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Discussing The Oregon State Running Game And Stanford

Why can't Oregon St. run the ball as well as they throw it?
Why can't Oregon St. run the ball as well as they throw it?
Photo by Andy Wooldridge

Our friend Avinash Kunath from Pacific Takes posed a couple of popular questions about Oregon St. this week, as attention turns to how the Beavers are doing what they are doing, and how it will translate to Saturday night's showdown with Stanford.

I still can't really figure it out: Why does Oregon State have such an easy time throwing the ball and such a difficult time running it?

RVM: Well better overall athletes in the passing attack for one thing. I mean Mannion and Cooks are like the level of stars/athletes as say Quizz and Jackson were for the OSU rush game. But again as mentioned before, the offensive line has been a patch-work experiment to compensate for their injuries. Can't remember where I said this but I stand by my thought that once the line started to have to be reworked around the injuries they made sure to get it to work best for the pass game. I don't know the specifics of who went where to make that work, but just think the coaching staff built the patch-work around the pass game for they knew that is where the natural strength would be for the offense.

As such they compromised away from trying to make the line more flexible for any true rush scheme focus and my personal guess is that they hope over time the line would get healthy enough to start to move things back around for a little more "balance." Do they have enough time to do this though? Not sure. And I also stand by my thoughts that the straight up the middle does not work with the type of backs we have right now. But again feel it is a bit cyclical now, and the line is not built for getting the backs out in space (around the corners) as well as they seem to do for screen passes (and I agree with the assessment of late that the screen plays are basically the OSU "rush" game right now, and a short pass is nothing different right now than a hand-off). But I am not a coach, even if I play one on the Web and football is not my main sport, but that is my gut feeling overall.

Andy: Sean Mannion is playing really good, which has a lot to do with the "easy time" throwing the ball, and the fact that he threw over 1,000 passes to Cooks in the off-season had to get that aspect of the game going better than anything they could have done in that time on the rushing game.

But the big difference between the passing game and the running game has a lot to do with the offensive line scheme.

Back when Jacquizz Rodgers was looking for lanes to make cuts through, Oregon St. used some wide splits on the line, and then widened them out some more. When it became obvious that Mannion was going to have a monster year, offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh has tightened up the wall in front of the still highly immobile Mannion, putting the linemen nearly shoulder to shoulder much of the time.

Not much is going to get through that wall, but that works both ways, as it keeps the defensive front in fairly close proximity too. If an offensive lineman gets his man turned, there’s the opportunity for a back cut behind them if there’s no linebacker there (and with Mannion’s success, that’s often the case, with the linebackers dropping to help with coverage), but most of the time there’s no getting through the first level without making contact with somebody or something.

It’s why the screens and short dumps to backs really should be considered running plays, because that’s how the Beavers are getting the ball in the hands of backs in space (see Storm Woods’ 6 catches for 63 yards and a touchdown and Terron Ward with 3 more for 32 more against Cal).

ConnorOSU: Well, it helps when you've got a gunslinger like Sean Mannion and receivers like Brandin Cooks and Richard Mullaney, not to mention the touchdown machines Connor Hamlett, Kevin Cummings, and Caleb Smith. The offensive line, while terrible blocking the run, is terrific in pass protection. When Mannion has time back in the pocket, he's as good as anyone in the nation. So, the answer is the offensive line. Good for the pass and poor with the run.

Oregon State is a bit of an underdog against Stanford, but they did play them fairly close last season. What will it take for the Beavers to spring the upset this year against the most formidable defense they'll face?

RVM: I like this match up actually. I think the OSU defense matches up well against the Stanford offense, especially since the Cardinal offense has not been quite as dynamic as they have been in the past with some of the rebuilding they have had to do this season. I think some OSU running game will be needed (yes the beating of this drum again!), but think Mannion could give the Cardinal some issues especially if the offensive line pretty much holds up as well as it has been in the pass blocking to date. Going to be a tall order for sure since Stanford has the athletes, has the top tier team swagger and confidence, and is exceptionally well coached. But things could well fall into place for OSU in this game to be at the very least a tough match up for the Cardinal. I know I have a horse in this race for sure, but this is going to be a pretty interesting football game.

Andy: Oregon St. had a better Stanford team beat last year at their place until Cody Vaz dropped the ball for no reason, setting up a short field for what was the game winning score. To get the win this time, the Beavers can’t have mistakes in the form of turnovers and penalties that alter field position.

The other key is continued good protection for Mannion, giving him the time to use the entire field to throw into, which in turn keeps any defense from loading up on anything or anyone, even Brandin Cooks.

ConnorOSU: As usual, the offense is going to have to put up a stellar performance and put up 35-40 points. I'm not expecting anything too great, but you have to think that a key interception or forced fumble late will be needed to come away with the upset.