No. 11 Oregon State has its eyes on big prizes as it brings one of the Pac-12’s best rushing attacks into a tricky game at Arizona on Saturday night in Tucson, Ariz.
The Beavers (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12) have won three consecutive games, including handing Utah its only defeat of the season and a victory over then-No. 18 UCLA. By the time late November rolls around, Oregon State could be playing for a spot in the conference title game, closing against Washington and Oregon.
“We want some excitement about what we’re doing, but ultimately, each week, you never know how these games are going to turn out,” said coach Jonathan Smith.
“The only thing we can control is how we prepare. We want to play in meaningful games at the end of the year, and the only way to do that is to take care of business right now.”
Oregon State hasn’t been ranked this high in the AP poll since the week of Oct. 21, 2012, when it was seventh.
Also entering the game fresh from a bye week, Arizona (4-3, 2-2) is at its highest point in coach Jedd Fisch’s third season, routing then-No. 19 Washington State 44-6 on Oct. 19 in Pullman, Wash., which was the Wildcats’ largest margin of victory ever over a ranked opponent on the road.
“They were able to score and then shut down what I think is a very potent offense,” said Smith, whose team’s only loss came at Washington State (38-35) on Sept. 23.
This week’s matchup will be the Wildcats’ fourth consecutive game against a ranked team, having previously dropped one-possession games to then-No. 7 Washington (31-24) and then-No. 9 Southern California (43-41 in three overtimes).
While each of the past three opponents featured high-powered passing attacks, Arizona’s much-improved defense will have to stop the run first against Oregon State. The Beavers roll to 195.1 rushing yards per game, led by Damien Martinez, who is 19th nationally with an average of 96.6 yards per game on the ground.
“Schematically they are extremely different,” Fisch said. “They’re a much more under-center team; they’re not a spread team.
“They have some really good skill players on the perimeter, which is what we’ve been going against every week. They have a very good quarterback, which we’ve been going against every week. But what they do and how they use them and what they do in their running game is very different and unique.”
Oregon State quarterback DJ Uiagalelei has been efficient in his first season since transferring from Clemson. He has completed 106 of 176 passes (60.2 percent) for 1,573 yards, with 15 touchdowns and four interceptions.
Fisch did not commit to a starting quarterback on Monday, although the expectation is that he will stick with redshirt freshman Noah Fifita, who has started the past three games for Jayden de Laura, who suffered an ankle injury late in the third quarter against Stanford on Sept. 23.
Fifita earned back-to-back Pac-12 Freshman of the Week honors in his past two games. He completed 34 of 43 passes for 342 yards against Washington State, when de Laura was available to play. Fifita is completing 75.2 percent of his passes (94 of 125) with eight TDs and two interceptions.
These teams haven’t met since 2019. The Beavers were favored by 3.5 points early in the week.