Being a Beaver Fan Is Not For the Faint of Heart

Last week was a tough one for Beaver fans. While a win of against Utah would have not only put OSU in a tie for first in the North, it also would’ve been much better to be 5-1 — with what now looks like four very winnable games on the horizon. Instead, just being one game back, feels like a “Been there, Done that” routine. Many Beaver fans, some for more than 50 years, are frustrated that they might never see OSU reach the pinnacle of the conference.

Younger fans wonder why some teams can put up gaudy offensive numbers, and yet OSU seems to be stagnant in the offensive department.  And many fans look 37 miles down Highway 99 and wonder why the crap those guys have so much success, while the Beavers seemingly have to fight just to be in the middle of the conference.

The reality is that there’s a myriad of reasons, some legitimate, some more urban legend than reality. I am a huge fan of OSUProf’s blog. If you look at his statistical analysis of OSU since 1999, the results are quite frankly alarming.  While there are a lot of ups and downs, the general trend is downwards. Equally damning is his report on the ducks’ rise, showing that they are trending upwards in most categories during the same time span.

This is unbearable to many Beaver fans, and has nothing to do with the heart of the players playing or the effort they are giving.  While the down years of 28 losing seasons were rough, many of those were shared suffering with our nemesis to the south. At the same time, even as recently as the 2000s, OSU was trading annual state dominance with the ducks. This ended abruptly in 2008 and has yet to be relinquished. Last year was close, but even that would have turned an eventually 7-win season into an 8-win one, something that while good by historical OSU standards, is not the sign of dominance Beaver fans are looking for.

While I tend to run a bit on the positive side, I have noticed that next year looks to be extremely tough for the Beavers, because of a lot great players graduating. I won’t be shocked if the Beavers are paraded out as the worst team in the conference by pollsters. So what is the solution? What does it take to make this program into an elite one?

I am not sure — but I don’t think it starts with getting rid of Mike Riley. Utah is a single loss, and a rough one against a solid team, but it doesn’t signify the end of OSU’s hopes. It does mean that the margin of error is very thin the rest of the season and eliminating errors has not been OSU’s forte this season. At the same time, I really can’t say that the Beavers are out of any game with the defense they have on the field this year.

And I guess that is the problem. Every year we see a team that has some aspect that is fantastic and some aspect that needs work. Last season, the offense was great and the defense was suspect. The year before they were both pretty good, but injuries revealed a very thin team.  In 2011, there weren’t many areas that didn’t have flaws, and in 2010 and 2009, depth and wholesale replacement of multiple position groups led to teams that could have been better than their seasons showed.

OSU has had a hard time building depth and getting elite players to Corvallis. There also are trends in play calling and clock management that leave many fans frustrated.  Additionally, there are staff issues, such as highly-paid assistants whose units finish near the bottom of the conference. While OSU may turn the corner and win 4+ games the rest of the year and make some noise in November, the outlook in 2015 and on does not feel like it’ll be an upward trajectory.

So what should we do? What is the answer? Who do we get rid of? Well, those questions are up for debate for sure, but here is what I know. Fewer and fewer high school teams are running Pro-Style offenses. Also, in modern terms, blocking in Pro-Style offenses is getting more and more difficult, and running backs are having a hard time turning down 2,000-yard seasons and tons of touchdowns to join a team where they are going to block as much as they are going to run the ball. In the long run, I think that OSU and Mike Riley need to re-evaluate more than a few plays, but re-evaluate a lot of what the program does. It doesn’t require a huge cleaning of house, but they need to find something that is going to give the Beavers an edge and change how they do things.

Some want the Beavers to go for an athletic QB and pattern themselves after the ducks or Arizona. I would prefer something more like Cal or WSU to go with the offense we already have. Regardless of what it is, while a big close to this season would be a fantastic change of events and would brighten up so many spirits, I think there needs to be a longterm plan for getting back on track — one that is willing to start from ground zero and change how they do everything. The alternative is not exciting for Beaver fans. I will not give up on this season until it is over, and I think that there will be improved football if the team can avoid further injuries.  That being said, no matter how this season ends, more needs to be done to build excitement for next year and the future.

