It's time to kickoff another college football season at Oregon St., and the Beavers are doing so against an FCS Big Sky foe for the 3rd time in 4 years. Hopefully, the third time will be the charm, after an overtime loss to Sacramento St., and then a 49-46 upset loss to Eastern Washington last year.
And hopefully, today will see an outcome more like the last time Portland St. visited Corvallis. The Beavers prevailed 34-7 that day, behind a 103 yard, 3 touchdown performance by Jacquizz Rodgers.
This year, while the Beavers hope for a rushing performance more like that, Oregon St.'s best weapon is the right arm of quarterback Sean Mannion, who rewrote the single season school passing record book last year, and has set out to do the same to the career records in Corvallis and the Pac-12 this year.
Oregon St. coaches have reiterated that they hope to have better run balance this year, and intend to work on achieving it, but Portland St. was last in the Big Sky against the pass last season, and the Beavers have Mannion. So at least initially, it would make sense for Oregon St. to try to pass to set up the run, and also to open up a comfortable lead.
If they are able to do so, which also means the defense is somewhere near as good as appearances from preseason camp and not totally unreasonable expectations of 7 senior starters suggest, then I'd expect Oregon St. to probably keep the starters in longer than they might otherwise, at least on offense, using much of the second half to get the re-tooled offensive line reps to work on timing and run blocking, and actually work back to better pass/run balance.
I don't think the Beaver defense will be caught off-guard as badly as they were against Sacramento St., and especially Eastern Washington, just because of memories of those disasters, and being regularly reminded of them.
I do want to see if that translates to a good defensive performance, though. It certainly didn't last year.
Coach Banker took the blame for trying to install a defense that not only involved a lot of movement, but also required a lot of reads, and a lot of communications, and resulted in one that was way to complex for the team to digest. The result was a lot of missed assignments, a lot of over-rotations, and a lot of people out of position, which allowed a lot of plays to become big and bigger plays.
But something I brought up at the time (and in hindsight should have called out more than I did), and no one else really covered, was that Oregon St. spent a lot of time preparing for things Eastern Washington never ran, and at least when I was watching, I didn't see any work on several things the Eagles did do,
That tells me that game preparation and planning was done with if not bad, at least out of date intel, and that will result in a lot of the same symptoms.
Openers are always the hardest games to get ready for, regardless of the level of opponent (within reason), because if the opponent has made any substantive changes to scheme, system, or personnel type, you not only have no idea what you are going up against, you are also preparing for something that doesn't exist anywhere on video yet.
Last year, it seemed to me Oregon St. defensively prepared for the Eastern Washington team that almost upset Washington, and the Eagles were a very different team when they rolled out at Reser.
Oregon St. has historically had more than a little trouble with pistol-style offenses, which the Vikings run, as well, and I'll be curious to see what Portland St. does that appears to catch the Beaver defense off guard in one way or another. I'd expect PSU to pick on Larry Scott in his first start, and if OSU has to rotate to help him, then perhaps hit the Beavers with shovel passes, aka BYU.
I also took note of a comment from a staff member that noted "We've been getting ready for the season, while they've been getting ready for us. There's a big difference."
That's true, there is a big difference, one that hasn't been well handled by the Beavers in any recent opener other than against Wisconsin, and in that case, the opponent had not expressly prepared for Oregon St., and was not even an opening weekend game.
The Cougars have already "Couged" it on opening weekend, and the Beaves absolutely can not afford to "Beave It" (a synonym for "Coug It") as they did 5 times last season alone, including in the opener.
This is a game most are predicting Oregon St. to win fairly handily, but it is really a game the Beavers need to use to get sharp (there's sure to be some distractions next week in Hawaii) in all areas.
Beaver Believer believes the Keys to the Game Are:
1. Stop the run. Part of the primary problems with OSU last year was that they could never stop opposing teams from imposing their wills. With the defensive tackle position being fortified this year, they need to see if they can hold up against an offensive line that is not patchwork.
2. Tackle on first contact. The coaches took a lot of flack last season for the schemes failing to adjust to the times, and the players put the blame on them selves. They were not completely wrong. One of the worst things the Beavs did was fail to wrap up and let the opposition bounce right off of them. The fundamentals need to improve this season if the record is to improve.
3. Run the ball. There is a theme to this, the Beavers need to get back to basics, and running the ball is as basic as it gets. There were several cases where OSU failed to just smash the ball through in short yardage. Riley's offense has always worked best when there is an even split, and the Beavers need to get back to that this year, even without Isaac Seumalo.
Oregon State still has a lot to prove, but the defense has looked good in camp. They can hopefully hold off a Portland State team that took it to Cal last year and have a chip on their shoulder with many of them being passed over by the Beavs out of high school. It will be closer than one would hope, but I have the Beavs prevailing 34-21.
Here we are again, staring down another season...and another season opener against an FCS "cupcake." In the past, the Beavs have had some problems with razor blades being baked into their cupcakes, but there's really no way the Vikings knock off the Beavers this Saturday. The Beavers have the playmakers on offense and defense, as well as the depth and experience, to cruise past a much inferior opponent. That was probably true last year as well, but lightning can't possibly strike again...hopefully.
It all begins anew! I think I say this every year, but where did the summer go! As we line up for another Pac-12 football season I will have to say my overall emotions are pretty under-the-radar for the Oregon State season right now. But reviewing the schedule for the Beavs this year does look to be pretty interesting in terms of a mix of games, and possible scenarios for the Beavers. There is the playing of two non-conference home games with a visit to Hawai'i sandwiched in between. Then the conference season gets going quickly with OSU visiting to SC in a huge first conference game that is followed by a game against Colorado. Throw in an interesting home stand against Cal and WSU that is then followed by games against pre-season ranked teams ASU, UW, and UO, and we do sure look to have the makings for a tense and fun football season.
But it all starts this week against the Portland State Vikings! Though some of my initial excitement may be tempered by what happened to open the season last year, I do also think this has the makings of a more routine tune-up game for the Beavs, but did I mention what happened last season?
Beyond the question of has the OSU football program learned not to take these type of games for total granted, here are some other intriguing opening weekend questions for me:
1. Where is Mannion's game? Will he pick up and improve on his previous stellar season?
2. In addressing the question about Mannion, which again one would think the answer would be that his individual skills will be even better this year, where is the receiving game after the loss of Brandin Cooks? Will we see quite yet who the potential new star will be within the receiver (TEs?) side of the offense?
3. Where is the running game? One has to think with some experienced guys back there that we should see more production from the rushing game, but has this part of the game improved? Is this even a good game to properly gauge this aspect of the OSU offense?
4. Where is the offensive line? A seemingly ongoing OSU football question!
5. Is this game going to be close at all? Will we be treated to another head-scratching opening performance by the Beavs or will this be a standard one half we see the starters and the rest of the game is time to test out possible new guys on both sides of the ball?
6. What type of PSU team are we going to see? The Vikings seem like a team to play every other year at either above .500 or vastly below, so are which one is it this year after a .500 year last season? Will they be fired up coming into Reser enough to make a game of it?
All in all I have many more questions, but these are good for me now. I feel the OSU defense will be solid for this opener (and overall not sure I have any "burning" questions for the defense quite yet), and the offense should be able to out-skill the Vikings to control the game well enough. But at the same time I just am not sure what to totally expect for my expectations have been shattered in OSU football openers in both bad (2013) and good (2012) ways! I guess all to really say right now is welcome to Beaver football 2014, which hopefully translates into 2014-15 Oregon State football!