Our friend Avinash Kunnath from Pacific Takes has found Oregon St.'s journey through the first part of the season as interesting as any member of Beaver Nation, and popped in again with a couple of questions to get an update as we approach the first of 2 bye weeks this season.
(He's actually a California Golden Blog guy first and foremost, and already looking ahead to when Oregon St. heads to Berkeley in a couple of weeks.)
Av: How good did Oregon State's defense look against Colorado? What immediate improvements did you see from the Beavers on that side of the ball?
RVM: Very good! I saw a team that played smart and more in position, and all of which made them a much quicker team to where the ball was instead of always seeming a step behind. They all seemed to be playing their positions well, and as such letting others make the plays in their areas instead of trying to overplay to make up for others being out-of-position and then getting themselves out-of-position, and so on and on. Especially refreshing was the East-to-West speed in shutting down the angles. Now I will say that Colorado was an over-matched team and played a more upfront standard pocket type of passing game. So can't say things are all totally turned around yet for sure, but it was a refreshing performance for with the conditions the OSU offense got off to a slow start and had a couple bad bounce turnovers. The defense was key to keeping the game within control and once Mannion and company got going it was a lights out OSU type of deal in that third quarter. Plus the defense deserves to feel good about the game and should be able to build on that confidence.
Andy: I don't know if I'd go to "Very good" yet, because I did still see some coverage problems, and it was luck that the Buffs had drops that saved a couple of big plays, nothing the Beavers had anything to do with. The weather also considerably limited the options for both quarterbacks.
But definitely much improved. Linebacker play was sounder, and that has a lot to do with what the safeties do in any defense. D.J. Alexander is getting his game legs back under him, and Jabral Johnson is learning and improving every week. Tackling was better, in part because fewer diving, reaching, grabbing tackles were required.
The move to play Sean Martin, who is a CB, as the 5th DB in the nickel & dime and also play Steven Nelson at CB has proven superior to using any Safety as the 5th DB, as it results in a major boost in speed on the field.
But as Robert alluded to, Connor Wood didn't try to run very much, and the Colorado offensive scheme wasn't the most challenging. We may learn a little or a lot more when Oregon St. plays Washington St. and California, depending on whether Connor Halliday is back to 100%, and whether Jared Goff can recover from being benched for playing terribly.
Av: Highlight who the difference-makers on your team are and how they've helped the Beavers get back to winning football games.
RVM: If we going with individuals no question Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks are the main difference-makers. The numbers they are putting up are incredible, plus they are bringing a great balance of on-the-field of quiet and steady leadership (Mannion) along with dynamic swagger (Cooks). They are bringing the rest of the passing game up too. I would like to give a shout-out to the guys upfront, and yes the running game is suffering with the patchwork offensive line but their pass protection has been very good and essential for Mannion finding his game.
On the defensive side of things it is interesting, and a bit surprising that we have some stats leaders like Steven Nelson's tie for national lead for INTs and Scott Crichton's top three Pac-12 tackles for a loss. As such we have some difference-makers for sure on this side of the ball, but the tough thing is a defense needs more of a "QB" out there too and also the defense side is much more about playing as a team across the board and these last two areas are still lacking.
Andy: Mannion and Cooks are the best in the country, according to NCAA statistics, and so they have correctly carried the team.
Coach Mike Riley summed up Cooks after the Colorado game, noting "Brandin is a really driven guy. He is a hard-worker, he's talented, and he has always been good. But he is stronger than ever now. He had a really great offseason and came back stronger. He runs through people; you can't arm tackle him."
I'll also point to the TEs as a group; Connor Hamlett has been solid despite a minor injury, and Caleb Smith has been improving game to game, and even quarter to quarter. They have given Mannion another reliable option that most opponents can match up with.
Thanks for stopping by, Av! I'm sure we'll be chatting more after we see how the Cougs and Bears do this weekend. It will be a great chance to scout the next 2 Oregon St. opponents.