Hawai'i Bowl preview: Oregon State aims to end on high note against Boise State
It didn't go quite as Mike Riley planned. The Oregon State Beavers went through a shocking loss to open the season, followed by a six-game winning streak, followed by a five-game losing streak. In the process, the banged up offensive line and Riley's own desire to get a run game going never came to fruition. The result was a 6-6 finish, some huge passing stats, a Biletnikoff Award winning receiver and a bid in the Sheraton Hawai'i bowl, where the Beavers face the Boise State Broncos.
Who: Boise State (8-4, 6-2 Mountain West) vs. Oregon State (6-6, 4-5 Pac-12)
What: Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl
What Sheraton is: A hotel and resort company
When: Tuesday, Dec. 24 at 5 p.m. PT
Where: Honolulu, Hawai'i
Where to watch: ESPN
All-time: Oregon State leads the series 4-3
Last time around: Sept. 25, 2010 (Broncos won 37-24 in Boise)
How they got here
While most teams deal with a roller-coaster type of trajectory throughout an entire season, the Beavers went through a sudden fall to start 2013 before a steady rise turned into an equally steep decline. Coach Mike Riley's team fell to Eastern Washington, 49-46, in a wake-up call of a season opener, yet it didn't take long for the loss to look like an early and even beneficial rallying point. The Beavs won their next six games against Hawai'i, Utah, San Diego State, Colorado, Washington State and California before reality struck. OSU lost the following five games against stiffer competition in Stanford, USC, Arizona State, Washington and Oregon.
Like the Beavers, the Broncos started off the season in a shocking sort of way. Not only did Boise State lose to the Washington Huskies, they did so by a 38-6 final score – OSU likewise got blown out by UW in a 69-27 affair later in the season. BSU rebounded against UT-Martin and Air Force, but then lost 41-40 in a heartbreaker to Fresno State, which finished 11-1. The Broncos went 6-2 in the remaining games with the two blemishes coming in an overtime loss to San Diego State – Oregon State narrowly escaped the Aztecs, another common opponent – and a loss at BYU.
Despite the low the Beavers ended on, coach Mike Riley's track record of consistency holds strong as he enters his eighth bowl game in the last 11 seasons. In 13 seasons, Riley owns 87 wins as the head man at Oregon State. The longest tenured coach in the Pac-12 faces one of the newest coaches in the country in the Hawai'i Bowl.
Boise State will be led by interim coach Bob Gregory, who was promoted from linebackers coach for the 2013 finale after former BSU coach Chris Petersen filled the Washington head coaching vacancy following the regular season. Gregory has been with Boise State since 2010, but also was the Broncos' defensive coordinator in 2001. He also worked as the defensive coordinator at California from 2002-09.
Receiver Brandin Cooks – The Biletnikoff Award winner led the NCAA with 1,670 receiving yards, possesses the skills to run every route and the speed to break a big play.
Quarterback Sean Mannion – The guy dolling out the opportunities to Cooks is the second-leading passer in terms of yardage (4,403) in the country. Mannion threw 36 touchdowns to 14 interceptions this season.
Defensive end Scott Crichton – The junior accounted for nearly a fourth of the Beavers' tackles behind the line of scrimmage, recording 16 tackles for loss, including 6.5 sacks. He also had two forced fumbles.
Running back Jay Ajayi – The sophomore back averaged 5.9 rushing yards per carry, compiled 1,328 yards and in the last two games even became a big-play threat in the passing game.
Defensive end Demarcus Lawrence – The second team Walter Camp All-America selection led BSU with 10.5 sacks and three forced fumbles.
Receiver Matt Miller – The 6-foot-3 receiver caught 77 passes for 934 yards and 11 touchdowns this season and finished with two three-touchdown performances in his last three games.
- Demarcus Lawrence's 1.8 tackles for loss per game ranks second in the nation.
- Brandin Cooks set the Pac-12 single-season reception record with 120 catches.
- The Broncos are 4-0 in their last four bowl games.
Keys to the game
The Beavs probably have used the few weeks following the Civil War to work on their run game, which all season long just wasn't giving the dynamic passing attack many easy plays. Averaging 86 yards per game, it's not as if the running back crew of Terron Ward and Storm Woods is bad – Woods was a near-1,000-yard rusher last season. A long list of offensive line injuries hurt Oregon State for much of the year. With some stability, it may be able to give the offense a little more versatilty and get some play-action working for the passing game that's already quite deadly.
The abrupt dismissal of starting quarterback Joe Southwick from the team this weekend for violating team rules has thrown the Bronos into some upheaveal just days before kickoff. If a silver lining can be found in the disruption it's that backup Grant Hedrick has become the clear-cut starter for Tuesday's bowl game. Previously, interim coach Gregory had hinted that both Southwick and Hedrick could see playing time in Honolulu. The Broncos backup won't be coming into the game cold – he played the last five games for the injured Southwick – but his comfort level running the offense in a big-time game with a last-minute change will be key in determining the Broncos' succes.