Las Vegas Sun

December 22, 2014

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Today’s matchup: Las Vegas Bowl

WHEN OREGON STATE HAS THE BALL

Oregon State run offense vs. New Mexico run defense

This is arguably the premier matchup of the game. Oregon State junior Steven Jackson is a likely first round NFL pick if he turns pro as expected after the game. He led the Pac-10 in rushing for the second straight year with an average of 116.33 yards per game and rushed for 15 touchdowns. He'll be going against a New Mexico defense that ranked fourth in the nation in run defense allowing just 80.4 yards per game and can be hard to block because of all of its unique stunts and blitz packages. Only Ohio State (60.5), USC (61.1) and LSU (68.2) allowed fewer rushing yards per game. The Lobos have a trio of all-Mountain West Conference defensive linemen in seniors Zach Rupp, Daniel Kegler and D.J. Renteria and junior nose tackle Kyle Coulter may be better than any of them. Even with a stud like Jackson, the Beavers finished just fourth in the Pac-10 in rushing and averaged a disappointing 3.3 yards per carry. And the Beavers had just one offensive lineman, junior right tackle Doug Nienhuis, picked to the all-Pac-10 squad.

Edge: New Mexico.

Oregon State pass offense vs. New Mexico pass defense

Junior quarterback Derek Anderson is one of the most highly-touted prep players to ever come out of the state of Oregon. The 6-foot-6, 227-pounder has a Drew Bledsoe-like arm and is coming off a game in which he threw for a school-record 485 yards and two touchdowns against No. 1-rated USC. But Anderson lacks mobility and can be erratic, especially after he's been hit a few times which he figures to be early and often by a Lobo defense that knocked UNLV quarterback Kurt Nantkes out of the game earlier this year. Anderson tied the school record for interceptions in a season with 23, including five in a early season loss at Fresno State, and the Beaver offensive line surrendered 32 sacks. He has a deep group of receivers to throw to including seniors James Newson, a first team all -Pac-10 pick at wide receivers who was third in the nation in receiving yards (113.3 ypg), and Tim Euhus, a senior tight en! d who all earned first team all-Pac-10 honors. New Mexico ranked 82nd in the nation in pass defense allowing 236.8 yards per game.

Edge: Oregon State.

WHEN NEW MEXICO HAS THE BALL

New Mexico run offense vs. Oregon State run defense

The Lobos, behind a huge (320 pound average), veteran offensive line and the hard running of sophomore DonTrell Moore (266 carries, 1,438 yards, 19 TDs), finished second to only option-oriented Air Force in the Mountain West Conference in rushing this year with an average of 227.0 yards per game. New Mexico averaged an outstanding 4.7 yards per carry and finished with 28 rushing touchdowns. Not surprisingly, the Lobos also averaged 32:03 in time of possession. But New Mexico will be going against a very big and physical Oregon State defense that also excels in stopping the run. The Beavers finished seventh nationally in rushing defense allowing 90.9 yards per game including minus-12 yards by Stanford on Nov. 15. Oregon State held No. 1-ranked USC to just 110 yards rushing in their season finale. Senior defensive tackle Dwan Edwards (6-3, 305) and inside linebacker Richar! d Seigler of Chaparral High were both all-Pac-10 picks.

Edge: Even.

New Mexico pass offense vs. Oregon State pass defense

Early in the season there were some howls from Lobo fans to bench senior quarterback Casey Kelly, a Portland native who should be especially fired up to face the Beavers. But New Mexico coach Rocky Long elected to stick with Kelly and the move paid off with New Mexico winning seven of its last eight games and Kelly earning honorable mention all-Mountain West recognition. Still, Kelly is known more for his running (258 yards, 1 TD) than his passing (142 of 262, 2,191 yards, 13 touchdowns, 9 interceptions). And his top receiver, Adrian Boyd (41 receptions) didn't make the trip after failing to meet the NCAA's six-credit rule for bowl eligibility. Oregon State ranks eighth in the nation in pass efficiency defense and finished tied for ninth with 19 interceptions. Keep an eye on lanky (6-f oot-4, 195-pound) Beaver corner Brandon Browner, a second team all-Pac-10 pick as just a freshman.

Edge: Oregon State.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Both teams have dependable all-conference placekickers. Oregon State senior Kirk Yliniemi was a second team all-Pac-10 pick after connecting on 17 of 21 field goals, including a 54-yarder, and 39 of 40 PATs. New Mexico junior Wes Junker was a first team all-Mountain West Conference pick who nailed 15 of 17 field goals and 40 of 43 PATs. Both teams have average punters and return games.

Edge: Even.

INTANGIBLES

New Mexico has made no secret of its desire to atone for its 27-13 loss to UCLA in last year's Las Vegas Bowl and seemed much more businesslike in practice. The Lobos were also the hotter team at the end of the season with seven wins in their last eight games including an impressive 47-35 shellacking of MWC champ Utah in Salt Lake City. Oregon State, meanwhile, enters the game after back-to-back losses in their two biggest games of the season to Civil War rival Oregon (34-20) and No. 1 ranked USC (52-28). However, with eight Las Vegas area products on the roster, including star running back Steven Jackson, starting safety Lawrence Turner and linebackers Richard Seigler and Jonathan Pollard, the Beavers say they'll be focused for this game. Still, New Mexico fans figure to far outnumber Oregon State's which should give the Lob os a homefield advantage.

Edge: New Mexico.

COACHING

New Mexico's Rocky Long has steadily built the Lobos into one of the Mountain West Conference's top programs with a tough,smashmouth style of football. Oregon State's Mike Riley has faced Long's vaunted 3-3-5 blitz-from-all-angles defense before over the years at both USC and with the Beavers, where he laid the foundation for the program's turnaround in 1997-98 before heading off to coaching in the NFL with the San Diego Chargers. A two-time Canadian Football League Coach of the Year, Riley has four members on his staff with NFL coaching experience.

Edge: Oregon State.

KEYS TO VICTORY

To win, Oregon State must ...

1. Stop the run. The Lobos live and die with the play of their veteran offensive line and the running of DonTrell Moore.

2. Protect the passer. Beaver quarterback Derek Anderson has an NFL arm, but he'll need time to use it against New Mexico's blitzing defense.

3. Avoid stupid penalties. The Beavers still have a lot of the Dennis Erickson's "Bad Boys" mentality on defense which has resulted in more than its share of costly penalties this season.

To win, New Mexico must ...

1. Control the trenches. That means both establishing the run with DonTrell Moore and keeping Oregon State's talented Steven Jackson in check.

2. Start fast. Unlike the Beavers, the Lobos don't have the passing attack to play catch up.

3. Force interceptions. That means hitting Beaver quarterback Derek Anderson early and often.

THE PICK

Oregon State 24, New Mexico 17