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Ducks running back CJ Verdell (7) jukes out a defending Beaver. Oregon Ducks football takes on Oregon State for the Civil War game at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore. on Nov. 30, 2019. (DL Young/Emerald)

The field could hardly be seen through the fog in Reser Stadium. When you caught glimpses, it was hard to believe what was happening. The Beavers’ ground and pound, smash-mouth offense was too much for the inexperienced Oregon defense.

The Beavers, led by then-running back Jermar Jefferson, grinded out 269 yards rushing en route to a 41-38 victory over the Ducks in 2020.

Last year’s outing in Corvallis reminded Oregon of its imperfections. This year, the implications are different –– and much heavier. As head coach Jonathan Smith and the Beavers (7-4, 5-3 Pac-12) ride into Autzen on Saturday, they’ll do so with a chance at taking the Ducks’ spot at the Pac-12 Championship game.

The Beavers would like nothing more. And they have the weapons to pull it off.

For the Oregon State offense, the mantra is simple: Run the football. Led by junior running back B.J. Baylor, the Beavers rush for a league-high 229 yards per game.

Baylor leads the conference individually as well, posting an average of 109 yards per game. He also cracks the top five in rushing touchdowns, with 12 on the season.

“They really are effective in what they do,” Oregon defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter said. “And [Baylor] is an excellent back and in that scheme, he's powerful. He breaks tackles and he's got the speed to take it off the top.”

While the Beavers boast a formidable threat in the ground game, they don’t offer much by way of a passing attack. Quarterback Chance Nolan and the offense sit second to last in the conference in passing yards per game, averaging 204 per week.

Given the Ducks’ running-stopping woes last week against Utah, the Beavers, one-dimensional as they are, have an opportunity to create a mismatch and pose a threat to the Oregon squad.

Oregon State ranks in the middle of the Pac-12 in total defense, allowing an average of 377 yards per game.

But the statistic alone does them little justice, especially when it comes to the secondary. Oregon State has 13 interceptions on the year, which ties for second in the conference.

Defensive backs Jaydon Grant, Alex Austin and Rejzohn Wright, along with linebacker Omar Speights, each have two picks on the year.

“They’ve held opponents to an average of 12 points a game the last couple games and cut down the yards allowed in half as well,” Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal said. “So they're playing at a high level. They’re very disruptive.”

If Oregon quarterback Anthony Brown continues to struggle with accuracy and decision making, he could be in for a long night on Saturday.

The Beavers sit in the middle of the Pac-12 in run defense, and the Ducks will look to key on that. Despite struggling in last weekend’s meeting with Utah, Oregon’s offensive strength throughout the season has come from Travis Dye and ground game.

Ducks offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead will likely rely on running backs Dye and Byron Cardwell to do the bulk of the work, while involving Dye in the passing game with screens and bubble passes.

The Ducks will take the field in Autzen on Saturday as a 7-point favorite over the Beavers, but the in-state rival shouldn’t be overlooked. If the Ducks slip up, this opportunistic Oregon State squad will gladly take advantage and ride it all the way to the Pac-12 Championship game.

Charlie Gearing is a sports writer and associate editor from Chicago, Illinois. He enjoys covering the University’s premier football and basketball programs. Along with his writing, he enjoys reading, hiking, fishing, skiing and all things outdoors.