Oregon State will bring a new-look option attack and a remarkably resilient attitude into Martin Stadium this afternoon, hoping to rain an upset on Washington State’s homecoming parade.
Kickoff for the Pacific-10 Conference football matchup is 2:05 and a crowd of more than 30,000 is expected.
WSU (1-0 in the Pac-10 and 2-2 overall) is an 11-point favorite over the Beavers (0-2 and 1-4), who have been a major disappointment this season.
In an effort to add at least the threat of a pass to his spread-option offense, OSU coach Jerry Pettibone has switched from a wishbone formation to a double-wing or double-slot look, making it easier for his halfbacks to sneak out on pass routes.
The change is starting to pay small dividends, but not in the form of victories.
Freshman quarterback Tim Alexander made his first college start against Washington last Saturday and threw for 140 yards. He rushed for another 182 and a couple of touchdowns, but the Beavers still lost, 26-16, despite beating the Huskies in nearly every statistical category.
It was the fourth defeat in a row for a team that came into the season with bowl hopes. Included in OSU’s unsavory losing string are losses to Pacific, North Texas and Arizona State, a team picked by many to finish last in the Pac-10 this year.
Still, Pettibone contends the spirit of his team remains unbroken. And halfback Cam Reynolds, a fifth-year senior, agrees.
“We’ve got the best attitude on this team of any I’ve had at Oregon State,” Pettibone said this week. “We’ve got real good leadership and the kids bounce back every week, work hard in practice and prepare themselves for the next game. That’s what they’ve done this week, too.”
Reynolds said the program has progressed too far to let this year’s horrible start shake its foundation.
“One of the great qualities about this team is its positive outlook,” Reynolds said. “It’s evident in the way we play each week. We had a tough loss to Arizona State (20-11) and an even tougher loss to North Texas (30-27), but we still came out and put up 500 yards … against Washington.
“We realize that the only way to respond to these losses is not to give in, but to go out and work harder in practice.”
Reynolds remembers when that wasn’t the case.
“Three years ago, I can remember going into Pullman and getting out butts kicked (51-6),” he said. “The only time we scored was on a defensive runback (a 75-yard interception return by Reggie Tongue).
“We got spit on and booed at and told that we weren’t supposed to even be in the Pac-10, but now we’re at a point where teams aren’t saying that about us any more. They’re no longer scheduling us for homecoming games like they used to.”
At WSU, it seems, some traditions die hard.
It will be assignment football as usual for WSU’s defense as it tries once again to smother OSU’s option attack.
This time, however, Pettibone has a big-play threat at quarterback in Alexander to keep the Cougars busy.
Players to watch
WSU tailback Frank Madu ranks fourth in the Pac-10 in rushing with an average of 96.5 yards per game. OSU returns free safety Tongue, who has nine career picks,Tongue is back, looking to add to his total of nine career picks, and senior nose tackle Tom Holmes, a 6-1, 272-pounder, who has been nearly unblockable against WSU the past two years.
The only questionable Cougar is defensive end Dwayne Sanders, who said he plans to play despite a bruised ankle than kept him from practicing all week.
Linebacker Johnny Nansen and defensive tackle Gray Holmes have recovered from the concussions sustained last week.
WSU will unveil a different look on its helmets today. In honor of the 100th season of Cougars football, the helmets will be adorned with the WSU logo that was designed by student Randall Johnson in 1936.
The helmets will also feature a stripe down the middle, reminiscent of the style used prior to 1988.
Bring your coats
It’s “Coats for Kids Day.” Fans are asked to bring unwanted coats to dropoff locations inside the fieldhouse and at Gate G. The coats will be given to community centers which will distribute them to children in need.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Cougars vs. Oregon State
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.