season, however, as a 12-yard touchdown pass from Marcus Mariota to Josh Huff in the final seconds lifted Oregon to a 36-35 victory.
One of the few constants in college football in recent years has been the dominance of Oregon's offense. The Ducks have led the Pac-12 in total offense in each of the last four seasons, and that doesn't appear to be changing this season. Oregon is currently at the very top of the conference in total offense (537.2 ypg), while ranking fifth nationally in the category.
Marcus Mariota likely played his last home game as a Duck against Colorado. With the type of season he has put forth as a sophomore, he is a lock to go early in next spring's NFL Draft. Until then, he remains the best quarterback in the college ranks and possibly the best player overall. He has thrown for 3,103 yards and 32 touchdowns on 68 percent passing, compared to only two interceptions. Throwing the ball isn't all Mariota brings to the table, as he has tallied 597 yards and nine scores on the ground as well.
There are plenty of other weapons for Helfrich to utilize on offense. Byron Marshall does it all for the unit, producing at a solid rate on the ground (318 yards, TD), while leading the squad in receptions (50) and receiving yards (660). Royce Freeman does less in the aerial attack, but he has piled up 1,050 yards and 16 touchdowns rushing.
Marshall doesn't pull in all of Mariota's passes. Devon Allen (34 receptions, 613 yards, six TDs) and Dwayne Stanford (32 receptions, 481 yards, six TDs) are reliable targets as well. Tight end Pharaoh Brown (25 receptions, 420 yards, six TDs) was lost for the season just a few weeks ago with a knee injury.
Oregon does have its weak points, with the bulk of them coming on defense. The Ducks ranked eighth in the Pac-12 in yards allowed, letting up an average of 435.7 yards per game.
Oregon State is one of the few teams in the offensively-potent Pac-12 that shouldn't be too much trouble for the Ducks to handle, especially with running back Terron Ward likely out once again with a knee injury. The Beavers are ninth in the conference in total yards (396.4 ypg). They managed only 361 against Washington while posting a meager 13 points -- their lowest score since Oct. 25 against Stanford.
Without Ward, the Beavers still have a talented option in Storm Woods, but Ward's team-leading 696 yards and 10 touchdowns will be sorely missed. Woods has 638 yards of his own, but he has gotten into the end zone only four times. He managed only 47 yards on 11 carries in the loss to Washington.
Sean Mannion eclipsed the 3,000-yard mark for the season in the loss to Washington, completing 30-of-46 passes for 314 yards as well as two scores and an interception. Mannion is averaging a solid 272.9 yards per game and completing 63.5 percent of his pass attempts, but he has only 14 touchdowns compared to eight interceptions.
Victor Bolden (68 receptions, 785 yards, two TDs) is targeted most frequently by Mannion, leading the team in receptions and receiving yards by a long shot. Jordan Villamin (34 receptions, 572 yards, six TDs) and Connor Hamlett (31 receptions, 335 yards, two TDs) also make plays in the passing game.
Oregon State has maintained some level of competency on defense, as it ranks second in the Pac-12 in total defense (391.8 ypg), trailing only Stanford.