Oregon State has traveled to Salt Lake City, where the Beavers will celebrate Halloween with the Utes in Rice-Eccles. Utah is planning a blackout for the occasion; the question for Beaver fans and their team is whether the Oregon State offense will be blacked out as well.
The Beaver defense has rebounded from the disastrous first half in Pullman 2 weeks ago, with 6 solid quarters, but the offense has continued to put points on the board. This was especially concerning after they only managed 13 points against Colorado, despite rushing for over 200 yards, and being almost perfectly balanced, yardage wise, between the pass and the run.
These were the magic numbers everyone wanted, because everyone has thought that the absence of such numbers was the real reason why the Beavers have't been able to beat very many teams the last couple of dozen games. Especially when coupled with a defense that turned in 3 3 and outs in the 4th quarter when the game was on the line last week; which was all anyone would have dared ask of even the conference's elite defenses.
And then, starting quarterback Seth Collins injured his knee in stretching and warm-ups at the beginning of practice Thursday. Badly enough that he didn't make the trip. He'll be watching Nick Mitchell direct the offense from at home in Corvallis while resting that knee.
So what now?
I'm thinking its time to enjoy some more quality Pac-12 football, even if more of it is provided by quality opponents than by our Beavers. It MAY be all we have, especially with the rash of recent injuries, which not coincidentally coincided with the latest run of inconsistency on the field, where the Beavers have struggled to follow up on any given good play or series with more of the same.
But will the players take this approach too?
It's certainly a possibility, given the challenge at hand. With all due respect to the Big Bad Bruins, the Bear Raid, the Purple Reign, and the Quack Attack, this week's Halloween encounter with the highly motivated Utes (getting blasted by the Trojans will do that), and the Halloween-happy Muss in full Blackout mode, could well be the toughest opponent the Beavers take on.
Indeed, the Beavers could play markedly better in each of these last 5 games than they have at any time since at least last year against Arizona State AND STILL LOSE ALL 5 GAMES. That's the reality of the depth of talent in the Pac-12.
Or will the young, and in some cases, not so young, Beavers buck up and play up to the level of their opponents? Teams get criticized for playing down to their opponents, but one of the measures of a solid, and maturing, team, is their ability to rise to the level the occasion calls for.
Oregon State's schemes generally have been up to the job, if the execution is there; its been when there have been mistakes, on the field or the sideline, sometimes only at a position or two, that has brought the house of cards tumbling down, often abruptly.
At the same time, the Oregon State-Utah rivalry has been one of the best in the west in recent years. There was the near spoiling of the Ute's last unbeaten season, which was their last run to a then BCS/now New Year's 6 bowl. 2 years ago, there was Sean Mannion finding Brandon Cooks, and clearing a Utah defender's fingertips by a fraction of an inch, just about the time the clock struck mid-night. Last year, it took 2 overtimes before Devontae Booker's game winning touchdown run capped his career best effort.
None of those games was supposed to be that competitive.
This time, the line started at 23 1/2 points, and shot up to 27 after Collins' injury. If the Beavers lose by 3 touchdowns, it will be considered exceeding expectations. This would be an encouraging time for some of those Beavers to do that. Another sizable dose of "Nall Ball" by Ryan Nall actually seems likely. Perhaps Nick Mitchell can complete at least as many passes as he doesn't. Maybe someone in the secondary picks off Travis Wilson. Or maybe, all of these things happen.
At this point in a season that seems destined for a 4th bowl season on the couch in 6 years, after the Beavers had only 2 such holiday seasons in the prior 11, its time for individuals to take personal ownership of their part of the game. If they show up on Halloween disguised as a big time football team, perhaps they can prove that a return to winning football can come as soon as next year, because it will begin this year, even if the wins don't.
Beaver Believer Believes:
Oregon State is overmatched against a team that is better in both talent and execution. They are going to need a lot of fortuitous bounces to go their way if they want to stay in the game, let alone win it. They need to take advantage of any mistakes by Utah not like last week when the Beavers let a great chance for on a deflected pick drop right through their fingers. Opportunities like that must be converted and many more will need to be created.
