Oregon St. needs to snap back after last week's 49-46 upset loss to Eastern Washington, and Hawaii could provide the perfect opportunity to not only square their record, but regain their confidence before next week's Pac-12 opener at Utah.
A Norm Chow pro-style offense with a quarterback with accuracy issues in junior transfer Taylor Graham without much ground support behind him won't stretch the defense as Eastern Washington did, and the pace shouldn't wear the Beaver defense down as badly. A cooler day and a later afternoon start should aid in that as well, compared to last week's mid-afternoon workout on a hot day that compounded the problems associated with chasing Eagles all over the field.
If their effort against USC is any indication, despite their 30-13 loss, the Rainbows will provide a stiffer challenge to the Oregon St. offense. But if Sean Mannion is anywhere near as close to his 86% accuracy from last week, the Beaver offense should also have success with Storm Woods running the ball.
It's hard to think the Beavers won't bounce back, in part because of talent and focus, but also because of the differences in matchups for the Oregon St. defense, which are even more significant.
I do think the offense will find the sledding more difficult, and the key there I'm going to be watching for is how well the Oregon St. rushing game is able to do. It should be decent, given the success USC had against Hawaii on the ground.
I'll also caution against looking at pure rushing numbers when forming an opinion about how effective the running game is. 9 of Mannion's passes went to backs, 8 to Woods, and those yards really have to be considered as backfield production vs. receiver group production, which is a much better way to evaluate balance than just run vs. pass. Much more important will be if the receiver sweeps are effective. 21 yards on 4 tries against Eastern Washington is a relatively pedestrian 4 yards per attempt, and being an open field play, the sweeps need to yield better than that. usually by springing at least one for a big play.
The most important thing for Oregon St. to do is to play at a consistently higher level than their opponent, for mental health reasons. All the public team speak aside, the Beavers, especially their defense, need to sub-conciously trust themselves and each other. One thing Coach Banker was spot on about was when he was talking about what happens when you don't trust your eyes. Last week it was apparent they didn't. This week is about reestablishing that trust before moving on to the next step, and the road games awaiting the next 2 weeks.
I think that will happen; I'll be watching to see to what degree it does.
Last week saw two very good offenses against under-matched and out of shape defenses. Expect to see a little something different in the Hawaii game.
The Rainbow Warriors' defense and special teams play kept them in it against USC nine days ago, and expect them to deploy a similar attack against the Beavers. Rushing the ball will be much tougher against Hawaii than it was against Eastern Washington, and expect UH to get more pressure on Sean Mannion.
The key will be attacking Hawaii through the air. Mannion should once again be able to do it with ease, putting Connor Hamlett, Brandin Cooks, and the rest of the receiving corps to good use.
I don't exactly expect the defense to struggle like they did last Saturday (it would be nearly impossible to against Hawaii's offense), but I'm not going to assume too much. It may take a quarter or two for the Beavers to overmatch the opposing D, but it will happen eventually. Give me the Beavers for a 45-10 victory.
For this game to really be considered a success, the Beavers need to dominate the game, not just win it. This game SHOULD have been a tuneup before the conference opener, but instead this turns into a must-win in terms of momentum.
The Beavers need to get some production on the ground, in addition to Sean Mannion's heroics. But obviously all eyes will be on the defense. It'd be nice to see Scott Crichton and Dylan Wynn get involved more in this game. But you could say the same for every other defensive player on the team.
This SHOULDN'T be a tough matchup, but EWU shouldn't have been either.
Look for a more balanced attack and (obviously) a better defensive effort this week.
Ah, home opener tune up, and now we are, oh wait, yes, ah, hmm, well that did not go as planned last week did it.
Last week I made some assumptions about what the opener versus Eastern Washington was going to bring and what the Beavs were going to bring to the game. Well karma struck me down big time there. Questions I had about the offense seemed to be nicely answered, and overall my concerns there seemed generally unfounded, but the defensive confidence I had going into the season is now part of what looks to be a much bigger front burner issue for the season, and indeed right now a possible fan canary-in-coal-mine concern for the entire program.
So where are we now?
Well beyond a very tough back-and-forth week of fanbase debate (and debasement?) across the Internet, we have a team needing to bounce back in a big way.
Hawai'i is not a powerhouse, and coming into the season you had to think this was going to be another tune up game, but my rallying cry this week is: NO MORE ASSUMPTIONS!
So no more philosophical reflection, let's get to the keys and questions for this game:
1. Defense? No question here that this is THE huge question coming into the game. I think beyond the obvious question of whether or not the defense can find game and take it to Hawai'i's offense, there is a question of IF the defense can actually bounce back. Does this denote anything for the longer haul of the season (and beyond)? And what will this say about Banker's leadership?
2. Running game? Overall Storm Woods looked fine in the opener, and yes because of the tempo and the scoring that happened in the Eastern Washington game, the Beavs passing game had to take over. But I would like to see some more running game established and really get those line-men their game legs under them (and this is additionally important going into the two upcoming road games).
3. Passing game? It looked very very good last game. One of my main questions coming in was the role of the TEs, and Connor Hamlett's performance answered that question/concern. I really liked how Mannion got the ball around to different receivers and used the field well. I think if anything I would like to see some more backs out of the backfield getting involved in dump-offs (again get those O-line guys in shape!) and really would like to see more shots thrown farther down the field. Really though I feel the question here is can the Beavs keep this dynamic passing offense going and maybe even improve it a bit more? I think maybe the other main question here this week will be if Cody Vaz can get any game time (if not it what does this bode for the game and the season)?
4. I assume? NO MORE ASSUMPTIONS!
5. Mike Riley? Yeah, well, here we go again.
6. Hawai'i? Honestly I expect they will bring a bit more to this game than they did against SC last weekend, but I also think they do not have the offense to keep Oregon State enough off-balance to sustain a full game, especially since our defense will be fired up (both emotionally amped up and mentally focused).
On defense I really have no idea what the Rainbows will bring, but if the SC game is an indicator I don't think they will match up well to what could be one of the more dynamic offensive teams in the Pac this year. That said though, need to be careful with any assumptions, and I am glad that this is a travel game for them for one has to think they have worked some things out from last week's loss too, and should give the Beavs some new looks maybe not seen on the game film from that SC game. But in the end, I just wonder if they can hang with what should be a hard-hitting fired up OSU for a full 60 minutes.
Not sure we were quite ready to be in this spot yet, but this has now become I believe a very important game. Not only as a bounce back from the shocking loss to Eastern Washington, but the OSU defense and team as a whole need to build their confidence up to not only win this game but also to have some swagger carry over to the upcoming road trip to Utah in a week, and the other away game against San Diego State the following week. Is it going to be 2011 all over again? Somewhere a little better, but still disappointing? Maybe somewhere special that we are not expecting because of that opening result? To slide those Orange and Black shades on for a brief moment, I believe that OSU will indeed gain some confidence with a solid win this week, but sliding those glasses back off, I also do not want to make any assumptions.