Key offensive player
The Offensive Line. Darell Garretson might be some people’s answer here, but he is a proven commodity that has previously succeeded in collegiate action and has already shown to be a step up from the passers from last season. Meanwhile, Oregon State will be starting two newcomers on the offensive line after it became ‘pretty official’ that Sean Harlow was going to redshirt in 2016. Add in that one of the newcomers, sophomore Yanni Demogerontas, is replacing former center and anchor, Josh Mitchell, and it becomes clear that the offensive line must gel quickly in order for this team to be successful. Minnesota is not known for having a formidable defensive line (other than maybe tackle Steven Richardson) but some bad snaps can quickly turn a road game for a young team.
Key defensive player
Senior linebacker Caleb Saulo. A young defense needs a leader to step up and make plays. Opening game, on the road, against a Big Ten opponent...Saulo must lead the way. Sure, the defensive line needs to create pressure and create turnovers—Oregon State’s 12 turnovers over the course of last season DOES NOT cut it—however, Minnesota doesn’t have a particularly explosive offense. Top returning rusher and home run threat Shannon Brooks is out and though Senior quarterback Mitch Leidner may be a NFL prospect, he isn’t known for being particularly accurate (59.5% completion percentage last season). The Beaver D needs to consistently be in the correct spots and make plays, and it all starts with Saulo.
New to view
Seth Collins. Oregon State fans caught a glimpse of Collins in a non-QB role during last years’ Civil War and thus he isn’t entirely “new to view.” However, Collins now has a new number (22) as well as additional time to adjust to his new role. Expectations are high for Collins in his new “slash” role and maybe too high? Regardless, Collins is an exciting athlete and I expect he will get around 10 touches in a variety of ways that highlight his explosiveness. And there is just something about Collins’ enthusiasm for the game that makes you want to watch him.
Three Keys to the Game:
- Consistently stop the run: Minnesota has a new offensive coordinator, but rumor has it that the Golden Gophers will favor run plays 60/40. Rodney Smith will start in place of the injured Brooks and is no slouch. Last season, Smith started seven games and rushed for 670 yards on 157 carries (4.3 yards per carry average). In order to neutralize Smith, who is described as a patient runner, Oregon State will need to play disciplined, attacking defense. If the Beavers D can hold Minnesota to under 3.5 yards per carry, it will test new Gopher offensive coordinator, Jay Johnson, who is known for his offenses trying to keep the chains moving and chipping away yards in small chunks.
- Attack the QB: Last season, Oregon state was 106th in college football in sacks. At no point, outside of maybe Weber State, did opposing teams fear the Beaver pass rush. That must change under new defensive coordinator Kevin Clune. Minnesota QB Leidner is a senior veteran, but has had an up-and-down career by most accounts. Constant pressure on Leidner will only increase his likelihood to miss and force throws or lose hold of the football. Don’t get me wrong, Leidner is a solid QB with an NFL frame (and the ability to tuck the football and run), but if the game is put solely on his grass —stained shoulder pads — think 3+ sacks and some hurries— I think the Beavers have a chance.
- Sustaining and finishing drives: The Beaver offense did not do either very well for most of 2015. Of major concern was the number of three-and-outs. On those occasions last season that the defense forced a stop, it seemed like a matter of seconds before they were called to return to the field after a failed offensive series. Not only did that take its toll via fatigue, but also morale. Garretson needs to play well and consistently hit short and mid-range throws in order for this to happen. Also necessary is a good dose of ‘Wrecking Nall’ to the tune of 120+ yards.
Prediction: Minnesota 30, OSU 24
On the road against a solid team, OSU will show improvement from last season on both sides of the ball but especially on offense. Just a few too many mistakes from a young Beaver team will result in the post-game consensus that we are close to arriving but not there yet.
I hope I’m proved wrong.