Tweaking the Offense

In a previous post, I highlighted three things that Mike Riley could do to help reverse the Oregon State football program’s recent woes: tweak his offense, overhaul his coaching staff, and change his leadership style. This is the first of three posts exploring each of those things.

Riley isn’t going anywhere — next season or the foreseeable future (that’s the luxury of having a contract that runs through 2021 at a university that can’t afford to buy you out). So for now, Beaver Nation’s best hope is that Riley realizes that his vaunted pro-style offense needs revamping.

When executed to perfection, a pro-style offense is a thing of beauty. It’s extremely difficult to defend, especially these days. So few teams run pro-style offenses that other squads usually don’t practice defending it. This has often been touted as an advantage for Beavers, but is it really?

The Beavers aren’t able to consistently recruit the type and caliber of players needed to run a pro-style offense effectively. And with many high schools moving away from pro-style offenses, fewer high school linemen understand how to block in a pro-style offense. The same goes for quarterbacks who need to be able a lot of reads and all the throws within that type of offense.

Speaking of QBs, another issue is that unless your name is Jonathan Smith, it usually takes QBs at least two years to be comfortable playing in Riley’s system. To put it bluntly, that’s too long. The Pac-12 is getting more competitive every season and the Beavers can’t afford to wait several seasons or more for their QBs to get up to par.

Also, it sucks seeing QBs step in at other schools and do pretty well off the bat. Case in point. Washington State’s Luke Falk, a walk-on true freshman, torched the Beavers for nearly 500 yards in first career start this season. Those types of performances add further insult to injury, and begs the question, “Why can’t OSU QBs flourish sooner?”

The good news is that the departure of Sean Mannion provides Riley and his staff with a grand opportunity to take a hard look at OSU’s offensive scheme. I’m not advocating to scrap the pro-style offense and implement a spread offense. Rather, I’d like to see the offense simplified and the QBs encouraged to use their feet more.

None of OSU’s returning QBs possess Mannion’s arm strength or command of the system, so why ask them to make the same throws as Mannion did? And while the offensive line should be a strength next season, you never know how things will play out, so why call plays that take awhile to develop?

Instead more quick-hitting pass plays such as slants and outs should be incorporated into the playbook. Not only would that enable the QB to get the ball out faster, but increase the likelihood of speedy wide receivers such as Victor Bolden and Hunter Jarmon getting the ball in space and racking up a lot of yards (That could help solve another issue of plays not moving the chains…). Such plays also take pressure off the offense line to its hold blocks as long.

Continuing with the idea of putting players in positions to succeed, all of OSU’s returning QBs are reportedly faster than Mannion. So it would be awesome if they are taught and encouraged to use their feet more to extend plays. They don’t have to be amazing scramblers — they just need to be able to roll out when a play breaks down or tuck the ball and run when there’s a lane.

It’s little things like that can lead to big gains, as Beaver fans know all too well from watching QBs such as Marcus Mariota and Kevin Hogan keep drives alive with heads-up running plays in recent seasons.

Notice how I said little things… A few tweaks here and there could do wonders for the OSU offense moving forward. Remember the Beavers offense during Riley’s first stint? It involved a lot of quick passes that led to big plays. It was an offense that enabled players to trust their instincts and go with the flow.

The bottom line is that the Beavers will be breaking in a new starter at quarterback in 2015, and if history is any indication, he will struggle to grasp Riley’s pro-style offense. And because the program can’t afford another season like this one, it’s in Riley’s best interest to adjust the offensive scheme so that it’s easier to execute, yet still effective. Otherwise, it could be another long season… (RW)

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