So my only thought is that in this era of football, like Paterno, Bowden, and Bellotti before him, Mike Riley needs to make sure that he is constantly evolving as a coach and brings in new coaches with fresh philosophies to adjust the OSU offense so it doesn’t get left behind. I want OSU to win out, get 11 wins, and go to a BCS bowl. I want that more than anything in all of football-dom. I just don’t think it will happen, and I worry about the continued apathy toward the program. Right now, I can barely bring myself to visit fan sites because it’s the same thing, post after post. Until OSU wins some big conference games, I am afraid I can’t blame those frustrated posters.

10 thoughts on “Being a Beaver Fan Is Not For the Faint of Heart

  1. Craig Meyer

    Peter, I so appreciate your viewpoints. They are a nice mix of realism and fandom. I agree with you in so many things but on the issue of Mike Riley we part ways. It’s not just an issue of offensive style, although I would note that not even many pro teams run a pro-style offense anymore. It has to do with the character of this program.

    OSU is never going to match the Ducks, or Huskies, or Trojans or Trees in resources and glitz. They are rarely, if ever, going to out talent them. Instead, they must play outstanding and innovative football to compete with the larger resource schools. They have to be the junkyard dogs, willing to try anything to prevail. They also have take their lesser talent and out execute the other teams. In the old way of saying it, they have to want it more than their more privileged brethren.

    Instead, we have the opposite. Sloppy play, especially on the offensive line. Clock management mistakes. No evident offensive game plan, instead winging it as the game goes along. Missed assignments, blown coverages, untimely false starts. I could go on and on. In fact, this team does almost nothing that would give them an advantage. They seem perfectly happy to take their vanilla offense and line up talent vs. talent. They are almost never going to win that battle. That state of affairs is the direct result of decisions made by Mike Riley.

    When was the last time we had even an average offensive line? Coach Cavanaugh has been the o-line coach now for many years. Does the line improve over that time? No, it does not. It’s always a huge question mark. They always suffer from a lack of depth. They constantly make mental errors. They try hard but as the most important unit on the squad they are always inadequate. Does Riley do anything about this? Um, no.

    When I think about this, I think of those successful Boise State teams under Chris Petersen. They didn’t have the talent to play with Oklahoma but they certainly out executed them and weren’t afraid to take chances to win. So what if they lost, nobody really expected them to win anyway. In my opinion, what OSU really needs is a young, innovator as the head coach. One who can bring some life to this moribund program and can bring some better attention to detail. Sure, if he’s successful he probably won’t stay. Get another one and another one after that if you must. Not every season will be great but some will and some could even be excellent.

    Mike Riley has had his chance and was once pretty successful. Those days seem to be over. Plenty of recruits can see that and so can the fans and supporters of the program. Time to change.

    1. Peter Riley Osborne Post author

      I would say a few things to this, and they are serious points we need to look into:

      1. I think that Riley needs to re-evaluate a lot of things this year, but the biggest issue is they need to breathe life into their run game and expand on that. If they can do that with their current coaches, great. If they need to bring in help, then get creative and look at the strengths and weaknesses of the team and their positions and find a way to work it out. If this means giving Brasfield a bigger role to expand on things or having Garrett work on the running game all off season then so be it. Or if you have to look at areas that are not performing or that are not as effective as they should be and figure out if maybe a staff member doesn’t make sense. Much like they did with Newhouse in 2011.

      OSU has a fantastic passing game and if they can get the players they need, or if the players they have can get more precise in everything they do, it is very difficult to stop. I think the run game is where they need help and if they can get it, whether it is using the fly sweep more or trying to introduce some option and misdirection plays, so be it.

      2. If they replace everything, we start over. If they remove the whole staff, we are now rebuilding and these 6 – 8 win seasons may not come back for four or five years. Look at WSU, one six win season in four years under their new coach. Our cupboards are not that bare, but at some point you have to make a big move. Much like Erickson did and Riley II did. If you lose this staff and these players, you have to be certain that what you bring in can get the job done and do it quickly. If Riley will not change enough to make a difference, then you may need to bring someone else in. But if you do, be prepared to not only be sad with the results for a while, but for them to swing and miss. Stanford, WSU, UW, Arizona, ASU and Colorado have all gone through the coaching carousel and each failure makes it harder for the next regime. We have too, for 28 years. So while I hate to be afraid of firing anyone, in this case, you have to be SURE that the new regime will be better, which means you have to pay for it.

