OSU NOTES: Montana may lead Washington; Beavers seek balance
CORVALLIS - From Tuesday's media day at Wayne Valley Center, looking ahead to Saturday's 12:30 p.m. matchup between Oregon State (2-8 overall, 2-5 in Pac-12 action) and Washington (6-4, 4-3) at Reser Stadium:
• A strong candidate for the surprise player in the Pac-12 this season is Washington quarterback Keith Price, who has been sensational taking over for the departed Jake Locker, now a rookie with the Tennessee Titans.
The 6-1, 195-pound Price has completed 193 of 287 passes for 2,258 yards and ranks third in the Pac-12 in completion percentage (67.2), pass efficiency and touchdown passes (25), the latter figure three shy of Cody Pickett's school single-season record. Price is not the runner Locker was, but it's no stretch to say Price is a more effective quarterback than Locker was as a senior.
But Price suffered injuries to both knees in last Saturday's 40-17 loss to Southern Cal. He sat out Monday's practice and had an MRI on his left knee, which revealed no structural damage. Coach Steve Sarkisian said he will wait to see how Price's knee is over the next couple of days before deciding on a starter between Price and redshirt freshman Nick Montana.
'There is some swelling that we will have to assess' in the coming days, Sarkisian told the media.
OSU coach Mike Riley said there's not a lot of difference in the way Washington's offense works with Price instead of Locker at the controls.
'There's a lot of carryover,' Riley said. 'They have a foundation with that offense now. This guy can do all the stuff they did with Jake. What (Locker) did so well against us last year (in a 35-34 double-overtime victory) was stay on the move on the bootlegs. (Price) can do that, plus he's an efficient pocket passer.'
If Price cannot play, redshirt freshman Nick Montana - son of Hall-of-Famer Joe Montana - will make his first start.
'We will prepare ourselves for Nick Montana to (start), and if things change, things change,' Sarkisian said.
Price - who is on pace to break Brock Huard's school single-season record for pass efficiency - threw 21 TD passes in the first six games but has struggled since then. He was sacked four times against SC before being replaced by Montana, who completed 9 of 15 passes for 73 yards and a TD.
If Montana plays, does that change Washington's offensive philosophy?
'I don't know that it will,' Riley said. 'He has been around, probably had a lot of work. (The Huskies') offense is kind of like ours - very versatile. I'm sure all the quarterbacks in their system can handle what they do.'
• If the Huskies are trailing late in a close game, will Riley worry if a Montana is at the helm?
'Not as long as Dwight Clark isn't playing tight end,' Riley joked.
Clark was actually a wide receiver during his NFL days. But you catch the coach's drift.
• The Oregon State defense must also contend with Chris Polk, Washington's 5-11, 220-pound junior tailback who ranks third in the Pac-12 with 1,132 yards (5.2-yard average) and 10 TDs. Polk is second on the Washington career list with 3,693 yards, trailing only Napoleon Kaufman with 4,106.
'He's a great back with great vision,' OSU linebacker Cameron Collins said. 'He has that combination of size and speed. He's powerful and he runs downhill, with the speed and agility to keep you off-balance when you're trying to tackle him.'
• OSU's defense has allowed an average of 273.7 yards rushing to its last three opponents - Utah, Stanford and California. One of the problems has been the absence of middle linebacker Feti Unga, who suffered a calf injury on the first play of the Brigham Young game on Oct. 15 and missed the next four weeks. He returned for some duty in the second half of last Saturday's 23-6 loss at Cal, making two tackles.
The 6-1, 245-pound Unga ranked second in the Pac-12 in tackles before his injury.
'From spring ball on, Feti proved to me he has those middle linebacker instincts, and he's physically very tough,' Riley said. 'He'll go from tackle to tackle to make plays. He can shed blockers.
'I'm sorry his season was cut in the middle. He wasn't 100 percent (against Cal), but it was good to have him back. Hopefully he'll have a good week of practice and play more comfortably' Saturday.
• Oregon State's run offense, meanwhile, has accounted for 92 net yards in the last three games. OSU ranks 119th among 120 FBS teams with an average of 87.8 yards per game.
'We have to do better running the ball,' offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said. 'We're much better when we're balanced. It's shown up the last three weeks. We've given up a lot of yards on the ground,, and we haven't gotten many. That factors major into time of possession.'
Time of possession the last two games has favored Stanford (40:20 to 19:40) and Cal (36:24 to 23:36).
Washington's defense, though, offers possibilities. The Huskies rank 10th in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (34.1) and total defense (425.0) and 11th in pass defense (272.2). They are seventh in run defense (152.8).
'There have been some things they've been hurt by that make you feel like you can get some things on them,' Langsdorf said. 'They're big and powerful up front, and big and powerful has been hard for us.
'But they've given up some plays. They haven't shut down everybody. I feel like we have a chance to hit some things on them.'
