The Candy Report: Season Finale

Every year, around this time, the world seems a little bit dimmer. As I put away my Brandin Cooks jersey, pack up my chainsaw, and say goodbye to 2013, I do so with mixed feelings. On August 16th, the day before my birthday, I took a day off work and watched the Beavers practice. What I saw gave me more hope that 2013 might be the year that they take a big step.  Giant offensive linemen, accurate QBs and unguardable receivers all gave me the feeling of a team on the rise.

That lasted one half of one game.

Not to be negative, but I would be remiss not to mention the terrible loss. Sure, the losses of DJ Alexander and Gavin Andrews, as well as a new middle linebacker and new defensive tackles were ultimately losses that OSU could not get over in week 1. A rough start for the defense forced the offense to do more and take more chances than usual. Fresh from a seemingly endless quarterback competition, Sean Mannion emerged as the most prolific passer in a single season of Pac-Anything football. Along with cohorts Brandin Cooks, Richard Mullaney, Kevin Cummings, Malik Gilmore, Micah Hatfield, Connor Hamlett, Caleb Smith, and Kellen Clute all made their marks in Sean’s quest for the record books. Along the way, future NFL star Brandin Cooks put together the best season by a Pac-Anything receiver, securing him OSU’s second Biletnikoff award for best receiver in the nation.

While the passing game was elite all season long, the running game struggled to find its stride until late in the season. Injuries among the offensive line and at running back left the Beavers short on opportunities to move the rock on the ground — until the Civil War, where the Ward/Woods tandem tried to make up for the whole season in one game, dropping 200 yards on the ducks.

Which is the perfect analogy for the season: never being able to get it completely together.

The Beavers never seemed to be able to put offense and defense together. Against Stanford in week 8, the men in black led by Dylan Wynn, Scott Crichton, and Mana Rosa held the vaunted Stanford power offense to under 300 yards. With the exception of 1 minute at the end of the first half and beginning of the second half, OSU dominated the Cardinal. But that 1 minute resulted in two touchdowns for the trees ,and as good as the defense played, the offense couldn’t overcome Stanford’s relentless defense.

2013 was the year of linebacker development. A season that started out boasting two explosive and experienced linebackers manning the outside while young up and comer Joel Skotte was going to take over in the middle, changed all at once. Injuries to Michael Doctor and Alexander as well as Joel taking some lumps early, forced OSU to go deep down its bench in week 1. Jabral Johnson stepped in and played his heart out, and Rommel Mageo made the most of his opportunities, locking down the starting middle linebacker duties. Caleb Saulo and Darrell Songy also got chances to show that the future at linebacker is bright for the Beavers. Unfortunately, the lack of experience among the unit showed at times and as injuries piled up on the defensive line as well, mistakes became costly as the schedule became more difficult.

Inconsistency plagued the defense, whether it was seemingly over-preparing for Eastern Washington or just a chain reaction of bad plays against Washington, the defense was great at times and not great at other times. There is a lot to be negative about, but what I will always remember is this:

When they had every reason to be down, to quit and to mail it in, the Beavers put together the best performances of the season. The Civil War and Hawaii Bowl were the two best defensive (and maybe offensive) performances of the year. While the Beavers were not able to hang on for the win against the ducks, what I and many of my Beaver Nation brethren thought would happen was more along the lines of a track meet with 50+ points for the bad guys. This group of players brought their best game against arguably their best opponent in an effort that would have beat most anyone else on their schedule. I don’t celebrate losses, but I celebrate teams that don’t give up, and that team did not give up.

Ultimately, Oregon State was better than their record showed this year. When the Beavers were on, they were on, but for some reason they had games where nothing went right. In many cases, they came up against an opponent that was playing its best ball of the season. In other cases, errors and mistakes marred great performances. In all, this season was a mixed bag, and OSU’s record reflects that.

There have been slow starts and great finishes in the past, but in no other year was there less to play for against the best team on their schedule than the Civil War. And the Beavers showed up and played their hearts out trying to let everyone know that they are better than we think. They then went on to punctuate that with a huge win against Boise State in Hawaii.

Through all the negativity from fans and questions about coaching, player proficiencies, and heart, this team hung together and played together and came out not only swinging, but winners. This season could have easily been worse. Much worse. And it could have been better, much better. But rarely do you see a team pull itself up and dust itself off when everyone else has given up on it. That is what I am going to remember about this year — and that is what is going to carry the players through next season as they try again to rise above the mistakes and nay sayers. Fans are going to ask them to show who they are first, and cheer later. So this team is going to have to continue to fight and claw and work for itself, not for anyone else.

That effort against the ducks was the first step to what the Beavers need to do now. It is going to be a tough winter, spring, and fall, but they need to stick together and not take any moment for granted. One minute was the difference between 6-1 and 7-1. One punt was the difference between 6-1 and 7-0. One yard was the difference between six years since a Civil War win. Every game of catch or extra sets in the weight room makes a difference.

So goodbye 2013, you were a roller coaster ride and I am happy and sad to see you go, but hopefully the lessons you taught the team linger. There is talent at Oregon State to do great things, and I think they can do those great things. But ready or not, 2014 is on its way, and while many hate to say “maybe next year,” next year always comes. I for one think it will be a fantastic one.

Go Beavers, beat the Vikings!

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