- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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If you are a fan of the passing game, you should re-route to Pullman, Wash., this weekend. It's reasonable to expect Oregon State and homestanding Washington State to combine to throw more than 100 passes for nearly 800 yards against each other on Saturday, at least if their season averages hold true.
If you like the running game? Well, the Palouse won't be for you. The Beavers and Cougars rank 121st and 122nd in the nation -- out of 123 teams -- in rushing.
Last weekend, Washington State QB Connor Halliday passed for 521 yards in a 44-22 win at California. That was just 10 yards short of a record at a school that has produced plenty of gunslingers, and it is the only 500-plus passing day in FBS football so far this year.
A week before, Oregon State QB Sean Mannion set a new school record with six touchdown passes at Colorado.
Mannion leads the nation in passing yards per game (403.6) and touchdowns (21). Halliday is eighth with 332.2 yards per game.
And yet ... might one team get an advantage from at least aspiring toward more balance?
"We certainly want to," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "We'd like to balance out a bit. But as I've said, we'll do whatever we have to do to win the game. Maybe I need to be a little more patient with the run."
The Beavers might have a shot to make that happen because, after a bye week, they are as healthy as they have been all season. In terms of the running game, the return of offensive linemen Grant Enger, Gavin Andrews and Josh Mitchell as well as RB Storm Woods and fullback Tyler Anderson and tight end Connor Hamlett should bolster the effort.
Still, the story is likely to be the quarterbacks. The difference between the two so far this year is efficiency. Mannion ranks eighth in the nation in passing efficiency with just two interceptions, one of which deflected off the hands of his own receiver. Halliday ranks 68th with 10 interceptions to go along with 13 TDs.
But Halliday took a major step forward at California, according to coach Mike Leach.
"He played well," Leach said. "He had a lot of explosive plays and we were close on some other stuff. He's definitely improved. Probably his best day commanding our offense."
Leach also had nice things to say about Mannion.
"He's big and strong, kind of mobile. Pretty experienced," Leach said. "He's one of those guys that even if you get him hemmed in he can throw it way down field."
Of course, Mannion felt hemmed in during last year's 19-6 win over Washington State. Not only did he throw three interceptions in that contest after throwing just one in the first three games, he also hurt his knee. That knee injury would bring Cody Vaz off the bench the next week at BYU, and that's when the Beavers odd QB carousel began.
Mannion has ended that rotation with outstanding play, as he and receiver Brandin Cooks are arguably the best pass-catch combination in the nation. Cooks is No. 1 in the nation in receiving yards per game (161.4).
The stakes are high in this one. Washington State, which hasn't beaten the Beavers in Martin Stadium in a decade, has already surpassed its win total of a season ago (3-9), and a victory could position the program for its first bowl game since 2003. The Beavers are trying to climb back into the North Division race and put further distance between themselves and an opening loss to FCS power Eastern Washington.
The winner might not be able to approach its preseason goals without taking this one.
Everything will start with the passing game, but the winner might be the team that does something else well.
2dChantel Jennings and David Lombardi