It was a rough weekend in the state of Michigan, for both Oregon State and Oregon, who both lost as road dogs. Being road underdogs, the losses shouldn't constitute too rough a weekend, and neither loss materially change the big picture from what was expected. But whether it's a loss that turned into a blowout for the Beavers, or a win over a ranked opponent that slipped inches out of reach of Brandon Marshall, and the rest of the Duck, the circumstances that made both defeats painful made the roughness feel rougher. Vernon Adams' broken index finger on his non-throwing hand doubtless hurt a lot more on the flight home than it would have had what should have been the game winning touchdown throw actually been the game winning touchdown throw.
For Oregon State, the understory started sooner, when Storm Barrs-Woods didn't play in the first half, only to make the Beavers' best (and only good) play of the second half, on the first of his only 3 carries of the contest.
It became a higher profile event for Oregon State head coach Gary Andersen than he surely anticipated, though both he and Oregon State fans and some members of the media should have seen it coming.
That Chris Brown got the start wasn't necessarily a surprise, or out of line with the pattern of limited looks Woods has had in the various pre-season scrimmages foretold to those paying attention. Brown even had a good first run, further validating the game time decision about who to start.
But when Woods didn't get into the running back rotation as the first half went on, the obvious question of why arose, especially since Woods was in uniform, and prominently present on the sideline.
The first word was it was a case of "coaches' decision", but it was a little more than that. Problem was, no one found out until yesterday what the real story was, when Andersen, who didn't give even simple answers to simple questions about the situation post-game, explained in his weekly press conference that Woods had told the coaches he wasn't feeling right pregame. By the time halftime was over, he felt better, hence his appearance to start the second half.
"We expected him to go out there and play in that whole game, but we are going to listen to our players," Andersen said. "When a young man has any concern in any way, shape or form about his ability to go out there and perform at a high level, I credit a kid for saying that. I don't look at a kid and say, 'Why would you do that; you have to go play.' That's not just us. Then it gets flipped around to, 'Was he this, was he that?' No, he wasn't."
"We wanted him to carry the ball 20, 30 times in that game. The second half, it was clear Storm was excited to play. He said, 'Coach, I feel a lot better, I'm good to go.' We put him in the game and gave him some opportunities, but he was still getting himself back."
"I want to get Storm in a game when he's 100 percent. We need him, but I want him healthy."
The problem was Andersen didn't say that until asked again on Monday. On Saturday, all Andersen said was:
"Storm just wasn't ready."
"Not physically ready?" was the follow-up.
"We don't talk about it," Andersen said tersely. "We've said that a million times. We don't talk about that stuff, right? He'll be ready to go when Storm feels he's ready to play."
And he never did really explained that what didn't feel right was Woods' knee.
(The depth chart for this week's San Jose State game, by the way, reads "Chris Brown OR Storm Barrs-Woods", not the reversal of order that was the case last week.)
The fact that none of the players were made available to the media post-game after one of the highest profile games of the season, and certainly the first one, compounded the problem.
One of the qualities that Andersen and his staff has exhibited is a willingness to talk frankly, and take responsibility for situations. At least once you can get them to talk about situations.
But timely transparency has been a problem for the new coach, and the first time he had some real explaining to do in the wake of a rough day, it was handled roughly to say the least.
Oregon State's continued silly push to "hurry home" from road games, a budget corner cutting tendency left over from the Bob DeCarolis era, was the reason no players spoke to anyone, not any attempt to cloak anything. But in an era where it's all about positive spin that translates to the barest bones of post-game acknowledgement of inconvenient facts, it amounted to another self-inflicted wound on a day when the Wolverines had already inflicted plenty of wounds.
Andersen also is clearly still getting up to speed with the curious way the media covers the Beavers. He gets a constant dose of exposure on a day to day basis to very young and inexperienced beat reporters from the state's largest paper, and the only one outside of Corvallis which covers the team on a regular basis, ones who don't tend to ask hard questions. And the local paper doesn't even have a dedicated beat reporter that focuses on the team, or a realization that soccer and volleyball are NOT equally relevant as Division I football.
Following Saturday, he then got an introduction to the harder hitting long distance media that never makes the drive down from Portland other than on game day. And I'm not just talking about to his first negative experience with John Canzano, and his periodic pieces crafted just to evoke controversy, a problem his predecessor Mike Riley never figured out how to control.
In fairness, getting ripped by Kerry Eggers was something that was bound to happen, as Andersen came to town not knowing Eggers from anyone else 2 hours drive away from campus. And Andersen was and is never going to be the same source for Eggers that his high school buddy Riley is, known for saying one thing to everyone else, and then telling Eggers something completely contradictory a day or two later.
That Dwight Jaynes and Ken Goe piled on to the fumble only further set the stage for the negative press that University Marketing so fears when the next rough day comes the Beavers' way (and there will be more of them, many more of them).
It's high profile moments like this that set the tone for whether the program will be given the benefit of the doubt, or cast into a questioning light, going forward, with obvious financial ramifications in this era of institutional arms races.
And it's also not all that surprising that this black eye in the media that has been brewing since the closing of practices began.
Some have said that an experienced head coach should know better, but consider where that experience came from. First under Kyle Whittingham at Utah, another respected and plain speaking coach who used the exact same "We don't talk about.." line in ducking questions about the recovery progress of Ute quarterback Travis Wilson and all-conference defensive end Hunter Dimick, both of whom were nicked up against Utah State, and then at that very Utah State program that is even further down the pecking order in the Salt Valley than Oregon State is in the Willamette Valley.
Why attempting to ignore the obvious seems to some of these coaches to be a good idea continues to escape me.
And then at Wisconsin, which is as high a profile program as any of those from back east that, as Saturday showed, are in another league than the Pac-12 in more ways than one. But consider that as the Badger head man, Andersen worked with an Athletic Director in former coach Barry Alvarez that routinely says more in any given week than DeCarolis and his successor Todd Stansbury have said publically in their combined careers. And Andersen didn't encounter much that merited much questioning in West Allis, at least until the blowout loss to eventual National Champion Ohio State in last year's B1G Championship game, which had to make accepting Oregon State's employment offer much easier.
But it could have all been avoided had Andersen simply been as open at the moment news was breaking as he was 2 days later.
Defensive Coordinator Kalani Sitake reiterated what Andersen had said, that the players played hard, with no quit, but commented that he was disappointed in execution.
Sitake said "I need to do a better job of making sure they can make better decisions."
It seemed to be as good an assessment of what happened Saturday as any I've heard.
Let's hope that Andersen, who really does appear to be the person to assemble and lead the staff that will usher the Oregon State program into the next era, can learn as much from this opportunity as he and his coaches hope to help their players learn from.