CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) - With a five-game winning streak and a second-straight Pac-12 championship bid in reach, No. 7 Arizona State must be diligent against a struggling Oregon State team.
“We have been focused, keeping our guys humbled and hungry,” Sun Devils coach Todd Graham said. “The achievement of our goals is close, and this is the time when it is really important to focus and to get better fundamentally and that each player continues to have their personal best performances and practices each week.”
Arizona State (8-1, 5-1 Pac-12) is coming off a 55-31 victory at home over Notre Dame last weekend, which helped push the Sun Devils to No. 6 in the College Football Playoff rankings.
If Arizona State wins out, the team will play in its second-straight Pac-12 championship game, this time facing No. 3 Oregon. The Ducks have already clinched the Pac-12 North’s berth for the game on Dec. 5 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
The Beavers (4-5, 1-5) are coming off a disheartening 39-32 loss to Washington State and struggling to become bowl eligible with three difficult opponents ahead: After Arizona State they’ll face Washington in Seattle before hosting the Civil War rivalry game against the Ducks.
Oregon State has at least one thing in its favor on Saturday night in Corvallis - the weather. With a late start, the temperature is expected to dip below the freezing mark during the game, which could impact an ASU team used to a considerably warmer climate.
Also, Mike Riley-led Beavers have a tradition of pulling off surprise wins against high-ranked opponents at home.
In 2012, the Beavers upset No. 13 Wisconsin - which went to the Rose Bowl that season - at Reser. In 2008, the Beavers were 26-point underdogs when they knocked off then-No. 1 USC 27-21 on a Thursday night in Corvallis. Two years earlier, Oregon State topped the then-No. 3 USC at Reser 33-31.
Graham is wary.
“It is a game you can’t relax with because (Riley) understands spacings and blocking surfaces. He has a lot of experience and they are just sound in what they do schematically. They are one of the best teams fundamentally at each position and that is why I have so much respect for him,” he said.
Here are some other things to look for when the Sun Devils visit the Beavers on Saturday night.
WINNING THE TURNOVER BATTLE: The Sun Devils have scored 80 points off turnovers this season, to rank seventh nationally. They’ve turned 16 forced turnovers into 12 touchdowns. The Beavers, meanwhile, have not forced a turnover since an interception in the first quarter against Stanford on Oct. 25. The Beavers have just 14 turnovers overall this season.
MANNION’S MARKS: Sean Mannion needs one more touchdown pass to match Derek Anderson (2001-04) atop Oregon State’s career list with 79. The senior has already eclipsed the Pac-12 record for career passing yards and now has 12,873. This season he’s thrown for 2,437 yards and 10 touchdowns.
DEFENDING THE PRO-STYLE OFFENSE: Coach Riley is facing increasing questions about whether his offense can cut it in college football, where the spread rules. He said he might tweak his approach in the future, but for now - with Mannion at QB - the pro-style fits the Beavers’ personnel. “I took a moment last night to watch somebody like LSU, who is a lot of times under center with two backs in the backfield. So we’re not the lone ranger here. I think that’s the beauty of college football. Now, what you have to do is be good at it and win, and then nobody talks about your system,” Riley said.
COMING UP STRONG: Arizona State receiver Jalen Strong has 62 catches for 879 yards and nine touchdowns, and he’s had a TD catch in five straight games. One more and he becomes just the ninth player in ASU history to have 10 scoring catches in a season. Against Notre Dame he scored with a spectacular grab that he pulled down with one hand before twisting to land inbounds. “I just went ‘Wow.’” Graham said. “I re-winded that a couple times when I was watching film. That was as good a catch as I have seen in a while.”
THE LAST TIME: Robert Nelson intercepted Mannion and ran back 23 yards for the touchdown in the fourth quarter of Arizona State’s 30-17 victory over the Beavers in Tempe last season. Mannion threw for 320 yards and two scores but was intercepted four times in the game.
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