This would require a drastic improvement upfront however, with the Beavers lacking any kind of pressure up front they cannot force Utah QB Travis Wilson into as many mistakes as he made against the Trojans last week. Add in a dinged-up secondary and things look pretty bleak on that side of the ball.
Kalani SItake would be the only real hope that the Beavers can slow Utah, as their defensive coordinator last year it may give some interesting perspective on how to stop the Utes. His gameplan will certainly call to stop star running back Devontae Booker, but with teams have shredded OSU on the ground as of late they may not be much more than a turnstile.
Offensively things don't look much better as OSU struggled against a poor defense in Colorado and this matchup brings one of the more physically and technically sound defenses in the Pac-12 into the picture. With Collins out the offense is already down a major weapon on a team that was already struggling to find any scoring.
Add in that Utah has some of the best specialists in college football and it is clear that OSU is far behind in all three phases. This is going to be a borderline tragic game, the real point in watching will be to hopefully see the Beavers continue to develop and to see if they can keep playing hard even when things are strongly in favor of the opponent.
Utah will be one of the toughest matchups the Beavers will face this season and it will be nearly impossible to compete with the current horses in the stable. 48-10 Utah.
As last week indicated, I was not impressed with the loss to Colorado. I know I am not practicing what I have previously preached about patience, but honestly I feel patience is a bit thin right now for this season. In my opinion that was not a good football game, and even worse the Beavs lost. Now we are moving on to a game I have not felt for awhile there is much of a chance for an Oregon State victory. Funny enough, I thought that there might have been a slight chance to sneak up on a tight Utah football team, a Utes team trying to keep their Playoff placement and undefeated record intact, but now I think that opportunity has drifted away thanks to USC. I think this is going to be a pissed off Utah team and one that wants to send a strong message they are not out of the Playoffs picture quite yet. What does this mean for Oregon State?
First, it means we won't see two QBs again, but maybe this time Nick Mitchell will be able to step up his game. Against Colorado I thought Mitchell had a tighter ball when he threw it, and seemed to have more of that pure passer ability we have been missing with Seth Collins. But in the end, he also ended up misreading routes badly, and throwing dangerous balls behind his receivers. I also don't know if this two QB deal was doing Collins any favors for his confidence, for he seemed to lack his normal spark.
In the end, I think this situation looks to be one where this type of game will be another try-out for a true starting position. Utah's defense is a bit more vulnerable through the air, which actually stat-wise the Utes are in the bottom half of the Pac-12, so will there be any openings here?
Second, the running game is going to be much more tested in this game. Ryan Nall did nicely against Colorado, but how far can his type of straight up running style go against a very good rush defense, by far the best rush defense in the conference. Honestly I believe, as noted above, if there is any chance for a Beavers win it will come through the passing game.
Third, as much as there might be some Utes weakness in the pass defense side of things, their overall defense is just too well coached and too good this season for a struggling OSU offense to have many opportunities, so miscues will have to cut down drastically if the Beavs want to compete.
Fourth, USC showed that the Utah offense is not above making their own hugely important miscues. The issue of course here is that Oregon State is not USC. But still if the Beavs can find some sort of spark, and some turnovers, on defense, then this could well be the best match up for Oregon State. Utah's passing game is ranked #11 in the conference (above OSU's #12 placement here), and surprising stat-wise their rushing attack is in the middle of the Pac. Of course Utah is fielding a seasoned and athletic player named Devontae Booker, who can be a difference maker. Oregon State's defense needs to contain Booker and make the Utes win by passing the ball, which of course means that for this to work the OSU secondary and pass rush needs to show a big improvement.
Lastly, in the end do I think this is a winnable game? No, but I would love to come out of this much more impressed by the Oregon State performance on both sides of the ball than I saw last weekend. The season may well be a bust overall this year, but at the same time there is still football to play. I still firmly and personally believe for this program to flourish under Coach Andersen that he, his coaching staff, and his players cannot make this into a TOTAL bust of a season. Yes I know most of these players are not his recruits and he inherited them, but there has to be something to build on this year. Playing with some spark and showing some competitiveness against a very good Utah team will go in a nice positive direction even if the results on the schedule come out as a loss.