CORVALLIS — The defense came to the rescue again for Oregon State.
Utah’s four turnovers — two lost fumbles and two interceptions — were the difference in the Beavers’ 21-7 win over the Utes in a cold, drizzly game Saturday night.
The reward was that Oregon State (6-0, 4-0 Pac-12) became bowl eligible and the next day popped up a place in the rankings to No. 7. The Beavers also moved to No. 7 in the BCS standings.
“When you look at why you win, turnovers can be great indicators. ... (Utah) ran the ball better than we did, but they turned the ball over in very bad field position,” Oregon State coach Mike Riley said.
Turnovers were killer for the Utes (2-5, 0-4). The first two — a Michael Doctor interception and a Dylan Wynn fumble recovery — set up the Beavers for easy touchdown drives deep in Utah territory. The third — a fumbled pitch at the Beavers 3-yard line — killed a promising scoring drive. Finally, a frantic Utah rally in the final minutes ended when quarterback Travis Wilson was picked off by Sean Martin.
“The biggest disappointment offensively was turning the ball over four times and scoring one touchdown,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “You’re going to win exactly zero games doing that.”
In contrast, the Beavers committed no turnovers. Oregon State has forced 16 turnovers this year while committing only six, giving the Beavers the best turnover margin (1.67) in the conference and eighth best in the nation. Last season, while stumbling to a 3-9 record, the Beavers committed 31 turnovers while opponents had only 23.
Led for the second straight game by backup quarterback Cody Vaz, the Beavers’ offense managed a paltry 230 yards on offense compared to Utah’s 307. Vaz overthrew some receivers and was not as impressive as in his 332-yard debut passing performance against BYU, which earned him Pac-12 player of the week honors.
However, Vaz managed the game well. He didn’t force throws — relying mostly on short passes — and avoided major mistakes. Riley employed a conservative strategy, punting several times on fourth-and-short situations, and putting the game in the hands of the defense.
That defense put the focus on Utah quarterback Wilson, a true freshman who took over last month when Jordan Wynn suffered a career-ending injury. The Beavers believed if they were aggressive they could rattle Wilson and cause mistakes. They were right.
“Coverage and pressure go together,” said safety Ryan Murphy. “The guys on the D-Line did what they had to do and the secondary did what we had to do also. That’s all that matters.”
Curiously, the Beavers have been much better offensively in road games than at Reser Stadium and have had to rely on the defense to pull out the victories in each of their three home wins, 10-7 over Wisconsin, 19-6 win over Washington State, and this game.
Starting quarterback Sean Mannion could return for the Beavers when they travel this weekend to Washington, though Riley refused to say when he would decide. Mannion missed two games after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee, but he returned to practice late last week.
The Huskies (3-4, 1-3) lost 52-17 to Arizona on Saturday. The Beavers will attempt to go 7-0 for the first time in school history.
“I think the sky is the limit for us,” running back Storm Woods said. “We have to keep going, respecting ourselves and staying humble.”