What to watch for when Washington hosts No. 24 Oregon State, plus Mike Vorel’s prediction

No. 24 Oregon State (6-2, 3-2 Pac-12) at Washington (6-2, 3-2 Pac-12)

7:30 p.m. Friday, Husky Stadium

TV: ESPN2 Radio: SportsRadio 93.3-FM KJR

Latest line: Huskies by 3

UW key players

QB Michael Penix Jr.: 67.8% completions, 2,934 pass yards, 22 pass TD, 4 INT, 2 rush TD

WR Rome Odunze: 50 catches, 756 receiving yards, 15.1 yards per catch, 6 TD

Edge Bralen Trice: 23 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks

S Alex Cook: 55 tackles

OSU key players

QB Ben Gulbranson: 61.6% completions, 818 pass yards, 5 pass TD, 3 INT

RB Damien Martinez: 517 rush yards, 6.5 yards per carry, 5 rush TD

DB Kitan Oladapo: 46 tackles, 5 pass breakups, 3 TFL, 2.5 sacks

DB Jaydon Grant: 43 tackles, 4 PBU, 3 INT, 3 TFL, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble

Stuffing the run

UW’s run defense appears remarkably improved, as the Huskies lead the Pac-12 in opponent yards per carry (3.27) and rank second in yards allowed per game (110.38). But might their statistical stoutness also be a reflection of a winnable early schedule, or of opponents who prefer to pick apart the Husky secondary? The answer will begin to reveal itself Friday, when Washington hosts No. 24 Oregon State and an offense that averages 39.38 rush attempts (second in the Pac-12) and 194.88 rush yards per game (second in Pac-12). True freshman Damien Martinez — who has rushed for 389 yards and three touchdowns in his last two games — leads the way. So how good is this Husky run defense, really? One way or the other, we’re about to find out.

Testing Penix

It’s no secret that redshirt junior Michael Penix Jr. has been a revelation in his first season in Seattle — completing 67.8% of his passes while throwing for 2,934 yards with 24 total touchdowns and just four interceptions. But Oregon State’s pass defense is also among the Pac-12’s best. Through eight games, the Beavs lead the conference in opponent pass efficiency rating (113.46), opponent completion percentage (55.4%) and passing touchdowns allowed (8), and rank second in interceptions (10) and opponent yards per pass attempt (6.6). With both teams coming off byes, there will be no excuses from a personnel or schematic standpoint. Will Penix and wide receivers Rome Odunze, Jalen McMillan, Ja’Lynn Polk etc., best the Beavs inside Husky Stadium?

Getting after Gulbranson

In their six wins this season, the Huskies have amassed a total of 24 sacks (four per game). They managed just one total sack in their two losses. Considering the obvious weaknesses in Washington’s secondary, a premier pass rush is needed to frustrate quarterback Ben Gulbranson and nullify open passing windows — particularly on third down. UW ranks 127th out of 131 teams nationally in third down defense, surrendering 47.75% conversions. But that number improved in UW’s last two wins, as Arizona and Cal went a combined 10 for 26 (38.5%) on third down … while Washington compiled nine career sacks. The good news? Gulbranson isn’t nearly as mobile as injured Oregon State quarterback Chance Nolan. The Huskies — Bralen Trice, Jeremiah Martin, Zion Tupuola-Fetui, Voi Tunuufi and Co. — will have to feast on Friday night.

Vorel’s prediction

Washington is 5-0 inside Husky Stadium, and those wins have followed a familiar formula. Penix has been prolific, his wide receivers have been productive, UW’s run defense has been feisty and its pass rush has showed up in opportune moments. With a bye week to get healthy, the Huskies should follow that formula (for the most part) again on Friday night. Granted, Oregon State’s running game will wear down Washington and the Beavs — like Cal — will focus on nullifying explosive plays. But Penix will take what’s given to him, and UW’s defense will do just enough to win. It won’t be easy, but Washington will stay undefeated inside Husky Stadium by downing a ranked Pac-12 opponent.

Final score: Huskies 31, Beavs 30

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