Oregon State is headed into the Big House, and the Big Harbaugh hype, for today's high noon showdown with Michigan, which is breakfast watching (the game on ABC comes on at 9 AM PDT) for those not making the trip to the state of Michigan this weekend.
It's the home opener for the Wolverines, which means its the return of Michigan alum and former quarterback Jim Harbaugh in his new role as coach and program savior.
As a result, the always well over 100 thousand fan crowd (and this will be the 259th consecutive home crowd that will number in the triple digits) at Michigan Stadium will surpass 110,000 thousand, and surpass capacity (standing room only in a state with lax fire marshal enforcements). And if last week's pre and post game hype around Michigan's visit to Salt Lake City is any indication, media coverage of Harbaugh mania will probably exceed 110,000 minutes as well.
Both teams come off of 5-7 seasons that led to coaching changes, and both teams are sporting new quarterbacks this season as well, which should even up the matchup.
Oregon St. got the Gary Andersen era off to a winning start, as the Beavers won their home opener over Weber State of the Big Sky Conference by a 26-7 score, pulling away after holding a 6-0 halftime lead.
Michigan's first attempt at launching the Harbaugh era fell short, with the Wolverines losing at Utah 24-17. The challenge was much higher though, and not just because of the 4,200 foot elevation at Rice-Ecles Stadium; the Utes are 24th ranked after the win last Thursday night.
For the Beavers, this needs to be about the next step ahead in the Andersen/Sitake/Baldwin era and system, not Harbaugh mania. Leave that to the Michigan fans and the national media, and focus on Oregon State's own agenda.
While it took until the second half to get the Oregon State offense rolling at all, the Beaver defense was solid, and more importantly, assignment sound, at least relatively speaking, from the get go against Weber State. It will need to be even moreso this week, though Michigan didn't demonstrate any great ability to run the ball, and doesn't appear to be a threat to get out in space. The best drive Michigan had was their late touchdown drive, which came when they upped the tempo. Fortunately, Coach Sitake now has that video, and should have the Beavers prepared for that.
The 2 best weapons the Wolverines have are WR Amarah Darbo and TE Jake Butt. Oregon State has to disrupt both of these guys, and they have to do it every down. Unless someone else steps out of the shadows, that should be doable. And after watching quarterback Jake Rudock miss multiple open touchdown throws, but not miss Utah DBs with 3 interceptions, I'm not that worried about a guy who also isn't a running threat, and wouldn't start for 90% of the programs in the Pac-12.
The challenge for Oregon State will be scoring enough points given that the Beavers are going to have a very tough time running between the tackles. Seth Collins is going to have to be accurate, so that he can run effectively but sparingly. The Beavers also need Caleb Smith to have a much more effective game, which if he is healthy, should happen.
Oregon State should also ave an edge in special teams, and against a physical team that's hard to run on, getting deep enough to get some field goals from Garrett Owens is again going to be important.
If the Beavers do these all these things, they might just have a chance to spoil Harbaugh mania, and the good news is Andersen and others on his staff not only have experience in this environment, they have winning experience. They know what they are up against, and should be able to get the team ready to deal with it.
Beaver Believer Believes The Keys To The Game Are:
1) Stop the run via closing interior gaps and setting the edge. The defensive line did a pretty good job in Game 1 versus Weber State. Kyle Peko was a plus in the middle and Vakameilalo was alright as well. They are going to be especially important as part of Michigan offensive line that looked fairly intimidating at times against Utah. The run game was limited, but as I was watching, it always felt like the Wolverines were one step away from breaking some bigger runs. Running back De'Veon Smith looked dangerous and again looked like he just needed a little more room which might come against an Oregon State defense that is not as talented as Utah currently. As such the interior linemen need to gum up the line and let the linebackers swarm to the ball and keep Smith and company from busting loose.
The other part of that is to hold the edge for stretch runs. OSU did an alright job against Weber State of holding ground and then shedding the block to string the run out wide. They need to do a great job of that in order to keep Smith from turning the corner on them and allowing him or any other running back room in the open field. If the Beavers play with strong fundamentals they can limit the damage on the ground and force Jake Rudock to make some plays and he was a little shaky last week.
2) Stop Jake Butt and Amara Darboh. Out of the receiving weapons for Michigan, these two were especially dangerous against the Utes. Darboh looks like a burner who beat the Utah secondary a couple of times but was missed on a couple deep tosses. Butt was all over the field and capped his night with a terrific leaping catch with two defensive backs draped all over him. They are good enough players that they are going to make some plays, but the Beavers need to limit their explosive plays, which might be a matter of putting more pressure on the QB Rudock, but coverages need to be prepared to focus on those two.
