BYU lost Taysom Hill to injury last week, and Oregon State lost starting QB Sean Mannion as well. Though this raises definite questions regarding how each team will respond without their leaders, I think that in the end these unfortunate events actually tipped this game in favor of the Cougars.
What we know about Oregon State (4-0)
The Beavers have started the season 4-0, and are looking for their first 6-0 start since 1907 with a couple more wins. That is the longest drought of 6-0 starts for any school in FBS football. They have an impressive group of wins, including Wisconsin, UCLA, and Arizona. Oregon State sports the #8 passing offense, but Sean Mannion had a lot to do with that. We'll see just how much he had to do with it on Saturday. The biggest question will be how well backup QB Cody Vaz will respond when taking his first meaningful snaps since 2010.
He won't have much run support, as the Beavers only average 120 rushing yards per game, ranking 100th of 120 FBS schools in the category. Match that up with BYU's #1 rushing defense, and all of the pressure will be on Cody.
What we know about BYU (4-2)
The Cougar offense, once stagnant against Boise, seemed to flourish against Hawaii, and yes, even against Utah State. Despite the low score of that game (6-3), BYU managed 20 first downs and nearly 400 yards of total offense. Certainly you'd like to convert more yards to points, but the offense was moving the ball effectively against a tough Utah State defense. And they actually performed better than other teams have against the Aggie defense.
Riley Nelson, who swears he is healthy and ready to lead the team on Saturday, has the capability to jump in and lead this team at a high level. He is the starter after all. BYU sports the 82nd best passing attack, and the 36th best rushing attack. The Beavers have the 5th best run defense, so again, the pressure will be on Riley to make the plays necessary to win.
Keys to the Game
Battle of the Backups. I think this game is going to come down to a defensive battle because both teams are missing their key offensive cogs this week. Both defenses will be stingy, so whichever offense manages to score will be the difference in the game. Riley has a big opportunity here, because if he actually is healthy, he should be the better QB on Saturday. And Oregon State allows nearly 300 passing yards per game as it is...so there is definitely a good chance for the Cougars, if they can get the ball moving through the air.
Rushing. Once again, you've got the #1 rushing defense (BYU) and the #5 rushing defense (OSU) in this game. There really shouldn't be a whole lot of rushing capability for either offense - but if one does happen to get things moving here, watch out.
Turnovers. Besides their 19-6 win over WSU last week, Oregon State hadn't played a game decided by more than 7 points. I think this game will be close as well. In close, defensive games, every score matters. It is imperative that the Cougars create turnovers AND score when they have the opportunity.
Kicking. Never, ever, ever trust a kicker. It was announced this week that Riley Stephenson will be confined to punting duties, and Justin Sorensen will take over all place-kicking. Because both have been inconsistent, I think this is a good move, because it will allow Justin the greatest number of reps possible...and practice can only help. As it stands now, I'd prefer we go for 2 after every touchdown, and never attempt a field goal. OSU's Trevor Romaine is 6/8 FG on the season, being 3/3 within 29 yards, and 3/5 beyond. He did miss a PAT last week. In the end, I think the Beavers will be comfortable kicking within 29 yards, but the Cougars can't be comfortable at any distance yet.
Despite having played to a 38-28 score in Corvallis last year, I think these teams are in for another of BYU's (now patented?) defensive showdowns. It's going to be low scoring, and it's going to be close. I'm picking the Cougars to beat the Beavers in Provo, 13-3.