Not surprisingly, the Oregon St. defense was all over the offense in today's scrimmage that served as somewhat of a dress rehearsal for the season opener in 2 weeks against Portland St. It's been a reoccurring theme in practice this summer, as a largely healthy defense, with a number of returning veterans, and unprecedented depth, has had the upper hand on an offense that has struggled as injuries and inexperience on the offensive line has prevented it from any kind of continuity.
Today, record book rewriting quarterback Sean Mannion lined up with only 5 of the 10 projected starters around him on offense on the field.
Victor Bolden turned out in full gear, but had his shoulder pads off after warmups, and Richard Mullaney was without the crutches he was on at the end of yesterday's practice, but was again, as has been the case with a majority of the sessions through spring and summer ball, a spectator.
FB Tyler Anderson was also still on the sidelines, after a knee and leg injury last Tuesday.
The offensive line is where it all starts for the offense, though, and so far, its a non-starter. After graduating 3 starters, having Isaac Seumalo still not even cleared to resume conditioning, and then having Sean Harlow, the other returning starter, be sidelined with a potential concussion this week, this is really a very inexperienced group, and one that's been in a constant state of flux, as far as who is even lining up where.
To their credit, there are some large athletes in the dozen or so jockeying for position, and it showed up a couple of times where they were able to by sheer brute force move the pile forward a couple of yards, and pick up a first down.
But sustaining a drive is more than a first down or two, and that's not happening with any regularity at this point.
Indeed, it took over an hour for the hour and a half plus long scrimmage for the offense to generate anything, and by then, the defense had already posted 3 scores of their own.
The only offensive points in the early going were 3 40 yard field goals, all on spot situations plays that were not the product of anything the offense had done.
Mannion only played one series, and though he had 3 completions, didn't get the team across midfield before the drive ended in a deflected pass that Zack Robinson snagged.
Of the many questions facing the offense, Mannion is not one of them (hence his limited action, though establishing some kind of timing with anyone might seem to be important), but who will back him up has been. That question should have been answered today, though.
Luke Del Rio has been given every opportunity to seize the #2 spot, and by implication, the inside track on becoming next year's starter after Mannion moves on to the NFL, and took the snaps as the next qb up, and with the 1s (at least as many of them as there are) today.
On his first passing type play, in the shotgun, the snap was higher than it should have been, and went off Del Rio's hands. He was also unable to cover the loose ball, and it resulted in Titus Failauga scooping up the ball for the first of the 3 defensive touchdowns.
After an off-target throw on the next passing play, Del Rio then tossed a pick-6 to safety Justin Strong.
That was the last we would see of Del Rio for a while.
Bren Vander Veen got several series, and got a first down on the first one, though the highlight of the series was DE Obum Gwacham running down a sweep play to the opposite side from behind.
The next Vander Veen series ended on the first play, when a bad center exchange resulted in a fumble, and linebacker Manase Hungalu sprinting off for the 3rd defensive touchdown.
Vander Veen finally put together the first thing that resembled a sustained drive of the day, which was jump-started by a head-scratcher of a defensive holding penalty.
The best 2 plays of the drive were a broken field scramble by Vander Veen, above, and a screen pass to TE Caleb Smith, as the Beavers figured out that their best offensive weapon is to get one of their big tight ends loose in the secondary, and let them run over defenders, even if they are in good position, like below.
The drive still stalled, though, and after holder Keith Kostol had the referees move the ball back from what would have been a 33 yard field goal to the 40 yarder the coaching staff wanted to work on, Garrett Owens promptly pulled the kick wide left.
Several questions Oregon St. is looking for answers about are on special teams, and Trevor Romaine has answered some of them, taking clear hold of the place-kicking job.
Back in action after missing 2 days of practice with a sore leg, Romaine was spot on on with his field goal attempts. Additionally, Owens can not reach the end zone with kickoffs, and Romaine has about 10-15 yards on Owens.
Which does bring up another concern; kickoff return judgement. Understanding that the coaches want to see someone demonstrate something in the return game, in a dress rehearsal for the real thing that starts in 2 weeks, the decision to bring a ball out from 8 yards deep, and not even reach the 20, while getting a penalty on the return, is just not smart football.
With Bolden sidelined, we saw Rahmel Dockery and Storm Woods on kickoff returns, with Woods turning the best effort of the day in the category, bringing one out to mid-field, below.
Kostol was solid with his punts, frequently pinning the return team deep or against the sideline. And the coverage was good, though it remains to be seen how much of that was a product of the cover unit, and how much is Oregon St.'s inability to block for a punt return, which has been a huge problem the last couple of seasons.
Today was no different, with 5 or 6 defenders down field and waiting by the time the punt ever came down. One punt was caught by a coverer (can the cover squad call a fair catch?).