Stanford rushed for 446 yards on Washington. Nebraska gained 309, USC 252 and Oregon 212 on the ground against the Huskies.
'We're not Stanford running the football by any means,' Riley said. 'Regardless of opponent, we have to do better.'
Added Langsdorf: 'If we can do anything on the ground, that will help our team. We'll have more time of possession, it will help us sustain drives and we'll have a better play-action game.'
Run difficulties 'have especially hurt us later in games,' the O-coordinator said. 'A lot of times if you stay with it, those 2- and 3-yard runs early become 5- and 6-yard runs late. We've missed out on that. You're trying to play catchup and you're trying to get bigger chunks of yardage through the air.'
• Oregon State's downward path the past two seasons might have been avoided had tight end Joe Halahuni been able to hang onto Ryan Katz's low pass in the end zone on a failed 2-point conversion in Washington's 35-34 double-overtime win over the Beavers at Seattle last season.
Had the Beavers won and finished 6-6, they'd have played in the Holiday Bowl.
'I try not to think about it,' Halahuni said. 'It happened. I wish I'd have made the catch. I should have. I need to make that play in that situation.
'But the past is the past. All I can worry about now is this coming game.'
• Washington is already bowl-eligible and is looking at a nine-win season if it can close out with wins over Oregon State and Washington State and in its bowl game. The Huskies have only two victories with a margin of more than 11 points, including Eastern Washington (30-27), Hawaii (40-32) and Cal (31-23).
'In order to have a good season, you have to win your close games,' Riley said. 'That's what the Huskies have done. They've lost to really good teams, but they've won their other games, and won some close ones.
'That mirrors a lot of seasons we've had. If you don't win your close games, you find yourselves where we are now, or where we were last year. We have to improve a lot to get back to that, and it will take a lot of hard work.'
• One of Oregon State's seniors making his final appearance at Reser is long snapper Marcus Perry, who quietly has gone about his business for four years.
A long snapper's job is much like an umpire's. You only hear his name when he screws up. Perry's name hasn't come up often.
'He's really good at what he does,' Riley said of the 6-2, 230-pound Eastlake, Calif., native. 'Specialists live in a different world, but they have a specific craft that everybody knows about. A guy like Marcus takes special pride in it.
'His has been almost like perfection. It's been phenomenal, and he's a great kid. In all the time he's been here he's never been on any list - missed study hall, weight sessions, class, whatever. He's a very detailed, hard-working guy. It shows up in the consistency of his work. That's going to be tough to replace.'
• Oregon State's departing seniors feel as if better days are ahead for the Beavers.
'We have a lot of talent on this team, regardless of our record - especially the young guys,' Halahuni said. 'This freshman class, the guys work really hard. Next year, they'll definitely be better. I'm not worried about them at all.'
'It's obvious, if you know anything about football, that when you play 15 freshmen, it's a good thing for the future,' safety Lance Mitchell said. 'We've been in almost every game and we've had good moments, and a lot of that goes to the young guys out there making plays.
'We have young guys who some day will be all-Pac-12, All-American. Guys like (Brandin) Cooks, (Sean) Mannion, (Scott) Crichton, (Dylan) Wynn - that's what you need to be a good team.
'Riley knows what he's doing. I'm more than positive next year the Beavers are going to be a contender in the Pac-12.'
• Halahuni grew up a 'huge Washington fan' in Graham, Wash.
'The whole family was,' said the senior tight end, who came to Oregon State as a late qualifier and grayshirted his first year. 'My grandpa still has Husky stuff all over his garage wall - he won't take it down.
'I got recruited by them a little bit, but they got off me because of my grades. Oregon State was where I wanted to be, anyway. I'd never trade it for anything else.'
NOTES: Four prep standouts will make official visits to Corvallis this weekend, including three verbal commits - wide receiver Malik Gilmore of Lakewood, Calif., linebacker Joel Skotte of Bend and tight end Caleb Smith of Renton, Wash. The fourth player is highly regarded receiver Darius Powe, also out of Lakewood. ... Prior to last year's loss at Seattle, Oregon State had won six in a row against the Huskies. ... All three senior starters on the offensive line are hobbled - center Grant Johnson (ankle), guard Burke Ellis (hip) and tackle Mike Remmers (knee). All are expected to play. ... OSU is banged up at middle linebacker, too. Coaches are hopeful Unga will be able to play. If not, Tony Wilson (concussion) will start. Rueben Robinson (concussion) is not expected to play. Next is line is true freshman Josh Williams. ... As of Tuesday, 800 tickets remained for Saturday's game. ... Riley said he would be open to Taylor Henry's return to the program. The junior defensive end left last week for personal reasons. 'He's still in school,' Riley said. 'I'm not closing any doors. If he wants to have a discussion about that, I'm here.'