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BEAVERS NOTES: BYU defense, QB pose big challenges for No. 10 Oregon State

All sorts of information for Beaver Nation to digest as Oregon State (4-0 overall, 3-0 in Pac-12 action) prepares to visit Brigham Young (4-2) for a 12:30 p.m. matchup at Provo, Utah ...

• Oregon State is No. 10 in this week’s Associated Press poll, its highest ranking since it was fourth at the end of the 2000 season. It is the highest ranking ever by a Mike Riley OSU team, better than the No. 13 spot before the Oregon game in 2009.

“It’s great,” the veteran coach said Sunday night. “We wouldn’t want it any other way. I also know the rankings that really count are at the end of the year.

“We’re glad to be there now. It shows we’re doing well. You have to bear that responsibility.”

With a win at BYU, Oregon State could achieve its first 5-0 start since 1939, when Lon Stiner’s Orangemen finished 9-1-1, losing only to Southern Cal and tying UCLA.

• Two of the nation’s premier defenses will be at work Saturday in Brigham Young’s Homecoming game that will be broadcast regionally on ABC.

Brigham Young leads the nation in rushing defense (59.5 yards per game) and red-zone defense (40 percent on 4 for 10, with three touchdowns and a field goal), and is third in scoring defense (8.8 points), fifth in total defense (229.3 yards), sixth in opponents’ third-down conversation percentage (26.7) and seventh in opponents’ first downs (14.2).

Oregon State leads the nation in opponents’ third-down conversion percentage (20.4, 10 for 49) and is fourth in rushing defense (67.3 yards) and 23rd in scoring defense (17.0 points).

BYU has held 12 straight opponents over two years to fewer than 300 yards total offense. After a 6-3 win over Utah State on Friday, the Cougars haven’t allowed an offensive TD and have given up just three points over the last 13 quarters.

“Their defense is tough, physical,” Riley said. “They hit and play with lots of confidence. It’s a real good-looking defensive team.”

• Brigham Young is 4-2 with a 30-6 win over Washington State. BYU has lost to Utah 24-21 and to Boise State 7-6. The Cougars have handled Oregon State twice in recent years — 44-20 in the 2009 Las Vegas Bowl and 38-28 at Corvallis last season.

“They’ve given us fits,” Riley said.

• Riley Nelson is expected to be back at quarterback Saturday after missing the past two games with a back injury. The 6-0, 200-pound senior has completed 64 of 109 passes (58.7 percent) for 754 yards and five TDs with five interceptions in four games.

A year ago, he threw for 217 yards and three scores and ran 12 times for 87 yards at OSU.

“He’s quite the competitor,” Riley said. “He scrambled and threw against us — he did it all. They run quarterback draws and some option stuff with him. He’s versatile and can make all the throws. We’re going to have our hands full.”

Nelson’s replacement the last two weeks, Taysom Hill, injured a knee late in the Utah State game and is not expected to be available against OSU. The 6-2, 220-pound freshman has rushed for 336 yards and four TDs.

BYU receiver Cody Hoffman ran wild against the Beavers a year ago, catching nine passes for 162 yards and a TD. The 6-4, 215-pound junior leads the Cougars with 31 receptions for 413 yards and two scores this season.

• Riley had plaudits for the work done by his defense in Saturday’s 19-6 win over Washington State. The Beavers limited the Cougars to 227 yards total offense, including 20 yards rushing. Pass plays of 51 and 49 yards accounted for almost half of Wazoo’s yardage.

“We played a great game defensively,” the OSU coach said. Defensive coordinator “Mark Banker put together a great plan with his staff and the kids executed it well. We mixed things up, stuffed the run and our pass rush was consistently hard. The guys got after it. It was fun to watch them rush the passer.”

• Riley wasn’t pleased with the Beavers’ performance on the other side of the ball.

“We were sloppy in a lot of ways offensively,” he said. “We missed some blocks, had some false starts, dropped some balls, threw some bad balls. We have a lot of work to do to clean things up. We don’t need to play like that.”

Riley said it was “the weakest performance of the year” by the offensive line and that quarterback Sean Mannion “had his least productive game of the year.”

“Sean made some bad choices,” Riley said. “We’re going to have to pull that back and look at it this week. He did make a couple of great throws on big third-down conversions for us.”

• Against pass-happy Washington State, the Beavers often employed their nickel and dime defensive packages. The nickel employs five backs, adding safety Anthony Watkins. The dime uses six backs, with Watkins and cornerback Sean Martin on the field.

One of the linemen — usually tackle Castro Masaniai — leaves for the nickel. Middle linebacker Feti Unga is typically taken out in the dime. And cornerback Jordan Poyer moves inside to the “slot” position, often on the same side as cornerback Rashaad Reynolds.

“The slot is a key position and one of the most difficult to play,” Riley said. Poyer “will mix it up between playing zone and man-to-man. It’s a good place for a guy who has a lot of football savvy.”

The Beavers might not use the nickel or dime as much against BYU, which runs some elements of the spread offense but is more run-oriented than opponents such as Arizona and Washington State.

BYU uses its quarterback in the shotgun at times, but also employs the QB in a direct snap with split backs.

• Oregon State sustained 11 penalties for 110 yards against Washington State. Riley took issue with one in particular, a pass-interference call against Martin in the fourth quarter. “Ticky-tack,” he said.

“But that many penalties, it’s atrocious,” Riley said. “We can’t hurt ourselves like that. False starts, offsides, celebration penalties ... we have to cut that out.”

The Beavers have averaged nine penalties for 89.8 yards, 116th of 120 FBS teams. Part of that would seem to be the Pac-12 officiating crews. Seven conference teams, including Oregon and Southern Cal, rank among the nation’s bottom 15.

NOTES — Oregon State linebacker D.J. Welch is questionable for Saturday with a sprained ankle. If Welch can’t go, senior Rueben Robinson will start in his place. ... Markus Wheaton hurt a joint in a foot and will not practice Monday, though OSU coaches are hopeful he will return by Tuesday. ... Poyer, tied for the national lead with four interceptions in four games, is the Walter Camp national defensive player of the week. He had three picks in OSU’s win over Washington State. ... Wheaton ranks fifth nationally in receptions per game (9.0) and seventh in receiving yardage per game (124.5). The OSU senior has 36 receptions for 498 yards and four TDs. Brandin Cooks is ninth in receiving yardage per game (121.5), with 26 catches for 486 yards and two scores. ... Mannion ranks sixth nationally in passing yardage per game (339.5) and ninth in pass completions per game (26.8). The OSU sophomore is 107 for 169 passing for 1,358 yards with seven TDs and four interceptions. ... OSU coaches project Churchill High’s 6-3, 340-pound Skylar Phillips — who verbally committed on Sunday — as an offensive guard. ... Riley has been impressed with several freshmen who are redshirting, including 6-2, 220-pound linebacker Rommel Mageo of American Samoa. “He’s physical,” Riley said. “Going into spring ball, he could be a factor.” Others include defensive backs Cyril Noland-Lewis, Zack Robinson and Tyler Hasty, linebackers Chris Miller and Caleb Saulo, defensive tackle Noke Tago, tailback Chris Brown, tight end Dustin Stanton, offensive lineman Josh Mitchell and receiver Malik Gilmore.