      3. OSU has one of the smallest payrolls for their coaches as well as one of the smallest recruiting budgets in the conference. Those will have to change in order to get anyone that will excite Beaver nation. If you get rid of Riley and his staff, that much like Craig Robinson’s exit and Wayne Tinkle’s entrance, you have to be ready to open the wallet to not only cover his contract buy out, but also to bring in someone new that will be able to get the job done.

      These are real issues and are why, as I have always maintained, it is better for the current regime to improve than to clean house. If by next year Garrett is doing more and there are more changes to the offense, then you have the potential that he can be groomed to take over. If he doesn’t, then you need to find someone that can shake things up now. I am not asking for a Chip Kelly hire, because I am not sure our souls should shoulder that burden, but a Sonny Dykes or Mark Helfritch or someone that will come in and have the freedom to make the tweaks that are needed to propel this program.

      So no, I don’t want to see Riley gone. I want to see him look in the mirror and see where they struggle and give that area up to someone that can make a difference. If not, then what I want won’t matter. The drying donation pool and lack of season ticket sales will take care of the rest. Then we will have to make a change and we will be making it with someone we hope is the answer. Just like we did with Avazanno, Fertig, Kragthorpe and Pettibone.

      I am not quite ready to do that yet… but I may be the only one.

      1. Craig Meyer

        No, you are not the only one. There are still many Riley supporters out there. From my point of view, though, it is more of a hope than reality. I don’t know him personally, although we’ve met, but to me he seems like one of the least introspective people around. He trusts himself and his system and has shown little inclination to make any radical changes. His most recent innovation has been the fly sweep, of all things.

        Still, you don’t address my real complaint which is the sloppiness and lack of execution. This isn’t schematic, it’s programmatic. Sure, they can implement some schematic changes but until they clean their own act up they will never be able to bridge the talent gap. Riley and staff have had this problem year and year. I just don’t see how quiet reflection will fix this.

        1. Peter Riley Osborne Post author

          Well, I think the sloppiness, at least to this level, is new. I cannot remember a season with this many false starts, bad snaps and drops. I am not sure what it is, but I know that there were times that we couldn’t stop athletic QB’s on defense and were terrible tacklers. This year both of those have improved drastically. This is a different beast and I am not sure how you fix some of the mental errors. I will say that we ahve seen a lot more focus from Smith since that first game and i think a lot of them are close, they just need to get it all together. I feel bad for Mitchell because he had a pretty good game, save a bad snap and an offsides, but that is what people will remember the most.

          But the lack of execution has rotated around the squad over the years. This year it needs to be addressed, but there were a lot of years in the past where it was late hits and personal fouls, so it is hard to say what the deal is. Like you said, it needs to be addressed because we are going to have to play perfect on offense to beat Stanford this weekend, let alone some of the other games on our schedule.

    2. Nak

      Peter, I always enjoy your insight and check in with Candy Report daily. Truly appreciate your effort in sharing your pragmatic take on OSU athletics.

      Gotta say I’m 100% with Craig on this one and have harbored similar feelings for some time now. I know it’s a bit premature to judge what Petersen may or may not accomplish at udub (see Hawkins, Boulder, CO) but their preparation and take no prisoners approach in that Fiesta Bowl vs. the Sooners was amazing and aspirational. Let’s be honest, beyond the incredible play by the Donks (with a QB out of Hermiston!) weren’t you thinking after their victory that if BSU can do it then why can’t we? Gimmicky offense? Trick plays? I say BIG CAJONES! Petersen basically recruited the same sort of players we do – ranked may be a more appropriate description – devised a scheme to leverage the talent available, molded a “us against the world” culture and consequently kicked ass. I’m pretty sure that after that amazing run of success going back even prior to Hawkins that their support/donations increased substantially which should help the new staff keep the momentum.