Dockery and Terron Ward got the most looks at punt returners, but it won't matter who is back there if there is no blocking of coverage for them. Ward did muff one punt, resulting in another turnover.
With the offense unable to sustain anything, Coach Mike Riley elected to arbitrarily start some drives on the doorstep to the red zone to see if the team could get a score. Even that didn't work though.
Del Rio returned, and immediately threw an interception, and though he did finally get a completion on the next play, followed by a Ward carry for a first down, that was all that was accomplished on that drive.
A completion for no gain to Kellen Clute was high, which nearly got Clute cut in half, and did get him pile-driven, for the biggest defensive hit of the day, and the red-zone opportunity resulted in no score.
Vander Veen then got a try from the defense's 25, and questionable play calling got a try, as the call on 3rd & 6 was an inside carry that brought up 4th & 2. Rather than take the field goal, for what would have been the first points the offense had actually earned, the decision was to go for it, which ended in Chris Brown being thrown for a loss, and a turnover on downs.
Del Rio got a shot at it from the defensive 40 yard line, and was lucky to avoid another interception, chucking the ball into the middle of the defense under intense pressure.
An illegal substitution penalty led to a 4th and long, and rather than punt, the frustrated decision was to try to go for it, which resulted in another broken up pass.
Vander Veen got the next series, and finally found the end zone, spotting a wide open Jacob Wark for an uncontested walk-in touchdown, above (notice there aren't even any shadows or ghosts joining Wark in the green space), after a major coverage blow by the 3rd string defense, compounded by a mistake by the safety.
There's something to be said for sneaking a tight end out to a location on the sideline where tight ends are rarely found, and for Vander Veen having the field awareness to spot the coverage break down, and the touch to capitalize on the opportunity; after all, no one had done anything close to that productive offensively all day. But for that to yield the first big play, under those circumstances, has to make defensive coordinator Mark Banker feel a lot better than it does offensive coordinator John Garrett.
The defense recovered for a 1-2-3 stop on the next series, but then Vander Veen led a second scoring drive, on his last series of the day, capping it with a nice over the shoulder fade route to Xavier Hawkins, below, which made the defense pay for another blown coverage.
Vander Veen was able to accomplish something other than turnovers with both his arm and his feet, and if today's performance is given any consideration, should have seized the #2 spot, at least for now.
Expect to see Hawkins in the mix this fall even though Bolden should be back soon, and Hawkins has mostly been working as Bolden's backup. But with Mullaney unable to stay healthy, and Hunter Jarmon still out, and Dockery having had a concussion, and no one in the likes of Jordan Villamin, Malik Gilmore, Kendall Hill, or Datrin Guyton (who dropped a sure touchdown pass today) seizing the opportunity to lock up a starting spot, its been Hawkins who is working with the 1s, 2s, 3s, and any other opportunity he has to show up.
The scrimmage concluded with a pair of drives for each of the other 3 quarterbacks, and Kyle Kempt started off with a 1st down completion, and also converted a 4th down, which only became necessary when a receiver, Hill, fell, and that pass was still almost completed, as Kempt still managed to put the ball where Hill had a chance.
But Kempt was unable to convert a 4th down, and Nick Mitchell couldn't get any points out of either of his drives either.
Mitchell did put together a decent drive, but the second delay of game penalty of a 1st and 10 situation of the day, which is quite disconcerting, helped derail his day. Guyton's td drop also cost Mitchell a td toss on his stat sheet.
The last 2 drives of the day went to Marcus McMaryion, and both resulted in touchdowns, though the first one was aided by a bad personal foul call on the defense for actually having multiple defenders drive Tanner Sanders out of bounds after a catch, in a situation that I can only surmise was the officials wanting to work on throwing their flags.
It was certainly nothing Banker, LB coach Trent Bray, nor DB coach Rod Perry are going to criticize their troops for, though we will need to watch what the calls are like in the early portion of the season. If we see flags for plays like that start to fly, the defense will have to be cautioned to not actually play physically, or to the end of the play.
Aided by that call, the drive would go on to a touchdown catch for walk-on freshman WR Drew Kell, the younger brother of just graduated DE Devon Kell.
The scrimmage ended with a pile-pushing touchdown run by promising freshman Ryan Nall, and then a 2 point conversion run by Nall, both of which were classic Nall plays. Nall, who is 6'2" tall, and somewhere north of 240 lbs., earned state player of the year honors, and a 6A State Championship, with similar runs, not particularly speedy, but bruisingly relentless. Nall has already worked his way onto several special teams, and could crop up from time to time in the back field as well.
Oregon St. will scrimmage again
Tuesday (UPDATED) Wednesday at 11 AM.
The team then retired for the afternoon, and the annual slip-n-slide contest.