3) Keep the offense simple and clean. I am fairly unconcerned about Seth Collins' head going into the game. He seems to have a real confidence to him which should not be shaken by the crowd at the big house, but Dave Baldwin needs to keep the plan simple. There needs to be trust in the defense to take up the slack against a front seven that looked dangerous last week. If the Beavers can stay consistent on offense and win the field position battle, they can hold off UM and just take what comes when it is available. My hope is that they can get the run game going enough to get the Wolverines to bring up a safety in the box, and in turn get Jordan Villamin 1-on-1 on the outside and let him win the ball in the air. The opportunities will come if they can stay patient and mistake-free. Some designed qb runs would be good as well with Michigan allowing several runs to Utah qb Travis Wilson.
This might be a game where the Beavers are outmatched, and really it comes down to the defense. The offense will stay raw with a true freshman quarterback and it is tough to envision the run game being much stronger against a Michigan line that performed very well against the Utah run game. If the defense can restrict the Michigan run game and pressure Rudock, it would lead to an advantage in field position, which will be vital to the Beavers grabbing hold of the game. In the end I do think Michigan will win, but it will be much closer than the spread is showing, 26-20 Michigan.
On to the second game of the season and this is a big one on a big stage! If we thought last week was an interesting unveiling of a new era, well it only gets much more interesting on a truly national stage Saturday!
Overall I thought the Beavs last week showed some promising potential, but at the same time I found some of the lack of separation from Weber State pretty frustrating.
What I saw last week and what I hope to see this week:
The play of Seth Collins was impressive at times with his running ability, a couple of those long ball throws, and especially his leadership and fire. At the same time Collins is going to be more tested this Saturday. He is young and has a ton of energy, but he needs now to start to find more patience in the pocket and an eye for the field.I found his rushing to be both exciting and troubling. Exciting in that he showed something we have not seen back there and a true dual-threat QB, but troubling in that he needs to not rely on the run quite as quickly and stay in the pocket to get those more high percentage passes completed.
And more than just the main two, Jordan Villamin and Victor Bolden Jr, need to get involved to make the passing game much more dynamic. He also took way too much punishment, but rethinking always needing to take defenders head-on will come with more experience. Against Michigan I think he has a great opportunity to grow in all facets of his game, for the Wolverines' defense will be better prepared for his rushing potential and this will force him to really think about opening up the field in the passing game. Additionally I am assuming with how he performed last week he will get a good amount more time on the field to gain more experience and confidence.
The rushing game also showed some potential, but I think this is an area that, even with a strong rushing QB, the Beavs need to establish much more. If defenses are allowed to key in on Collins and shut him down with their faster players, the runningbacks will be essential in taking some of that pressure off. Again as noted above the passing game is going to have open up, for if defenses start to stack the box and we have a jumpy QB it will be difficult to get anything going up front.
That said though, I think there is a ton of interesting potential here, for once Collins finds that passing game rhythm and confidence, you are going to have him, Storm Barrs-Woods, and Chris Brown creating a pretty dynamic three-headed attack back there that could keep opposing defenses on their heels. Again Michigan is a great test for those three and their offensive line.
The defense looked great and held Weber State to 0 points on offense, and really the Wildcats last Friday did not even really threaten to score, it was a pretty much lights out Oregon State defensive performance. There will be some good game film from Utah's strong performance last week against Michigan. I don't know if the Beavs canreplicate a total shutdown of the Michigan offense like they did against Weber State, but I think they have the potential to replicate the Utah performance.
In the end I will admit I see this as a pretty big hill to climb for this inexperienced Oregon State squad. Michigan will be playing with a lot of energy and emotion in front of a huge home crowd. Harbaugh and Co. will be pushing for a very strong ushering in of their new era in front of their faithful. I do hope to see Oregon State really push to get some guys, like Collins, better experience and I do think there will be enough good moments to build on for the season (someone doing a Jacquizz Rodgers at Penn State would be a sign of great things to come too).
I just don't know if an upset like this is in the making quite yet in the Andersen era. But Weber State came in and played the Beavs tough for three quarters as we were ushering in our own new era. It is not the same deal I know, but if the Beavers can play a similar tough and confident game, they do have more depth than a Weber State to possibly keep things interesting for a full game. And I tell you what if the Beavers can do that it will not possibly keep things in a winnable category, it will also go a long ways to building a strong new program into the 2015 season and beyond.