KERRY SAYS: Ducks will win in a walk


Miracles happen in sports. Ask the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team.

Or Buster Douglas. Or Chaminade, which toppled Ralph Sampson and No. 1-ranked Virginia in 1982.

Then there was Oregon State, which entered Husky Stadium as a 38-point underdog and strutted away with a 21-20 victory over Washington in 1985.

So there is precedence for what could happen Saturday, when the Beavers roll into Autzen Stadium as 28-point underdogs in the 115th Civil War game against ninth-ranked Oregon.

Oregon State's challenge was made stiffer after Oregon lost to Southern Cal last Saturday. It means the Ducks must beat the Beavers to advance to the Pac-12 championship game as the North Division winner. The Webfoots will be stoked.

The teams have been polar opposites with their ground games this season.

Oregon ranks fifth nationally in rush offense, averaging 284.3 yards per game. OSU is 116th of 120 Division I-A teams, averaging 93.4 yards per contest.

An OSU defense that has allowed huge games on the ground by California (296), Stanford (300), Utah (225), Brigham Young (282), UCLA (211) and Wisconsin (208) must find a way to slow down the Ducks.

The Beavers will pass to set up the run, with Sean Mannion - the nation's leading freshman by a mile, and 18th nationally in passing yardage at 3,029 this season - at the controls.

For Oregon State to shock the world, this needs to happen:

• The Beavers need to force turnovers - three or more - and convert them into touchdowns if they come in UO territory. They can't turn the ball over more than twice themselves.

• Oregon State must win the third-down conversion battle. The Beavers rank 58th nationally in the category (41.6 percent), the Ducks' 31st (45.3).

• Mannion needs to move the offense through the air, utitilizing Markus Wheaton, Joe Halahuni, Brandin Cooks and - if he is healthy enough to play - James Rodgers.

• When the Beavers move into the red zone, they must capitalize with touchdowns, not field goals. They rank 103rd nationally in red-zone efficiency, having scored 20 TDs and 12 field goals in 43 visits inside the 20-yard line.

• OSU's defense needs to eliminate big plays. In last year's 37-20 win, the Ducks had only one play of more than 23 yards - a 64-yard run off a fake punt by Michael Clay. Matching that, minus the fake-punt play, would be ideal.

• The Beavers need to win the special-teams battle. Kicker Trevor Romaine and Johnny Hekker must have good days, and coverage against the likes of De'Anthony Thomas and others must be solid.

Only once since 1998 have I not felt both teams had a reasonably good chance to win. That was in 2005, when OSU's Matt Moore injured a knee and sophomore Ryan Gunderson made his first career start at quarterback. Gundy was intercepted four times, including a pick-six on the Beavers' first series, in a 56-14 loss.

This one reminds me of that. I don't expect Oregon to win that handily, and I think the Beavers could hang in for a half. But the Ducks' depth and speed will prove too much in the end.

THE PICK: Oregon 48, Oregon State 20