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BY KERRY EGGERS/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Beavers will need to score big to win at Oregon

When the 2019 season began, you could have gotten long odds that Oregon State would give Oregon a game in Saturday's Civil War game in Eugene.

Still can. The 14th-ranked Ducks (9-2 overall, 7-1 in Pac-12 play) are three-touchdown favorites to knock off Oregon State (5-6, 4-4) and deny the Beavers bowl eligibility for the sixth straight season.

This OSU team, though, doesn't intend to be fodder for an Oregon post-Thanksgiving feast. Nor will it be.

Oregon has won the last two and 10 of the last 11 games in this series, and the last two meetings have been like witnessing an accident on the freeway — the Ducks winning by ridiculous scores of 69-10 and 55-15.

I don't see that happening this season, even with the Ducks playing in the friendly confines of Autzen Stadium.

One of the strengths of Jonathan Smith and his OSU coaching staff is the belief they've instilled in their players. They go into every game expecting to win. They'll arrive at Autzen with that mind-set.

Oregon seems more vulnerable after its stunning 31-28 loss to an Arizona State that had lost four in a row — including 35-34 against Oregon State the previous week. The Ducks yielded 535 yards total offense, including 408 yards passing.

"Things like this, they either rip a team apart or they bring you closer together," UO coach Mario Cristobal said after the ASU loss.

I'm not sure either is true, though the loss does change Oregon's emotional dynamic heading into the Civil War contest. The Ducks are no longer playing for a College Football Playoff berth, a disappointment to the players. But they aren't going to want to go into the Dec. 6 Pac-12 championship game — likely against Utah — on a two-game losing streak. Though Utah still retains CFP hopes, the winner of the conference championship game is looking at a probable Rose Bowl berth. That should be plenty of incentive for the Ducks.

The gap between Oregon and Oregon State is nowhere near what it's been the previous two seasons, mostly because the Beavers are so much better. The offense has a stable line and plenty of skill-position talent, including quarterback Jake Luton, running backs Artavis Pierce and Jermar Jefferson and senior tight end Noah Togiai, the latter playing the best ball of his college career.

Luton threw for a career-high 408 yards and matched his career-best with five touchdown passes in last Saturday's crushing 54-53 loss at Washington State. The 6-7, 225-pound senior has thrown for 2,714 yards and 28 TDs with only three interceptions this season. With a strong performance against the Ducks, Luton could join Sean Mannion, Derek Anderson, Sean Canfield, Matt Moore and his coach, Smith, as the only Oregon State quarterbacks ever to pass for 3,000 yards in a season.

BRADFORDThe Beavers incorporated Jefferson into their passing game against Washington State, and he rewarded them with a pair of touchdown catches. Trevon Bradford — who sat out the Wazzu game to preserve his redshirt year — will return Saturday and gives Luton another quality target to hone in on.

Arizona State's offensive success against Oregon is an outlier this season. The Ducks' defense has been stingy, allowing opponents only 16.3 points, 326.9 total yards and 103.3 rushing yards per game, second only to Utah in the Pac-12 in all categories. A key Saturday will be Oregon State's ability to run the ball. The Beavers had the most trouble against the physical defenses of Utah and Washington. Oregon's front seven would seem to be of the same ilk.

The Ducks will try to deny the run and make the Beavers one-dimensional. They'll blitz and attempt to get pressure on Luton, who has carved up defenses this season when given the time to throw. The Beavers could use a big game from Biletnikoff Trophy semifinalist Isaiah Hodgins, who hasn't had one since catching seven passes for 150 yards and two TDs in a 56-38 win at Arizona on Nov. 2.

Oregon State's defense is improving but might be overmatched against the Ducks, who average 36.9 points and 460.2 yards total offense. Quarterback Justin Herbert hasn't enjoyed a Heisman Trophy-worthy senior season, but he's still one of the best in the country, throwing for 2,966 yards and 30 TDs with five interceptions.

C.J. Verdell and Travis Dye are quality running backs, and look out for receiver Johnny Johnson, who had 10 catches for 207 yards and two scores against the Sun Devils.

The OSU defense suffered a blow when junior linebacker Hamilcar Rashed Jr. suffered a left-wrist injury against ASU and wore a soft cast while playing against Washington State. Rashed, who entered the game leading the nation in tackles-for-loss (22.5) and sacks (14), didn't even get a tackle against the Cougars.

If Rashed isn't more effective against the Ducks, it's a major setback for an OSU defense that has been vulnerable to both the run (167.5 yards per game) and the pass (285.5).

Arizona State provided a blueprint for Oregon State by dominating possession time against the Ducks — 36:53 to 23:07. The Beavers must show balance with the run and pass and have some sustained drives that consume the clock and keep the ball away from the Ducks' potent offense. The Beavers must continue to show ball security — they've had only five turnovers, and one lost fumble — all season and be effective in the red zone, where they lead the nation in touchdown percentage (32 of 37, 86 percent).

Oregon State has been outscored 112-56 this season in the third quarter, including 14-0 by Washington State. Oregon has outscored opponents by an almost inconceivable 108-26 in the third quarter. The Beavers have to stay in the game in the first half, then not get rolled in the first 15 minutes of the second half.

The forecast for Saturday afternoon is dry and cold, with the temperature topping out at 38 degrees. The offenses will get an opportunity to do their thing without weather being an issue.

Oregon State's last win at Autzen was an unforgettable one — 38-31, with James Rodgers' scoring the winning touchdown on a 25-yard fly sweep in overtime. Rodgers, now OSU's director of player development, will be on the same opposing sidelines Saturday, hoping for history to repeat itself.

Maybe, but unlikely. The Beavers will need to score in the 40s to win, and Oregon's defense won't let them get there.

The pick: Oregon 41, Oregon State 30


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