We are now less than a month away from football season as the Beavers kick off at 6 PM Pacific Time on September 1st in Minnesota against the Golden Gophers. We want to take a look at how they match up against every team this year and make a prediction on a win or loss. Here is the preview and prediction for Game 1 against Minnesota
Game 1: @ Minnesota
Two power conference schools meet up at TCF Bank Stadium as Oregon State faces off against Minnesota. Sounds exciting right? Finally Beaver football is back. This is a good first match up to see just where the Beavers are at. However, Minnesota's offense could pose a problem for the Beavers if they are not careful.
Last year, the Golden Gophers finished 6-7 but could have easily finished 9-4 had a couple of plays gone their way against TCU (23-17 loss), Michigan (29-26 loss, one yard away from the winning touchdown), and Iowa (40-35 loss). But the ball didn't bounce their way in those games thus leaving them to finish with the sub .500 record. The ball did bounce their way when it came to bowl season though. Due to a lack of winning teams, too many bowl games, and 5-7 Missouri declining an invite to a bowl game, Minnesota played in the Quick Lane Bowl at Ford Field in Detroit, squeaking out a 21-14 victory over Central Michigan.
Minnesota's offense put up solid numbers last season averaging 358.9 yard of total offense per game, and their leading passer and rusher are both returning this year. Quaterback Mitch Leidner threw for 2701 yards last season on 59.5% completion. Unfortunately for Leidner his favorite target from last year is fighting for a spot on the New York Giants roster. KJ Maye caught 73 passes last year for a total of 773 yards. He averaged 10.6 yards per catch. This should not hurt the Gophers too much though as their next 2 leading receivers were also their 2 leading rushers. Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith ran for a combined 1,379 yards last season and this is definitely the strength of the Gophers offense. Not to mention Leidner is also a mobile quarterback who has the ability to run outside of the pocket, totaling 270 yards rushing on 107 carries last season. This can be very problematic for the Beavers, who as a team only had 53 total tackles for loss last year, with Lavonte Barnett racking up the most with just 4. The Beavers struggled to get into the backfield against anyone last year. An offseason of work should help a little bit with that, but it still poses a problem nonetheless. So how do the Beavers deal with the ground attack from Minnesota?
Last season OSU gave up a lot of long runs up the middle, around 4.5 yards per carry on runs between the tackle, as the defensive line was a glaring weakness, and it doesn't help that any experience they had at that position either graduated or transferred. Minnesota knows this and will likely attack the Beavers with the inside run game as much as they see fit. Oregon State will be very young up front and there is no doubt that will lead to problems at times. If the Beavers can force the ball outside they will have a better chance of stopping the run game. But the two running backs are not all they have to worry about. Guarding Leidner could very well be a match up nightmare for the Beavers if they let him scramble around and either run downfield or buy time until a man gets open. This was a problem when the Beavers played against mobile quarterbacks last year and it is something they need to adjust if they want to beat Minnesota.
As for the other side of the ball the Beavers have a chance to take over against the Golden Gophers if they are as good as advertised in the spring and offseason. We saw glimpses of potential last year and with another year of growth they could be a solid unit. 3 of the 5 leading tacklers for Minnesota graduated and their defense looks like it is going to take a little bit of a step back this year after bringing in just the 51st best recruiting class that consisted of 2 and 3 star guys on the defensive end that do not appear to be impact players, at least not yet. Last season the Gophers gave up just 144.1 yards per game rushing and showed a weakness to power runners, which Oregon State has. Ryan Nall was a pleasant surprise in a rather unpleasant season last year. He emerged as one of the top options in the backfield for the Beavers last season, rushing for 455 yards on just 73 carries. His breakout games were against Stanford where he ran for 3 carries straight up the middle scoring within a matter of seconds, and against Oregon in the Civil War where he rushed for 174 yards. He has the chance to have a huge game against the Gophers with his power and speed in the open field. Passing will be a little harder to come by as Minnesota gave up just 244 yards passing per game last season and is returning all but one of their secondary players, but If Darrell Garretson is as good as advertised, and Jordan Villamin can continue to improve, then the Beavers might be able to put up good numbers on offense against a weakened defense for the Gophers and start off the season strong.
While the offense looked good in spring and will almost surely be better than 19 points per game this year, it is unproven at this point. On paper it looks like it has a lot of potential but it has yet to be seen. The defense is still a big question mark after a bad year last year and unexperienced and very young this year. The Beavers will make it interesting but ultimately come up short. The Gophers win 31-20.
All stats from sports-reference.com