Final Thoughts On The Utes, The Run Game, And The Defense

Utah comes to rainy Reser, and its time to get back to business for the Beavers. Both the weather and last week’s 47-44 win over California in overtime gives Oregon State reasons for optimism on a level they haven’t had in the Gary Andersen era.

The Beavers will encounter some things they didn’t last Saturday, like an actual defense, for one thing. But they won’t be seeing as dangerous an offense as the Bear Raid either, particularly with Utah bringing a retired running back Joe Williams, due to the number of banged up backs they have. And the California team Oregon State just beat had in turn beat the Utes 28-23 the week before.

Utah nevertheless is a top 25 team, ranked 21 coming in, and with wins over BYU & USC on their 5-1 resume over the first half of the season. And they lead with physical defense, one unlikely to allow even half the 474 rushing yards Oregon State rolled up against California.

Compounding the problem, Ryan Nall is hobbled again. And while Andersen and OSU OC Kevin McGiven will again look to quarterback Darell Garretson to make plays with his feet, Beaver success will undoubtedly be more likely if Artavius Pierce can have a productive day behind the suddenly more efficient Oregon State offensive line. Given that Pierce has performed well in every game so far, that’s not an unreasonable prospect.

The stout Utah defense will be the real proof of the pudding for the OSU line, and the multiple moves that the return of Sean Harlow has facilitated. It allowed Blake Brandel to switch to the right side, and that in turn allowed Dustin Stanton to slide inside to guard. Stanton struggled with edge rushers, but the Beavers couldn’t do anything better. Once Brandel became available, moving Stanton inside became possible, and he’s much better suited to the position. And Gavin Andrews has really solidified the center position, a real area of issue until he slid in from the guard spot.

As Peter will attest, offensive line play is very much a team effort, and heavily dependent on timing and communication, at least when its going well, and in Oregon State’s case, one move that’s facilitated four has made a disproportionate difference.

Defensively, Oregon State shut down the Bear Raid, albeit an injured one, in the air, and Utah isn’t primarily going to look to light up the gloomy day to the same degree, a 245 yard passing day against the ‘Cats last week not withstanding. So shutting down the Ute run game, also in a banged up state, becomes one of the keys to the game.

That’s going to be a challenge, given that the Beavers were just chewed up for 317 rushing yards by the Bears, allowing 2 backs to go well over 100 yards. And Utah rolled up 210 yards in their first ever win against a Rich Rodriguez team, in last week’s 36-23 win in Salt Lake City.

But Armand Shyne, who ran for 101 of those yards, wont run for any against the Beavers, having suffered a season ending knee injury in the process that’s so severe he won’t even be ready for spring ball. Hence the re-entry of Williams, who took over last year for DeVonte Booker.

And why the 5-1 Utes are only 9 point favorites against the 1-4 Beavers.

Last year’s Utah win was a fat 2 score margin, 27-12, but even that wasn’t overwhelming. Prior to that, the Utes and Beavers had split a pair of overtime games, with both winning on the road. Utah and Oregon State have been relatively well matched, and its produced some of the more competitive games of last several seasons. A combination of offense-dampening damp weather and the absence of some key players on both squads makes this game one that should continue that trend of competitiveness.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham’s familiarness with Andersen and some of his staff, who in turn know a lot about the Utes and their system, and staff, makes for a compelling matchup as well, one in which neither side is likely to be surprised by much.

It makes for what should be both an interesting game, and a valid measurement of just how much the Beavers have progressed.

(Photo by Andy Wooldridge)


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