      I believe it takes that no prisoners mindset, leadership, creativity and accountability to take a program and make it into a perennial Top 10~20 team. Regrettably, our CEO of football does not possess that sort of ability and the chance of him evolving is, IMHO, nil to none. MR is baked and unfortunately is not a Bowden, Paterno, Beamer or a Snyder. I trust you’ve read the post from Eric M. on the W/L stats of Power 5 HC’s with 13+ years at the helm. Abysmal record in comparison to his peer group, no divisional or conference championships and the wins (losses are more to the point) against Top 20 teams…ouch!

      Lastly, accountability and delegation of responsibilities within the program is absent from my POV. “The buck stops here” is not MR’s modus operandi so when I hear someone in Beaver Nation say “I don’t want to fire him, but let’s mix it up by hiring better coordinators and assistants…” Sorry, but that just doesn’t make sense to me, especially if he doesn’t allow them to do their jobs (given this is a performance and historically related assumption) OR hold his staff accountable for poor performance/results on the field (i.e. game/clock management, procedural issues, basic fundamentals, recruiting, etc.). It all starts and stops at the top so we can’t duct tape our way to a a PAC 12 championship, it’s just not an option. Every fall we hear that the team’s trying to “figure out its identity” and “in hindsight I wish we would’ve…” C’mon, that’s all on the HC and the image to fans players and recruits alike isn’t appealing. He sets the tone. We need a Pat Casey type of coach for the gridiron. I think we’ve all been more than patient ~ 13 years and counting. For the sake of the university, the program’s future along with the other athletic programs it helps support, let’s bite the bullet, stop making excuses and transition to new leadership.

  2. blowcheese

    They talk of the Oregon Bubble, where dissenting opinions or obvious criticism goes to die but is there also a smaller but no less impermeable bubble over Valley Center? It seems like there is very little adjustment to the on field problems that media and fans have correctly pointed out.
    The special teams issues do not get fixed or even admitted to in any Riley interview i have seen
    The late-with-the-play issue has always been explained away by Riley as if the specific circumstance was a one-off. It seems to happen every game. Is nobody able to pierce the bubble with this critical info? Its killing drives at critical times, coach. Are you listening?
    Oregon State is one of the most penalized teams in the nation. These are the very preventable variety. At some point does Coach admit the team is among the worst in the nation? If its a one off due to blah blah blah is that bubblespeak?

  3. Building the Dam (@BuildingTheDam)

    I do think the debate, and the movement by the staff (whether that’s this staff or a changed one), needs to be one of a change of approach. For several years now, the general approach seems to be one where the philosophy is one of “If we do what we do better, it will work.”

    There have been some worthwhile tweaks, some fairly significant (move to much nickel D, for example), but especially on offense, they have been technical tweaks, not a major change.

    An example is the special teams issues, and now the timely contrast with Utah’s best in the industry special teams. It’s worth noting that Utah doesn’t have a “special teams assistant”; the approach Coach Whittingham has taken has been to assign an aspect of special teams to each assistant, or himself as a coaching resource. Totally different approach, and other than a specialist for kickers who have a specialty task, this totally makes more sense.

    I will join in with the voices suggesting a move away from the current zone drive blocking approach to something (anything!) that features more footwork agility, and movement. The issues with Coach Cav are obviously he teaches what he knows (which was more common when he was first learning, though its been widely obsoleted by more active defensive approaches), and he evaluates and recruits to what he knows. To the point of driving out of the rotation, if not driving off, those who have already learned something else that worked better for them. I not only don’t know if he ever will change, but I really don’t know if he ever will try to change.

    I appreciate stability, but not to the point of maintaining a system that needs replaced.

    The challenge for Coach Riley, AD Bob DeCarolis, and ultimately Pres. Ed Ray, is to determine if a plan for a new approach can be developed and executed by the current staffing or not. I do believe some individuals currently on hand can adapt to a different approach; LB Coach Trent Bray and D-Line coach Joe Seumalo are examples that I do think are capable of fitting into this because they already are, which is as much a reason their groups are as good as they have been in a number of years as the presence of a lot of seniors, because there are some good contributions coming from non-seniors and “newcomers” [Obum Gwacham sb thought of as at most a rs freshman in terms of his current position, for example].

