If you simply look at Oregon and Oregon State on paper, there's no contest. Oregon is a juggernaut with few peers. But if you look closer, and in the here and now, things get interesting.
Quarterback: The 2012 quarterback carousel seems to rest on Sean Mannion this week (1,904 yards, 12 TD's, 9 INT's) he'll be facing a Duck defense that has given up yards and points in the second half of 2012, but has still performed decently. Oregon State's offense is best when they add a healthy dose of the run, but Oregon may be weakest in the secondary. Forty miles away, Marcus Mariota has been having a year, wouldn't you say? Despite the loss last week, he has 2,371 passing yards for 29 touchdowns and six interceptions. But what OSU really has to look out for is Mariota on the run. The redshirt freshman also has 605 yards rushing on a mere 90 attempts, notching three TD's in the process. Mariota will deal a crushing blow to OSU more than once Saturday if Mark Banker and the Beaver D can't contrive an effective blitz package that always has a spy on Mariota.
Edge goes to Oregon
Running Back: OSU will bring a trio of running backs to the fore again for the Civil War. Storm Woods (698 yards) is the best overall back, a slippery sort while bullish Terron Ward (313 yards) is coming off a career day at Cal. Malcolm Agnew's 193 hashes puts the running backs' total at 1,204 yards and 11 TD's between them – not far off Mike Riley's preseason goals. Oregon's front seven will be tested but only if Riley chooses to fully focus on the run – and he might not want to given the matchup between his wideouts and the UO secondary. Kenjon Barner has been a nightmare in most games, absent in a few others. He has 1,426 yards and 19 TD's with a 6.5 yard-per-gain average – but he's also had games like this past Saturday, when 21 carries netted but 66 yards. Then there is sophomore De'Anthony Thomas. He too has been unstoppable at times, absent in others. Considering the high volume of rush and dump-off plays that Chip Kelly runs, Oregon State has to play their most consistent game of the season in rush defense if they want to win. It truly is a matter of utility when it comes to which if these squads is "better" – OSU has always liked stout backs that can hold onto the ball and grind out yardage no matter the down. U of O takes their tea with one lump of agility, and one lump of elusiveness. The term "better" is highly relative in this instance.
Tight End: Connor Hamlett had a fantastic game last weekend against Cal and seems primed for equal if not greater success against the Ducks on Saturday, given the state of their defense. Hamlett (6-7, 259) is elusive and has had much of his receiving success this year while Mannion has been behind center. He posts no real statistical advantage over U of O's Colt Lyerla (20 receptions for 314 yards and six TD's), but he get the nod based on one thing – his consistency blocking for the run game. Hamlett is coming into his own as a blocker and its part of the reason why OSU has been having more success in the run game.
Edge goes to OSU
Offensive Line: Both Hroniss Grasu (UO) and Isaac Seumalo have improved as the season has progressed, and both will play a decisive role in the outcome if this game. Grant Enger sat out the Cal game, with sophomore Derek Nielsen filling in. Nielsen is one of the smaller guys in the depth chart for OSU's run blocking corps, but he holds his own well enough to allow the ball carrier an opportunity to make his read, which is all that really matters. Will Enger return for the Civil War? Or will the OSU front five be down one of their best blockers?
U of O's offensive line is predicated on the ability to block big and move quickly. Much of the Ducks success against other teams has come as a result of their unique no huddle philosophy and execution, and the often random nature in which it is employed. Their offensive line has a high level of endurance, and will need it come Saturday. If they can hold off at the point of attack, it could be a long day for OSU. But there are cracks in the armor that showed up this past Saturday. If OSU can seize upon those, this could be an epic performance.
Edge is tied
Wide Receivers: It's quality vs. Quantity. Oregon is focused more on running backs and quarterbacks who can run. Subsequently, much of their passing yardage is gained on short slot screens, tailback slip-screens, extended handoff's, and draw plays. The implication is that their wide receivers, on the whole, mean more in diversion and in blocking on the edge than in their ability to rack up the receiving yards. They have a talented receiver in Josh Huff (405 yards, 7 touchdowns on 24 receptions), but most of Huff's work has been seen down inside the oppositions 30 yard and closer to the red zone. The real work has gone to Thomas, who has 40 receptions for 381 yards and four TD's. With the exception of Huff, the Duck receiving ranks are practically carbon copies of one another – Keanon Lowe (244 yards), Bralon Addison (243 yards) and Daryle Hawkins (191 yards) each have 22 receptions and 3 touchdowns apiece. U of O wideouts fulfill a highly specific role under Chip Kelly's play calling. There are a lot of guys on the field to keep defenders busy (quantity), but they aren't producing much in the way of yardage and chain movement.
But the Beavs have also been their most effective when getting the ball short- and mid-range to their two stars and letting them run. Brandin Cooks (concussion) may be questionable for the Civil War but it sounds more promising than not. Cooks has 58 receptions for 1,039 yards and five TDs. The guy who really has a lot of yards after the grab though is Markus Wheaton, with 69 receptions for 986 yards and 10 touchdowns. The OSU receiving game has been destructive all season long and if Cooks is good to go, this could be a track meet. If not, Richard Mullaney or Kevin Cummings can fill at least some of the void and not allow Oregon to overplay Wheaton. The Duck secondary has not shown the ability to fend off the seed and agility of Wheaton, who poses a significant threat to defenses, even without his cohort Cooks on the opposite end of the field.
Edge goes to OSU