Oregon St. is back in action after a week off, and as is so often the case, its a night game.
It's also a rematch of one of last year's most exciting games, one in which Sean Mannion threw for 3 touchdowns, but the Beavers didn't put the game away until Steven Nelson's pick-6 with 2 1/2 minutes left (which earned him the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week award) capped a 20 point 4th quarter, and then Ryan Murphy sealed the 34-30 comeback win with another interception of San Diego St. quarterback Quinn Kaehler, who was making his first collegiate start. It's still 1 of only 3 games in which Kaehler has suffered multiple interceptions.
And it's a black-out game! The Beavers will be in black, and if you haven't grabbed your hoody for tonight, get the black one on the way out the door.
This game will give us a good feel for how far the ever in flux offensive line progressed during the bye week. The San Diego offense had its share of trouble with the Oregon St. defense, which sacked him 5 times as well as snagging the 2 picks last year, and this is largely the same bunch of guys, with more experience though, and most of the changes have been an upgrade.
I'd expect Kaehler and the Aztecs to be a challenge (Kaehler is good, and has thrown for over 200 yards 14 games in a row, the 3rd longest such streak in the country, and just 1 game behind Mannion's streak of 15 such performances), but ultimately find themselves overmatched a bit by the Beavers, especially since San Diego St. will be without their #2 receiver, Ezell Ruffin, who had 6 catches for 119 yards in the first 2 games of the season, but broke his collarbone during the North Carolina contest, and could be out for as much as two months.
The San Diego St. defense against the Oregon St. offense is a more uncertain situation though, due totally to the inconsistency and inexperience of the offensive line.
I don't see the Aztecs on the back end being able to stand up to Mannion, but its up to the o-line to protect Mannion long enough for him to be able to slice up the San Diego St. secondary.
It looks like it will be Roman Sapolu instead of Garrett Weinrich at LG, and though Sean Harlow was back practicing this week after essentially getting the bye week off to rest his back, I saw a lot of Dustin Stanton in the drills I was able to watch, and expect to see some rotation of them on the right side of the line.
As Coach Mike Riley noted, San Diego St. head coach Rocky Long is going to be "bringing blitzes out of the bleachers", and its going to be critical that the o-line make the right reads and pickups. Preferably without too much help from the tight ends, as one of the best ways to slow down some of that blitz action will be to find Connor Hamlett and Caleb Smith abusing safeties left in 1 on 1 coverage.
Injuries may force the Aztecs out of Long's preferred 3-3-5 alignment into some 4-2-5 looks, but that may actually work to San Diego St.'s advantage, giving Oregon St.'s relatively inexperienced o-line that much more to be concerned with.
Another option are the short passes, both screens and swing routes, as well as back-side passes against the initial flow, to the running backs, and that too means Storm Woods and Terron Ward can't be too heavily involved in blocking.
To get out of Reser with a win, the Beavers will have to get a lot of blocking from Hamlett, Smith, Woods, and Ward, but the trick will be to mix up which ones are doing the blocking, and make sure some of them are available to Mannion whenever Victor Bolden and Richard Mullaney don't have the time to work their way open or deep.
If Oregon St. is successful at that, Beaver fans (and Aztec defenders) should see the first "monster" game of the season from Sean.
Beaver Believer Believes The Keys To The Game Are:
1. Get interceptions. Quinn Koehler has thrown four picks so far this season, and with Steven "Ball Hawk" Nelson in the secondary even more opportunities should present themselves. Against UNC he only had a 59% completion percentage, and the Beavers should be able to take advantage of his misthrows.
2. Stop the run. The Aztec rushing attack is fairly potent, averaging 5.0 yards per carry and 181 rushing yards per game. The Beaver defense played well through three quarters against Hawaii and Iosefa, and they should be able to hold up again. If the defensive front holds up there will be more opportunities for the secondary to create turnovers as well.
3. Win in the trenches. The Beaver offense still struggles in short yardage situations, they can march up and down the field, but they have trouble when they need to fight for one yard. Oregon State needs to be able to beat their man in one on one matchup in order to actually succeed in those scenarios. If they can win in those third and short situations it will keep more drives alive and create a lot more success in the end zone.
The Beavers should win this, maybe not handily, but they should always be in control. The Aztecs will absolutely put up a good fight, but the Beaver defense should hold up acceptably against the San Diego State attack. 31-21 Beavers.
The Aztecs pose the biggest threat to Oregon State so far this year, but I think that says more about the Beavers' first two opponents rather than San Diego State. Their defense couldn't stop Mannion last year, and though they stopped the run there's no guarantee they replicate that against the improved Oregon State O-Line.
The Aztec 3-3-5 might confuse Mannion at times, though he has seen it before, but not often enough to keep the offense down completely, especially considering Terron Ward, Storm Woods, and the suddenly run-blocking competent O-Line should help keep them honest. The variety of pass-catchers are a tough cover, even for 5 DB's.
Oregon State's defense will need to play a complete game to keep the Aztecs down, but yet again I think they're capable. Quinn Kaehler has shown a tendency to turn the ball over, and if the Beavs can stop the run early and often enough to force the Aztecs into passing downs they should be successful. I'm looking for some part of the defense to step up and distinguish themselves from the rest of the unit, and give them an identity. As of now, everybody has been playing pretty well, but nobody great, and the Beavs would really benefit from having something on defense to really lean on when things start to go downhill.
I doubt Oregon State wins by more than 16, but I do see them winning somewhat comfortably and impressively, getting themselves ready first big matchup of the year that's coming next week at USC.
Wow, it has been a long couple of weeks! The bye sure feels longer to me with it being so early in the season, and as such almost feels like a "second" start to the season. Because of this feeling of a possible "new" start, I am not sure I really have any specific questions to address, but here are my more overarching thoughts for this game against San Diego State:
First thought is all about how mentally ready is the team going to be, and how rested and healthy will they be? Both areas should have benefited greatly from the bye week. Plus I just feel overall that this team can play with about anyone IF (underline, bold, and highlight "if" here) they are playing at the "smart" level we saw them performing at in the first two and a half quarters against the Warriors a couple weeks ago. Although if they don't then they will not be able to "sneak" out Ws as the competition is only getting better as they move forward this season.
Second thought is about that the Beavs playing what looks to be a much tougher opponent in San Diego State. The Aztecs were a VERY tough win last season, played the ranked North Carolina team tough in their last game, and are also coming off a bye week. With all these factors in play one has to assume it will be again a tough match up overall for the Beavs.
That said, with the Beavs coming out of the bye, and playing at home, I do have some confidence they can catch some of that first half spark we saw against the Warriors. I think too that this time they can keep things clicking for a much more complete game. How both Sand Diego State and Oregon State have played so far, it looks as if the OSU defense matches up well against the San Diego State offense. The OSU offense may well have some challenges against a pretty good SDSU defense, but at the same time I do like what we are seeing from Victor Bolden, Storm Woods, and Terron Ward. Throw in Sean Mannion, who I believe on paper is a bit underachieving only because of the lack of game legs under the offense all together. It seems like there is the potential for a nice 2014 full game breakout for Sean and the offense.
In conclusion there is just no way to get around it, and this OSU team has played some poor football at times in the first two games, but I do feel like there is some very interesting potential with this team that has not fully bloomed yet. Heck they still are 2 and 0 this season and mental miscues can be overcome. This game is an important one against a good opponent, which hopefully will all translate into a momentum building game going into the big time showdown against USC. Should be a good game, and overall I am just am plain excited to have OSU football back on the field!