I wish that what I was writing about the three takeaways our defense made that led to a huge Beaver win, but alas, that is not the case. Instead, I have a few more negative takeaways, as well as a positive one.
1. Whether you are a fan or a foe of Mike Riley, what I witnessed in Reser on Saturday was something that is not acceptable. I am not talking about what happened on the field (that is for later), but rather what I saw around the stadium.
Back in the 1980’s, I remember going to see the Beavers play Stanford, and having Parker a little more full for that game. While the ‘big’ crowds were reserved for the Civil War, a lot of people came to those other games not because Stanford was great (they were not), but because that was a game OSU might win. Outside of the big-name stars like Rodney Peete or Troy Aikman drawing the fans in, the winnable games were the bigger draw.
Saturday, against one of the easier opponents remaining on Oregon State’s schedule, the stands looked like a ghost town. On a cold Thursday night in 2008, there was more passion and electricity and fans in the stadium to witness a game between the top-ranked Trojans and the 32-point underdog, 2-2 record Beavers. The crowd played a huge role in that game and the passion was there. Against a team OSU should’ve beat, in a season where they need every win, the passion was gone. Sure it got loud in the third quarter, but in our section, all the pre-game talk was about how terrible the Beavers were.
And that is the deal. Whether it is the diehards on message boards, the season ticket holders, or the casual fans, people are just tired and bored with the direction of the program. You can point to whatever you want as the reason, and you can hold the fans to whatever standard you have, but the reality is that the fans have left the party. Whatever that means for the future, OSU as an athletic department has to rebuild that excitement or they will lose people for longer than they realize. One only has to look at the revitalization of the basketball program before Tinkle has coached a single game to realize that these days, if the long term plan seems to be the same year in and year out, people will drop off and maybe never come back.
Autzen is filled every week with fans that don’t know crap about the program or who could have cared less 10 years ago about the ducks. Now they like to go, make their ‘O’ face, flash their Vagina sign, and be ridiculous fans. And I am jealous. Not just of their success, but because of their fans and the fire their fans have. Now, that bandwagon is in precarious position, as are all top team wagons, because the slightest chink in your armor shakes the outer tier of winner-chasers off. But it will take a lot of losing for Autzen to resemble what I saw at Reser on Saturday.
And that has to change. Or else things will only get worse.
2. We need to recruit better. OSU crossed the threshold of manageable injuries in the trenches against Utah, and it showed this weekend. There were players out there that are not ready yet, and they struggled. Cal has put up yards on every team they have played, except UW. They have put points on the board as well. That is not the issue to me. The issue was some of the guys who looked lost and just were not physically able to make the plays. I am not going to call anyone out, but I will say this: I would much rather have another great recruiter who coaches safeties or tight ends, and also covers special teams than a dedicated special teams coach. OSU has finished no higher than seventh in the conference in recruiting (according to Rivals.com) over the last decade.
In 2011, Cal had the 17th-ranked class in the nation, the Beavers had the 56th. In 2012, OSU had the No. 39 class, Cal had the No. 23. In 2013, the Beavers again pulled a 39th finish, while Cal came in at 32. This followed a season in which the Beavers finished with nine wins and Cal finished with three. So the team that the Beavers played this weekend averaged 20 places higher than the Beavers. Oh, and anyone left from that 2010 class? Well, Cal ranked 11th and the Beavers ranked 44th. That is a HUGE gap and while it may not show up as much when it comes to starters, it certainly does as you start getting into your second- and third- string players.
OSU needs to find a way to win battles against teams like Cal. Watching Cal is like a watching a parade of near misses on the recruiting trail by the Beavers. Powe, Treggs, Davis, Lawler, and Harper were all top receiving prospects the Beavers wanted — and all chose Cal. You cannot face your A-list players with the guys you got instead, and expect to and win all the time.
So no matter what changes happen this offseason, and there will be some, recruiting has to be the top priority. Because there is a tangible reason that OSU seems to be losing to top teams all the time, and with the recruiting OSU gets it would be a miracle if they didn’t. There are always stars and always great development, but overall, OSU has been very thin.
3. While there are a lot of negatives, and I am being tame, you cannot let that game go by without mentioning Sean Mannion’s feat. Earlier in the day, the heir apparent to that record had his leg shattered by a gruesome hit during the WSU game. Football is a violent game, and Sean has not escaped unscathed, which I think is the most impressive part of his game. Many will say that Derek Anderson never fully recovered from the beating he took against USC his first year as a starter, and promising players like Lyle Moevao and Jeremy Perry were never able to reach their full potential because of injuries. Yet, Sean has overcome them — and came out and played hard every day.
I think about the Stanford game last year, where Sean came out of the game with hands that looked like raw meat and pain in every part of his body, yet, he stood in there among 10 sacks and constant pressure to pass 46 times and keep his team in position to win until the very last seconds.
I also think about games such as the 2012 Civil War or the 2012 UW game that would have wilted a lot of quarterbacks and sent them backward mentally. Yet, Sean shook those off and came out and set records the next season even though he split reps all spring and summer in a position battle.
There are people who don’t like him, and there are people that think he is overrated. That is fine, there are people who think the same about guys like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Sean is a warrior, has done more than he was ever asked to do, and has never hurt the team off the field. He is a great leader and has passed for more yards than anyone in conference history. No amount of public opinion can change that. When people talk about great passers in the Pac-12 or Pac-16 or whatever it becomes, Sean’s name will always be in that conversation, and I cannot think of a better representative of the program to carry that honor.
Congratulations Sean, while I am sure you would rather have the win, you deserve recognition for this amazing feat.
And as always, Go Beavers!