Undefeated Oregon State continues to look more and more like a legitimate contender in the Pac-12 with each passing week.
Coach Mike Riley, though, knows his team can't afford to take Washington lightly if it hopes to keep its perfect record intact.
With quarterback Sean Mannion set to return following a two-game absence, the surprising No. 7 Beavers try to open 7-0 for the first time in school history Saturday night when they take on the Huskies at CenturyLink Field.
Picked by many to finish last in the league's North Division after going 3-9 last season, Oregon State (6-0, 4-0) instead finds itself in a first-place tie with in-state rival Oregon. Freshman Storm Woods provided all the offense last Saturday with three rushing touchdowns as the Beavers became bowl eligible with a 21-7 win over Utah.
"You want to do it as fast as you can," Riley said. "And then you want to get to the best bowl that you can. So we've got the first part of that done."
After compiling 332 passing yards and three touchdowns during a 42-24 win at BYU on Oct. 13, Cody Vaz threw for 174 against the Utes. Although he helped keep the Beavers unbeaten, Vaz will return to a backup role Saturday with Mannion ready to go less than three weeks after undergoing surgery to repair the meniscus in his left knee.
"It was difficult. Cody has played well and Sean has played well," Riley said of his decision. "I just kind of took it back a little bit further to the initial competition. Sean had played four games and played well so we decided to go with him. But it was not easy.
"The one thing we feel good about is our quarterback situation, because now Cody's got some experience. He's won a couple of games. We would never even blink about playing him."
Averaging 339.5 passing yards, Mannion threw for 339 with two touchdowns and an interception last Nov. 19 as the Beavers continued their recent domination in this series with a 38-21 victory. Oregon State has taken seven of eight from Washington (3-4, 1-3), with its only loss coming 35-34 in double-overtime on the road Oct. 16, 2010.
The Beavers will need to be wary of a Huskies team that's held it own at home, beating then-No. 8 Stanford 17-13 on Sept. 27 before staying close in a 24-14 loss to then-No. 11 USC.
"We know they're very talented and very, very capable," Riley added. "They beat a real good Stanford team and they've kind of played murderer's row here, they've played LSU and USC and Oregon (and) Stanford so we're expecting another tough Pac-12 game."
Washington gave up a combined three passing touchdowns in opening 3-1 before allowing nine during a three-game losing streak. The Huskies surrendered four passing TDs and were outgained 533-380 in total offense during last Saturday's 52-17 loss at Arizona.
"We can't make technique errors and we can't have bad eyes in the secondary," co-captain Desmond Trufant told the school's official website. "That's something we can control. We've got to make plays when they present themselves... It comes back to us."
Junior Keith Price threw for a season-high 256 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions while Bishop Sankey ran for 87 yards, finding the end zone for the seventh time this season.
Sixth in the conference with 82.0 rushing yards per contest, Sankey could be hard-pressed to find much running room against a Beavers defense that ranks fifth in the nation with an average of 80.8 allowed.
Top 25 Overview
The Beavers keep rolling. Last week they did it with defense and three rushing touchdowns from Storm Woods. There is a chance quarterback Sean Mannion returns this week, which would be a boost to an air attack which failed to reach the end zone against Utah. Washington, which has dropped three in a row, has to pick up the pieces after a big road loss to Arizona and still salvage the season.