    I do think Coach Riley is capable of a system change (vs. not so sure about Cav), but I’m completely unsure of whether he wants to take that on at this stage in his career. I also think its THE key decision he needs to make. It will determine, IMO, if he experiences a “Craig Robinson” moment, where dis-satisfaction with winning, but not winning enough in the right games, translated into the empty seats that prompted the change across the street from the Valley Football Center.

    1. Peter Riley Osborne Post author

      I agree with pretty much everything you said. I will add that in terms of Coach Cav, I am not sure it is a matter of teaching what he knows as much as a matter of teaching what works best for this system. His popularity by other staffs year in and year out (in terms of trying to poach him) leads me to believe he knows more than just what OSU tries to do. The zone blocking scheme is fine for this, but just like Greatwood for the ducks, it would not take much for him to adjust to a new system. In the case of the fly sweep, the biggest changes will be width of splits and getting players that are more athletic and can move up field. Players like Stanton and Sapolu would benefit greatly from this plan, so they can move in space and get to the second level or reach the end man. With the fly sweep, if the player is reached, then you continout outside, if they are not and you see the back of the lineman pushing the defender to the sideline, you cut up. In this case, you hope that the interior guys are picking up the flowing defenders.

      In this case, the athleticism of this current line is on display and they tend to do well. As well as the improved blocking by the tight ends.

      In the cases of the inside plays, far too often, the linemen are driving the defenders back, but in doing so they open lanes that allow linebackers and safeties to fly in and tackle the back behind the line. Or there are too many people in the box to account for. Max protect on inside plays is not always the best because sometimes it just makes a pile.

      So for me, they need to spread the defense out a bit and allow natural lanes with splits and formations. There is a reason when the ducks run a draw play it looks like the parting of the Red Sea. The fake to the back usually leaves the middle wide open and at the very least you have on person that has to tackle you in space.

      Those changes are well within Cav’s wheel house if need be. They just need to commit to it, and that is the issue to me. Treating plays like the fly sweep as a trick or gadget play instead of embracing it as a way of taking pressure off everyone.

      Other than that, I think you nailed it on the head. If OSU figures something out this week and goes on to win 8+ games, then you have a five year trend of 8, 5, 3, 9, 6, and 8+ wins. that seems to be a pretty stable to slightly upwards trend. That would also mean, most likely, that OSU would have to win some meaningful games against potentially ranked teams.

      A 6 or less win season, i think would signal the close on the Riley chapter at OSU. Even if it doesn’t happen this year, there will be forced changes.

  4. rjrbeav

    You and other poster’s haveit nailed. Now, how to get someone/some people to wake up and look at the evidence that is bounteous. As for me, I just don’t have the feeling that the Administration really cares to look at the facts. The evidence now available does not show the Administration is paying attention.

    1. Peter Riley Osborne Post author

      I agree, but I also think it is tough. I mean when you are barely losing close games to top 20 opponents, sometimes the feeling is “if we just fix this one little thing, we will be golden!” They were basically a play away from winning two of the last five Civil Wars (2009 and 2013) and there are always games where you just needed to not do one thing (Stanford 2012, UW 2012) or get one more stop (Stanford 2013, EWU 2013). You add those two wins to each season and all the sudden you are 11-1 in 2012 and playing in a BCS bowl game or 8-4 in 2013.

      This year it will be one stop or one first down and they are 5-1.

      So for us, it seems obvious and the trends seem very real and very evident. When you are the coaches, and you see these games where you just needed that one play and you would have gone to a Rose Bowl, or you just don’t throw that interception or get that fumble and you have three BCS bowl games under your belt. That is the part that gets intoxicating and keeps teams from making the big step.

      For the ducks, not to use them all the time, it was 2004 when they realized they were not going to be able to compete with their current offense so they hired Crowton to try and make life easier for their line and make the number of quality QB’s you have to choose from broader.

      Long term, it feels obvious, but when you are planning the games and in the middle of it and working on the details, you see seasons that were a handful of plays from being special. Often times at the expense of the handful of plays that would have made you a 3 game winner.

      We will see and there is a lot of football left and a lot of winnable games, but the trajectory seems to point to the Coaches needed to make some big changes for the long term success of the program.


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