No. 66: Oregon State
By Paul Myerberg // Jun 26, 2011
From 2006-9, a period most would call the best stretch in program history, Oregon State was picked to finish seventh (2006), fifth (2007), sixth (2008) and fourth (2009) in the Pac-10, according to the annual media poll. The Beavers went on to finish third, third, tied for second and tied for second, respectively. In short: no B.C.S. conference program played beyond its means more so than Oregon State, which might not have the talent but certainly has the coaching, it’s safe to say. So what happened in 2010? The Beavers were picked to finish third in the Pac-10, behind only Oregon and U.S.C., but ended up tied for fifth at 5-7, 4-5 in conference play. Perhaps O.S.U. began to believe the hype? I doubt it. But is it possible that the Beavers are more comfortable playing as the underdog? No question. And if that’s the case, O.S.U. might be in for a big year in 2011.
11 (6 offense, 5 defense)
Last year’s ranking
- Sept. 3
- Sept. 10
- Sept. 24
- Oct. 1
at Arizona St.
- Oct. 8
- Oct. 15
- Oct. 22
at Washington St.
- Oct. 29
- Nov. 5
- Nov. 12
- Nov. 19
- Nov. 26
Last year’s prediction
This schedule is going to really going to test Oregon State, particularly outside of non-conference play. Getting T.C.U. and Boise State away from home in a three-week span is not a great thing for a team breaking in a new, unproven quarterback, even one with Katz’s upside. Even though Katz might struggle early, the offense is talented enough to again rank among the top three in the Pac-10 in scoring. The heart of this attack, of course, is Jacquizz Rodgers: barring injury, he’s a prime time Heisman contender. I think the defense will be improved, thanks to the experienced gained by several returning starters a year ago. The key to the defense will lie in its ability to get to the quarterback, a missing ingredient from last year’s group that did little to aid a brand-new secondary. No, the Beavers won’t finish 12-0, thanks to a rough schedule. Nevertheless, Oregon State could very easily win seven games in Pac-10 play, potentially landing a Rose Bowl berth with a season-ending win over rival Oregon.
In a nutshell So what happened? I’ll tell you what happened: the schedule. Oh, and injuries. And some generally disappointing play down the stretch. All told, however, and excuses aside, this was really the first Mike Riley-coached team in Corvallis to disappoint; as noted, most — if not all — of his teams have far exceeded expectations. The schedule did put Oregon State behind an eight ball, to be fair. There were away games against T.C.U. and Boise State over the first three weeks, Stanford and Oregon to end the year and tough conference games in between, and when looking back on the year it was fair to say that no team in the F.B.S. had a tougher slate of games. And then there were a few injuries, one of which had a dramatic impact on the offensive side of the ball. Speaking of offense: the Beavers scored about a touchdown less per game than in 2009, when it ranked second in the Pac-10 in scoring. It was the offense that disappeared down the stretch, averaging only 16.8 points per game over a 1-4 finish to the year.
High point A 4-3 start, which included a 3-1 mark in Pac-10 play. That was Oregon State’s mark heading into November, meaning the Beavers were right on schedule: two of the losses came to Boise State and T.C.U., as expected, and another setback came at Washington in double overtime. The wins weren’t pretty, on the other hand, which might have been cause for concern: O.S.U. beat Louisville by seven points, Arizona State by three and Arizona by two before taking California behind the woodshed in a 35-7 victory.
Low point The 1-4 finish. O.S.U. needed to go 2-3 to reach bowl eligibility, and it was thought it would get there prior to a three-game stretch against U.S.C., Stanford and Oregon to end the year. Therefore, it’s a pair of sloppy, ugly losses against U.C.L.A. and Washington State — especially Washington State — that stand as the low point of the year. After losing that pair, O.S.U. was 4-5, 3-3 in the Pac-10, with three games left to play.
Tidbit Oregon State is one of 16 programs in the F.B.S. whose name — and we’re not counting “University” or “College” as part of the name, except for Boston College — begins and ends with a vowel. Also on the list: Air Force, Alabama, Arizona, Arizona State, Arkansas State, East Carolina, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Iowa State, Ohio, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Utah State. The total jumps to 17 if we include an acronym like U.C.L.A., though I don’t think that should count.
Tidbit (rushing edition) Oregon State has three former running backs ranked among the top 10 rushers in Pac-10 history: Ken Simonton, Yvenson Bernard and Jacquizz Rodgers. U.S.C. is the only other program to have three rushers on the list; no other Pac-10 program has more than one. The Beavers have had 11 1,000-yard rushers since 1998, most in the conference. Oregon is second with 10, California third with eight and the Trojans fourth with six.
Tidbit (scoring edition) Last fall saw Oregon State score under 300 points for the first time since 2005 and only the third time since 1999. In comparison, Oregon State had never scored more than 286 points in a season from its inception through 1998.
Former players in the N.F.L.
