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Oregon State Football: Has The Defense Actually Improved?

Absolutely but there’s still plenty of improvement to go

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 11 Hawaii at Oregon State Photo by Brian Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Despite a comfortable 18-point win over Hawaii, it seemed like a few defensive struggles started rearing their ugly head again. Hawaii converted a majority of their 3rd down conversions (9-of-16). Here’s the real gut-punch though, all nine of those conversions were from 7-yards or longer. OUCH! Despite the 3rd down struggles Oregon State absolutely has improved defensively. In fact they might just have their best defensive unit since 2012. That was the last season Oregon State held their opponents to under 30 points per game.

Let’s dig into the numbers, in the previous four seasons Oregon State opponents have averaged the following (2017-2020):

  • 39.2 Points Per Game
  • 227 Rush Yards Per Game
  • 251 Pass Yards Per Game
  • 478 Total Yards Per Game

Through two games in 2021 here’s where the defense stands:

  • 28.5 PPG
  • 88 Rushing
  • 339.5 Passing
  • 427.5 Total Yards

Obviously a two game stretch is a tiny sample size. Purdue and Hawaii both rely heavily on their passing game and almost ignore their run games completely. Once Oregon State gets into the Pac-12 portion of their schedule teams like Utah, ASU and Oregon are going to focus their game plans on establishing the run. But the defense this season just feels different.

Despite their first two opponents deciding to mostly pass the ball, I don’t think this is a defense that is going to consistently give up 200+ rushing yards each weekend. There are still big questions on the defensive line, but Avery Roberts and Omar Speights are gobbling up running backs in the middle of the field. Combined those two have 39 tackles through the first two games. Rezjohn Wright looks the part of a shut down cornerback. Captains Jaydon Grant and Andrzej Hughes-Murray have also had big moments. Not to mention guys like: Riley Sharp, Alton Julian, Alex Austin & Kitan Oladapo have all really stepped up.

The ultimate goal for this season is to win six games and get to a bowl game. Assuming Oregon State handles business this weekend at home vs Idaho, they will need to pick up four wins in Pac-12 play. According to ESPN’s FPI, the Beavers are only favored in one Pac-12 game (vs WSU); but they have decent odds in every game besides road games at USC/Oregon.

If Oregon State can clean up a few things defensively this could be the season the Beavs go bowling again. Winning 40% of their Pac-12 games won’t be easy (especially since they aren’t playing a down Arizona team), but I think they can do it. Opposing teams won’t be able to run up and down the field against a soft front-seven. This defensive unit will mostly be able to stop the run and they will make opposing quarterbacks make some big plays in order to beat them. Nothing is more demoralizing than watching the team you root for struggle to get their defense off the field. That shouldn’t be the problem this season. The Beavers defense is better than they’ve been in almost a decade.