46F Reser Stadium, Corvallis, OR
Oregon State could be without injured quarterback Sean Mannion for a while, but Cody Vaz's impressive first collegiate start last week gave the team plenty of confidence moving forward.
Travis Wilson's first start didn't go as well for Utah, but the team is pushing forward with the freshman as its signal-caller.
The eighth-ranked Beavers go for their first 6-0 start in 105 years on Saturday night when the visiting Utes try to avoid their first four-game losing streak in a decade.
Mannion led Oregon State (5-0, 3-0 Pac-12) in its first four games, but the sophomore is out indefinitely after injuring his left knee in a 19-6 victory over Washington State on Oct. 6. He underwent surgery last week.
While his loss could have sent the Beavers into a tailspin, Vaz provided some stability in last Saturday's 42-24 road win over BYU, throwing for 332 yards and three touchdowns - two to Markus Wheaton.
The junior, who was named Pac-12 offensive player of the week for his efforts, had appeared in five games for Oregon State and had not started since high school. Vaz, though, looked at ease running the offense and found an immediate connection with Brandin Cooks, who caught eight passes for 173 yards.
"I don't think anybody in our locker room was particularly surprised Cody played well," said coach Mike Riley, whose squad could open 6-0 for the first time since the 1907 team finished with that record. "I think they've had faith in him as a teammate for a long time."
Wilson hasn't had that much time to make an impression on the Utes (2-4, 0-3), but the freshman is the only quarterback on the team to have appeared in every game. He wasn't overly impressive in last Saturday's 21-14 loss at UCLA, throwing for 220 yards and an interception, but he'll get another start ahead of Jon Hays, whose 1-yard throw to Dres Anderson was the Utes' only offensive touchdown.
"Right now (Travis is) our guy," coach Kyle Whittingham said Monday. "We are pleased with his initial performance. We don't want him playing on eggshells. There is a fine line - we talk about being competitive and we need him to perform, but at the same time he has to know that we have confidence in him and what we saw in that game we have confidence in him that he will continue to perform."
If he doesn't, Hays can expect to see plenty of action. The senior, who started the three games after Jordan Wynn suffered a career-ending shoulder injury last month, threw for two scores in a 27-8 home win over Oregon State last October. It was the Utes' first Pac-12 victory after opening 0-4 in their new conference.
Utah ran for 225 yards in that contest as John White contributed a career-best 205. The team has been unable to get its running game in gear this year, however, totaling 96 yards or fewer in each of the last five games.
"I don't think we're running the ball enough," said Whittingham, whose team has the second fewest rushing scores in the Pac-12 with four. "That's something going forward that we need to make an effort to do."
That might not matter against the Beavers, who are fourth against the run in the FBS, allowing 70.0 yards per game.
Oregon State is also putting plenty of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, registering nine sacks and nine interceptions in the last three games. Sophomore end Scott Crichton is averaging a FBS-best 1.6 sacks.
The Utes have given up seven sacks in conference action and enter this week ranked 117th in total offense at 302.7 yards per game. If Utah's line can't give Wilson or Hays time, the team could be hard pressed to avoid its first four-game skid since a six-game stretch Sept. 14-Oct. 26, 2002.
Utah has won four of the last five in this series, but it lost 24-7 in its last game in Corvallis on Aug. 30, 2007.