29 WR Damola Adeniji (Oakland), S Al Afalava (Indianapolis), QB Derek Anderson (Arizona), LB Nick Barnett (Green Bay), CB Bernard Browner (Seattle), LB Victor Butler (Dallas), QB Sean Canfield (New Orleans), OG Kyle DeVan (Indianapolis), DT Dwan Edwards (Buffalo), LB Keith Ellison (Buffalo), CB Brandon Hughes (Philadelphia), WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh (Baltimore), RB Steven Jackson (St. Louis), OT Adam Koets (New York Giants), LB Keaton Kristick (San Francisco), CB Gerard Lawson (Philadelphia), OG Andy Levitre (Buffalo), CB Keenan Lewis (Pittsburgh), DE Gabe Miller (Kansas City), QB Matt Moore (Carolina), LB Slade Norris (Jacksonville), WR Chad Ochocinco (Cincinnati), P Sam Paulescu (Washington), S Sabby Piscitelli (Cleveland), RB Jacquizz Rodgers (Atlanta), OG Roy Schuening (Oakland), WR Sammie Stroughter (Tampa Bay).
Arbitrary top five list
“State” schools since 2006
1. Boise State (61-5).
2. L.S.U. (51-15).
3. Ohio State (56-9).
4. Penn State (47-18).
5. Oregon State (41-24).
Mike Riley (Alabama ’75), 69-54 over a decade in Corvallis. This record is compiled over two separate stints: the first, from 1997-98, had Riley go 8-14, while the second, more successful stay, which began in 2003, has seen Riley finish 62-40. The two spells were interrupted by a four-year term in the N.F.L.: an unsuccessful three-year period as the Chargers’ head coach (14-34 from 1999-2001) followed by one season as an assistant with the Saints. Though there is a large dichotomy between his two stints with the Beavers, his initial two-year stint saw Oregon State begin to change the losing culture that had pervaded the program for more than a generation. After going 3-8 in 1997, Riley led the Beavers to a 5-6 1998 season, the program’s best finish in 27 years. Dennis Erickson, now the head coach at Arizona State, reaped the benefits of that groundwork to go 31-17 from 1999-2002. When Erickson left Corvallis for another shot at the N.F.L., Riley was the logical – and perfect – choice for the job. He has had only two losing season since returning, with a 5-6 finish in 2006 joining last fall, and Oregon State’s 28 wins from 2004-7 placed it second in the Pac-10 over that span, trailing only U.S.C. Before coming to Oregon State, Riley spent four seasons (1993-6) as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at U.S.C. under John Robinson. So there’s the resume, short and sweet. What Riley has done in Corvallis, and what he continues to achieve, really can’t be explained in such a short space. There’s a reason this guy’s name is associated with almost every major job opening the country: and I’m not talking small jobs — try U.S.C., Alabama and the like. Riley is one of the best coaches in the country.
Players to watch
Here’s the best news regarding junior Ryan Katz: history shows that Oregon State quarterbacks under Mike Riley typically make a sizable improvement as second-year starters – see Lyle Moevao and Sean Canfield as the most recent examples. And it’s not as if Katz was bad last season, when he threw for 2,383 yards and 18 scores against 11 interceptions; he was inconsistent at times, a slight liability at others, but he was pretty good, actually. The key for any quarterback is avoiding the lulls: Katz started slow, hit his stride during the heart of Pac-10 play but tossed nine of his 11 picks in three losses – Washington, Stanford and Oregon.
I promise you: Katz will be better. This is thanks to a pair of factors, the first of which is his own talent level. While not the biggest quarterback, Katz can make the throws he’s asked to make in this offense; he’s also mobile when he needs to be, though far from a threat with his legs. Now, the biggest reason why Katz will improve is the one listed above: Riley. His work with this position – along with offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf – is a vastly underrated aspect of his coaching toolbox. Yes, Katz will be better.
How much better may also hinge on whether two of his leading targets in the passing game are healthy by September. Flanker James Rodgers suffered a nasty knee injury four games into last fall, cutting short what looked like another big year for one of the conference’s most dangerous offensive weapons. Worse yet, Rodgers suffered a setback in his recovery, one that forced him to undergo a second surgery on the knee shortly after the end of the season. At this point, it’s hard to say how he’ll be if he does return, or even whether he’ll return at all – though Rodgers seemed positive about his chances when asked about his knee at Oregon State’s spring game.
Then there’s tight end Joe Halahuni (30 catches for 390 yards), who led O.S.U. with six touchdown grabs. After playing through shoulder issues last fall, Halahuni was forced to have surgery in May; the recovery period is supposed to be about six months, which would put his season in jeopardy. So Katz might not have Rodgers or Halahuni to work with, which isn’t good. But he will have Markus Wheaton (55 catches for 675 yards), who stepped into the void once Rodgers went down last fall. Wheaton can be that sort of receiving and running threat this offense needs, perhaps offsetting any prolonged absence for Rodgers. O.S.U. also needs more from Jordan Bishop (22 for 353) and Darrell Catchings.
