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OSU, WSU game doesn't look like a rush job

CORVALLIS -- From Oregon State's practice session Tuesday at the Truax Center …

• If you're looking for a rush, you might not get it at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Martin Stadium, when OSU (4-1 overall, 2-0 in Pac-12 play) takes on Washington State (4-2, 2-1).

Or at least much of it. Oregon State ranks 121st among 123 FBS teams in rushing at 68.0 yards per game. Washington State is 122nd at 58.7 yards per contest. Thank goodness for Connecticut, checking in at a dismal 45.8.

In his second season as Washington State's head coach, Mike Leach is making no pretenses about establishing the run. Quarterback Connor Halliday, a 6-4, 195-pound junior, ranks eighth nationally at 332.2 passing yards per game. Halliday has completed 189 of 290 passes (65.2 percent) for 1,993 yards and 13 touchdowns with 10 interceptions.

The Cougars employ no tight end and four wideouts.

"They're going to pass 80 percent of the time," OSU defensive coordinator Mark Banker said Tuesday. "Their offensive lineman have huge splits. After the snap, they slush back almost like (they are in) punt protection. Then all of a sudden, they show up with a run and hope they gash you with an unexpected run. They'll set up the run by throwing the ball."

Actually, Wazoo passes only 75 percent of the time, the most of any team in the FBS ranks. Oregon State is third at 64 percent, but not by design.

The Cougars "make no bones about throwing the ball," OSU coach Mike Riley said. "We're not necessarily built like that. Historically, we've been a strong running team with great runners, and we have good runners this year.

"If we can get it going a little bit on the ground (Saturday), it would really help us. We've gotten off to a slow start, and perhaps we haven't been patient enough with the run game. We want to run the ball, but we're also going to do what we need to do to win."

So far, that's been with a passing attack that ranks second nationally at 420.6 yards per game. Sean Mannion leads the nation in total offense (390.2 per game), passing yardage (403.6 per game) and passing touchdowns (21) with two interceptions. Brandin Cooks (52 receptions, 807 yards, nine TDs) leads the nation in all three categories.

Storm Woods -- who missed OSU's 44-17 rout of Colorado with a concussion suffered against San Diego State -- returns to action Saturday. But that's not the primary reason why the Beavers hope to show at least a semblance of a run game against the Cougars.

Oregon State's offensive line, banged up through the early season, is at close to full capacity. Only guard Roman Sapolu (broken foot, out for season), a projected backup, is unavailable. Senior Grant Enger, who missed the last three games with a knee injury, will start at right guard. Also back are backup center Josh Mitchell (ankle) and sophomore tackle Gavin Andrews, the latter making his 2013 debut after sustaining mononucleosis during training camp.

The 6-5, 325-pound Andrews, projected to be the starter at right tackle, is battling true freshman Sean Harlow at practice this week for the starting job. Harlow seems likely to earn the nod, "but it's a good decision to have to make," Riley said. "Gavin missed a lot of time. He looks good, he looks healthy, but Sean has played more football than he has and is growing as a player. Perhaps it's a situation where we have to play them both, which would be unusual for us."

Mike Cavanaugh's offensive line now goes eight-deep with players who have started or been projected to start this season, including senior Michael Philipp at left tackle, senior Josh Andrews at left guard, sophomore Isaac Seumalo and Mitchell at center, Enger and redshirt freshman Grant Bays at right guard and Harlow and Gavin Andrews at right tackle. The Beavers would like to be able to achieve balance with their offense Saturday, which would mean more holes provided by the beefed-up O-line.

"We'd like to think it will help," Riley said. "When (training) camp started, it looked like we were going to be a pretty good running team. That was disrupted with Gavin getting mono and Grant (Enger) getting hurt. We're looking forward to seeing if we can get back to where were in camp running the ball."

• Washington State has already won more games than it did a year ago in Leach's first season at the helm (3-9, including 1-8 in Pac-12 action). The Cougars lost their opener 31-24 at Auburn, knocked off Southern Cal 10-7, Southern Utah 48-10 and Idaho 42-0, fell at Stanford 55-17 and last week drubbed California 44-22.

Lost in the Leach aerial fury is a defense that has been stingy against every team but Stanford.

"And Stanford had to rely on big plays," Riley said.

Against the Cougars, the Cardinal scored touchdowns on pass plays of 57, 33 and 45 yards, runs of 53 and 22 yards and a pair of 30-yard interception returns. Riley praises the work of Wazoo defensive coordinator Mike Breske.

"It's as well-coached as any defense we've played," Riley said. "They're very well-schooled in what they do. They jump between a four- and three-man front and give you different looks. They'll blitz you but also drop eight people into coverage. They cloud everything up.

"They're primarily a zone team until (an opponent enters) the red zone. They make it tough for you to find throwing lanes. You have to find ways to control the ball."

• Halliday, who split time with Jeff Tuel a year ago, had a rough go in Oregon State's 19-6 win at Corvallis. Halliday started against the Beavers but was benched after his third interception early in the third quarter. This season, Halliday has three 300-yard games and two four-touchdown performances.

"He's very good," OSU secondary coach Rod Perry said. "He gets the ball out quick and he's real accurate on the deep ball. He has a very good feel for their offense. I've been very impressed with his progress from a year ago."

The Beavers recruited Halliday out of Spokane's Ferris High but didn't offer him a scholarship because they had another prep QB higher on their list who had committed early -- Mannion. "But we liked (Halliday) a lot," Riley said. "He's a good player and an excellent passer."

NOTES: Oregon State has won five of the last six, and seven of the last nine, meetings between the teams. Washington State leads the all-time series 48-46-3. … Martin Stadium is sold out for Saturday night's game. Capacity is 31,700. It's the second sellout since Wazoo renovated its stadium before the 2012 season. It's Dad's Weekend. "It's going to be a hostile environment," OSU tight end Caleb Smith said. "Their fans are going to be fired up. It's night game, with (the Cougars) coming off a big win. It's going to be a fun game." … There were six NFL scouts watching Oregon State's Tuesday practice. The Beavers have several juniors who are attracting pro interest, including Mannion, Cooks, tight end Connor Hamlett, safety Ryan Murphy and defensive end Scott Crichton. … OSU junior cornerback Steven Nelson and WSU senior safety Deone Bucannon are tied for the national lead with four interceptions. Bucannon ranks fourth on the school career list in solo tackles (224) and sixth in total tackles (326).

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