Oregon State takes on San Jose State, for just the 6th time ever, this evening at Reser Stadium. It's the only Saturday home game this month, and there won't be another for more than a month.
Both the Beavers and Spartans are coming in off of road losses in games that got out of hand in the 4th quarter, after both had opened the season with solid wins over FBS foes not likely to contend for the post-season.
As such, its an important early season opportunity for both teams, and a classic college football September game for Beaver fans.
This game is immensely important for Oregon State and their fans mentally. A good performance puts to rest at least some of the doubts that the predictable miscues that occurred in both of the games so far prompted, and sends the investors in the program home happy. A poor one casts doubt on whether real progress will really be made this season, and gives the people a reason to lose interest, which is a real danger given the fan-unfriendly schedule the first two months of the season.
Worse, it will start to create doubt in the minds of the players who so far haven't had their confidence in the system shaken, the physical beating taken last week in Ann Arbor not withstanding.
One way or the other, today's results will have a carry-over affect.
As such, a home game against an opponent that seems to be the touchdown underdog that the 7.5 point line suggests they are would seem to be just what the doctor, and the schedule maker, ordered.
It's important that the Beavers, especially the offense (because the defense has played well enough, and with more consistency, the first two weeks), takes advantage of the opportunity. Both the rushing game and the passing game have to be run with efficiency early, to get an advantage, but also continue to be successful as the game goes on. Both the first two games had at least a bad half, and now that its no longer a completely new system, and after having had a stern test, that can't continue.
Partially because there is a danger of something similar to what happened last week happening again, with the defense going against a San Jose St. offensive line that has 4 starters above 300 lbs., and a good running back behind them in Tyler Ervin. Oregon State simply can't afford to fall behind and then can't keep the defense off the field with another run of 3 and punts, because that will also take San Jose State's relative weaknesses out of the equation for the defense.
No special teams mistakes, no dropped balls, and no self-destructing on offense. Youth and inexperience are valid issues in development, but some of the mistakes have been basics that can't be blamed on experience (at this level) or athleticism. There was no reason for some of what's happened, and there's certainly no reason to not have them cleaned up by now.
That will make all the difference needed in a game that's not just a must win game for the Beavers, its one where they could wind up winning or losing more than one game today.
Beaver Believer Believes The Keys To Today's Game Will Be:
1. Have long sustained drives. The offense has not been unable to keep drives going, with only one drive over five minutes and a mere three over four minutes long. This out of 24 total drives so far in the early portion of the season. There have been ten drives with three or fewer plays that all ended with a turnover with a punt so far. This has led to a tired Oregon State defense that has held on with execution but cannot hold up forever when being constantly on the field. Of course that requires a run game that consistently wins up front which leads to...
2. Win in the run game. The offensive line looked fine against Weber State, but looked pretty awful against Michigan, primarily when the Beavers were forced to play the game from behind. They were losing individual battles on the line and Collins (plus McMaryion briefly) had no time, and got shellacked in the pocket. The run game got no push either and as the focal point of the offense the big fellas need to win up front in order to set up both pass and run options for the offense. Michigan proved to be stronger from the point of attack and very few gaps were available to the Beaver tailbacks. Even Steven Jackson would have had trouble with the opportunities in that game. OSU needs their veteran offensive line to be a positive for the game.
That really comes down to individual performance though. There were some stunts and deception that helped fool the line, but there were individual battles that were lost as well. Sometimes sports are exceedingly basic. Outplay the guy in front of you and you will probably win. That didn't happen for OSU and it absolutely must with such a young passer at qb.
3. No turnovers. There were claims that Oregon State lost control of the game when the snap to punter Nick Porebski soared over his head to hand the Wolverines a touchdown. I would say that the game changed when Victor Bolden coughed up the ball right after Rommel Mageo had forced and recovered a fumble. With momentum squarely in the Beavers' corner Bolden was called upon to run in between the tackles and fumbled on contact. If OSU can at least muster a field goal out of it Michigan doesn't come away quite so confident and with the momentum to get back in the game.
The margins are slim with this team, there is not enough there to get away with gigantic mistakes like that (or the previously mentioned failed punt). No matter the opponent Oregon State cannot give away freebies, they need to play smart and execute. Again a simple thought, but something that must be done.
San Jose State gave up 428 rushing yards against their previous opponent, Air Force, although some of that came when top linebacker Christian Tago went out (as noted in Andy's Q&A with the Mt. West Connection). That should let the Beavers get the run game going and hopefully build some confidence moving forward. 27-20 Beavs.
ROkay, two games down and what have we learned in terms of what this 2015 Oregon State football team can take into this game against San Jose State to come out with a win?
1. The offense is a work in progress. So far the offense has been able to only really muster two decent quarters over two games. It seems a total no-brainer but the Beavs have to find much much more consistency. This should be a much more favorable match up for the offense, but still one quarter or less of scoring potency might not be enough to cut it against the Spartans. Sure San Jose State is not Michigan, but at the same time they are not a Weber State either. I believe this goes beyond this single game and the team needs to find some rhythm and swagger on offense. This game is the Beavs' last "tune up" before the Pac-12 schedule. Time to find themselves on offense. Time for Collins to step it up a notch as an on the field leader, along with other players helping out with their own leadership (especially those older players who have college level football experience).
2. A key to getting the offense going = balance. This means the running game and the passing game need to find more consistency together. This does not mean only Collins running after he cannot find any open receivers, but the RBs need to have stronger showings. Air Force is a solely running team true, but they rushed for over 400 yards against San Jose State. This balance also means the receiving group needs to expand beyond Jordan Villamin.
3. The defense needs help, from its offense. Being a little crass here I know, but the defense has been solid in both of their games but they cannot do it all (as the Michigan game demonstrated). In this match up the Oregon State defense should have a big advantage, but if they have to be on the field too much even a team like San Jose State will have chances to shift the advantage away from the Beavers. The Spartans may not be a total offensive powerhouse of a program, but they are still coming in with an average of 498.5 total yards over two games. A key to the Air Force victory over San Jose State, and key to keeping the Spartans total yardage down, was a large time of possession advantage (36:05 versus 23:55), and the Beavers need to either replicate a similar ball control performance or need to find a much more explosive scoring style. Neither of which we have seen so far beyond the Collins' strike to Villamin in the Weber State game, but in thinking we will see any chance of this OSU team competing in the Pac this year we will need to see some of both, both ball control and explosive offensive potential.
4. Special teams and overall penalties need to have been washed out and have cleaned up during the last week of practice. Being "young" and inexperienced is only to go so far this season, and again we are fast approaching the point of needing to have these important parts of the Oregon State game worked out with more maturity and experience.
In conclusion there is a lot to work on and a lot to work out in this game. This is a key junction in the season's pathway, for again this is the final game before hitting the conference schedule. It is most likely a winnable game, but also it does have some potential to be a game to be lost too. The really important thing though for me is that this is a game where things can be still a bit rough at times, but as with any season the margin for error is also getting more and more narrow. Can this Oregon State team create a building experience that establishes some sort of 2015, and beyond, Coach Andersen era identity? It may be a rebuilding year, and yes we need to have some patience, but I also believe yet another non-existent offensive performance will only slow down any movement forward to creating a winning program. As such as much as I realize it may be a bit impatient on my part I do believe it is time for this team to show us some much more promising glimpses of the exciting potential I believe this team has in them.