(And They Aren’t Going To Be Easy)
As Oregon State heads into the second half of summer preparations, Head Coach Gary Andersen is already having to look at some serious decisions that will have to be made, and probably sooner than later.
They are the kind that are hard in part because they are the kind that carry implications far beyond just the player involved, and can even carry from one year to the next, in terms of the overall fortunes of the team and all those concerned with it.
The biggest decision looming is whether or not to red-shirt offensive lineman Sean Harlow. Harlow, who is returning from a broken ankle last season, has been cleared to play, and has demonstrated he’s physically capable to do so. But whether he can be back to his best by the start of the season is more uncertain.
Andersen indicated back on media day that sitting Harlow for the season was a possibility, and he sat one of his team captains out of last Friday’s scrimmage.
The urgency is only a little less in regard to DE LaMone Williams, who has been on crutches since suffering a knee injury early in the team’s week in Bend, in that Williams was “merely” a member of the rotation on the d-line, not one of the handful of actual next-level players on the Oregon State roster, as Harlow is, though Andersen has said he wants 2 “starters” at each position on the D-line.
The extent of Williams’ injury isn’t clear yet, but it is clear that he will be set back significantly, probably more than Harlow will be. A compounding issue with Williams is that unlike Harlow, who still has his red-shirt season available, Williams was red-shirted as a freshman. If he can’t or doesn’t play this year, Oregon State will have to apply for a hardship, second red-shirt season, or Williams will lose a year of eligibility.
Reality is if he’s declared out, the NCAA is highly likely to grant an extra year, but there’s no guarantee.
And then, Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune kind of forced the issue forward, writing that it “Appears Harlow will wind up redshirting this season”, and that “…Williams may be lost for season.”
Does Coach Andersen, absent any known medical diagnosis that absolutely necessitates those moves, let Eggers make personnel decisions from afar for him? Does he wait, and risk erosion of credibility if he announces the decision later? Has he already made the decision, but is withholding it? What does it do to the company line of unfounded enthusiasm ensuing from a sports information department concerned with moving a still large inventory of tickets to what will be a challenging season if Coach Andersen makes the decision that what’s best for next season is more important than trying to salvage wins this year?
If Coach Andersen sits Harlow down for the year, then he will be available next year, after Gavin Andrews, one of the few things on Andersen’s too short list of things he doesn’t have to worry about is gone. And freshman tackle Blake Brandel will be a lot more ready after a year’s trial by fire playing in place of Harlow.
Ironically, Andrews is only around because of a decision last year at the end of camp to red-shirt him, rather than have him return to action, but not until the latter portion of the season.
And with the vast majority of the team being underclassmen, there are valid reasons to believe next year has a legitimate chance to be a better one for the Beavers than this season.
Writing off a season to get a head start on the following year certainly isn’t unprecedented. Mike Riley did it at halftime of the 2011 season opener against Sacramento State, writing off that season, and Ryan Katz’s career. It can be argued that it paid off, in the form of a conference passing yardage record that has a Beaver’s name, Sean Mannion, attached to it, and an Alamo Bowl trip.
That’s an easier to accept big picture take from the program point of view than it was for Katz, and anyone who was a senior on the team, in the band, or in the Beaver Dam, that suffered through 7 blowout (double digit) losses that year, and weren’t around to go to San Antonio.
And though WR Victor Bolden is now back at practice, after missing Friday’s scrimmage still recovering from a hamstring pull that sidelined him for a week, Andersen now has to weigh decisions about individuals that actually weigh on this season and next with starting LB Manase Hungalu with his left arm in a sling, and fellow linebacker Ricky Liuchan joining Williams on crutches, with his left leg encased in a brace.
Today’s medical retirement due to repetitive concussion issues by rotation safety Gabe Ovgard, the former walk-on from Klamath Falls who earned a couple of starts last season, and then a scholarship, can only further temper immediate expectations. Ovgard’s departure raises the number of players permanently lost due to medical reasons just since last season ended.
And it comes on the same day that Cyril Nolan-Lewis decided to walk away from the Oregon State football program, degree in hand, but also with a year of eligibility in hand. That takes 2 players who have played multiple positions in the secondary, with multiple starts each, out of the rotation on the same day.
The schedule throws an additional wrinkle in, given that the opener on Sept. 1 at Minnesota is one of the few games Oregon State won’t be a decided underdog in, and as such, is one of the swing games.
If the Beavers can get to 5 wins exclusive of the Minnesota (or any other) game, then doing anything and everything to secure a 6th win, and under the current circumstances with bowl games that sent 10 Pac-12 teams to the post-season last year, a bowl trip, complete with extra practices, and extra visibility for recruiting, is mandatory.
But if a bowl game isn’t within reach, or you think the Minnesota game on the road might be down a Gopher hole anyway, then there are 16 more days until the home opener against Idaho St., and really more than 3 more weeks, almost 6 weeks from now, until Boise St. comes to town. That’s the next, and perhaps first, time Harlow’s conditioning, and Hungalu’s arm and William’s leg, will actually matter in terms of on the field outcomes. And 6 weeks is time for a lot of recovery.
Coach Andersen must also gauge after what he himself termed as “a lot of give and take” in Friday’s scrimmage, just how much will bright young stars like WR Trevon Bradford and RB Art Pierce be as difference makers or game changers? And will that be this year, or next?
Hence the premise of this story; that there are some decisions to be made that aren’t easy, and don’t necessarily have an apparent right or wrong answer where we sit today.
It also raises a question I’ve been mulling over, and Peter wonders about, that we would like to hear from you below in the comments. Where do you feel the priority should be placed when “winning big now AND forever” isn’t an immediately available option?
At this point, with only 2 bowl games in the last 6 years, and really only that 1 upper-tier trip to San Antonio since the 2008 Sun Bowl, plus a brutal schedule of 9 teams coming off bowl games in 10 weeks that makes a bowl trip this year unlikely, do you expect Oregon State to still do everything they can to get any given win?
Or is potentially sacrificing a chance for a win at some point this year in order to better set the stage for getting an additional win or two next year, ones that might return the Beavers to that “air of optimism” people are looking for, and maybe a bowl game then, a better choice? Is it one you would make?
(Photo by Andy Wooldridge)