Going into Pullman, and this weekend’s visit by Oregon State to the Palouse, its hard not to have a “duck and cover” mentality, especially in light of any number of recent and relatively recent events that seem relevant, many involving Oregon State losses and poor performances, and/or Washington State wins.
The last time the Beavers were in Martin Stadium, the Cougars, behind Luke Falk, and faced with an Oregon State defense incapable of putting pressure on him or any opposing quarterback, rolled to a 45-17 halftime lead, and coasted to a 52–31 win that was never in doubt after about 5 minutes into the 2nd quarter. The current Oregon State defense, which hasn’t gotten a sack of a number of opposing quarterbacks in 3 games (Portland State and Minnesota both used multiple qbs), and hardly even any pressure, is even less of a threat to disrupt anyone’s passing game.
The last 2 times the Cougars came to Corvallis, they had to rally from behind, but did so, as the Beaver defense was unable to avoid getting bombed by the Air Raid. Falk has already thrown for over 1,700 yards just against Oregon State, exceeding the career yardage of several recent Beaver qbs against all competition.
Last week, Falk got pulled twice, both of which were among a long list of decisions by Coach Mike Leach that were the subjects of considerable debate, and yet the Cougars still rallied from 3 touchdowns down to eventually beat Boise State 47–44 in 3 overtimes with Tyler Hilinski at the helm.
Apparently Leach is finally getting close to Leach-proofing his own team, where he has enough players that are good enough that even his in game decisions can’t mess things up.
They all speak to the current disparity in the programs, on a variety of levels.
And that was before Oregon State found themselves down at least 3 starting DBs, plus another who has been in the regular rotation, just in time to try to stop the most productive passing offense in the conference. What could go wrong? (Other than everything that already has in blowouts by 31 & 34 points, made worse by getting beaten 34-7 & 28-0 in the second half of their games against FBS opponents.)
This 102nd meeting is as early as the Beavers and 21st ranked Cougars have ever met in the history of the series, and that also puts it at a bad point in the schedule. In his 5 years as coach of the Cougars, Mike Leach has never lost the 3rd game of the season. Indeed, this is the week when Washington State usually hits their stride in the timing-sensitive Air Raid offense. The last 5 years, the Cougars have won by 8 (in a 3-9 year), 38, 38, 17, and last year 50 points.
The result is the Beavers are 21 point road (under)dogs, and given that they have only been even competitive on the road once in the Gary Andersen era, that doesn’t seem unreasonable in any way.
Slow starts by the Cougars are not uncommon though, and the best bet for a good showing by the Beavers do depend on their getting off to a good start. But they did that against Colorado State, and it didn’t matter, against a Ram team that is not the threat to make a second half surge that Washington State is. And injuries in the secondary have made the Beavers more susceptible to a successful rally than they have been.
The game can’t be called off though, so one has to wonder what the approach should be for Andersen and the Beavers, not to mention the would-like-to-be Beaver Believers.
The local sunshine spinners are still heavily in support of Andersen, though the programs’ investors have already demonstrated their support isn’t all that strong, in the form of thousands of empty seats the last 2 weeks at Reser. This is in considerable contrast with what’s happening at Arizona State, where Todd Graham has been told by his administration to turn it around or else, and he’s accomplished a lot more the Sun Devils than Andersen has for the Beavers.
The question then would seem to be whether Andersen, and especially some members of his staff, can demonstrate reasons to believe things actually will turn around if they can recruit and develop better talent. Ideally, that would start with being competitive with Washington State, but should especially demonstrate an approach that at least could work.
I’ll be watching for a minimal number of plays where the Oregon State defense isn’t beat before the snap even occurs due to unsound alignment. I’ll also be watching to see if while on offense, Oregon State will commit to getting the ball to Ryan Nall far more often than happened against Minnesota.
And to see if Jake Luton can have an accurate afternoon.
And to see if the defensive game plan has some creative wrinkles that helps out a depleted secondary of second stringers, or if they are left to fend for themselves as a by-product of the scheme.
Even with injuries, there are no excuses for a Power 5 conference team being 128th (out of 130 FBS teams) in scoring defense. Regardless of the quality of competition, failure to improve on that should be a fireable offense.
I expect everyone will be watching for an absence of unforced errors on special teams, and a reduction in turnovers. Oregon State has lost more than 80% of the games it has lost the turnover margin in since the second coming of Mike Riley, and both of this seasons’ debacles have been characterized, and compounded, by turnovers.
The rebuild at Oregon State is without doubt the toughest Andersen has taken on. It takes less total additional talent to improve the level and quantity of talent to the point where its superior to most of the opponents a Utah State faces than it is at a Pac-12 program. And Wisconsin was already in a position of superior talent, and superior recruiting, relative to most of its opponents, whereas Oregon State was already behind almost all of its peers.
However, some of the issues, the ones that need to be addressed first, and most, are issues that not only lose the game before the Beavers can get a chance to try to win it, they are non-talent based issues. They are barometers of preparation and coaching effectiveness.
If we don’t see improved competence, improved talent won’t be enough. Then we will see if the administration is willing to address the issue, as was done down the road where a staff overhaul has Oregon off to a 2-0 start, and favored to build on that in Laramie, after withstanding a second half rally by Nebraska. Or in Tempe, where the administration has put their rubber stamp away.
(Photo by Andy Wooldridge)