The Beavers are very experienced up front. The line returns 91 career starts, one of the higher totals in the F.B.S., and will probably have four senior starters. Only one will return in the same spot, however: senior Burke Ellis is back at right guard, though he was pushed for snaps during the spring by Michael Lamb. It’s a similar story at right tackle, where former left tackle Michael Philipp is battling Colin Kelly in an effort to retain a starting role. Senior Grant Johnson moves from left guard to center, replacing Alex Linnenkohl. If all goes according to plan, the lone new face up front will be sophomore Josh Andrews, who is poised to take over at left guard. The line’s best player? It’s clearly senior Mike Remmers, who takes over on the blind side after starting all 12 games at right tackle in 2010.
The losses on defense are intimidating, especially along the line. That’s where tackle Stephen Paea did his thing over the last three years, netting award after accolade along the way; there’s no Paea on this defense, it’s safe to say. And that’s bad news for a defense that even with Paea was torn apart against the run, though the pass rush wasn’t terrible. I don’t think O.S.U. is going to struggle in the latter category: there’s some speed up front, particularly at end. But I don’t know if the Beavers are going to make any improvement in rush defense, which is a major concern.
The play of the line as a whole may hinge on how well senior Dominic Glover (43 tackles, 7.5 for loss) takes to the transition to tackle from end. He has pretty good size for an end but may be slightly undersized inside on first and second down, so let’s see how well he can handle bigger blockers between the tackles. He’ll be joined in the middle by senior Kevin Frahm (33 tackles, 3 sacks), who started three games last fall but was a fixture in the tackle rotation all season. The starting ends, Todd Henry (18 tackles) and Rusty Fernando, should provide a healthy pass rush. Fernando, a JUCO transfer, will be counted on to make an immediate difference.
Converted safety Cameron Collins (39 tackles, 2.5 for loss) was the talk of the spring on defense after moving down to outside linebacker. He has good size and speed, so he might be a breakout star for the Beavers. Sophomore Michael Doctor has moved to the top of the list on the weak side; he was one of the few true freshmen to see time for O.S.U. in 2010. There’s some competition in the middle, where the Beavers bring back starting experience in Ruebin Robinson and Tony Wilson, both of whom made 35 stops last fall. Robinson might not be big enough to start in the middle, however, and Wilson is still attempting to make a full recovery from knee surgery prior to last season. That might open the job up to junior Feti Unga, who has done well when called upon.
Brandon Hardin is built like a safety – if not an outside linebacker – which has been to his benefit against the run but sometimes finds him in trouble in pass coverage, though he doesn’t lack for speed. Hardin is the lone returning starter at cornerbacks, though junior Jordan Poyer (34 tackles, 2 interceptions) played enough last fall to seamlessly move into the starting lineup. The Beavers are also high on sophomore Rashaad Reynolds, who could push Poyer for the starting nod opposite Hardin.
Free safety Lance Mitchell (74 tackles, 2 picks) is the leader of the secondary. He brings 24 career starts and a strong nose for the football into his senior season, with some injury issues the only concern surrounding this all-conference candidate. Junior Anthony Watkins (27 tackles) is next in line at strong safety, thanks largely to his ability to step up and help against the run. He played well down the stretch last fall.
Position battle(s) to watch
Running back The search is on for a replacement for Jacquizz Rodgers, who surprised many by entering the N.F.L. with a year of eligibility remaining. There’s dangerously little experience at the position, most of it coming in senior Ryan McCants, who was a key part of the 2008 team but has seen his touches diminish over the two years since. McCants is different from Rodgers in one regard: while Rodgers was pint-sized, McCants, at 240 pounds, provides a vastly different look. While he might get the bulk of the carries, especially in the early going, look for O.S.U. to go with a by-committee approach in the backfield. That would involve several younger backs, such as sophomore Jovan Stevenson and freshmen Terron Ward and Malcolm Marable. That freshmen pair — Ward is a true freshman — are more like Rodgers in terms of size. So perhaps they can provide a change-of-pace for McCants. The unsettled depth chart also provides two more incoming freshmen, Malcolm Agnew and Storm Woods, with the opportunity for immediate playing time. One thing seems evident: the depth chart — how many young backs there are — indicates that O.S.U. was not entirely prepared for Rodgers to leave a year early.
Game(s) to watch
There are several must-win games if Oregon State hopes to return to bowl play. One is Washington State, which will be improved. Others are home games with U.C.L.A. and Arizona. Then there’s the Civil War, which continues to be one of the top rivalry games in the country.
Season breakdown & prediction
In a nutshell There are reasons for concern. There’s another tough schedule, one that sends Oregon State to Wisconsin, Arizona State, Utah and Oregon. The Beavers also host B.Y.U., Stanford and Washington. While not quite on par with last year’s slate, which started and closed with a bang, there are not very many games on the schedule where can immediately pencil in a win – that’s as of today, though there’s a lot of time until September. Then there are the roster issues: running back, receiver, defensive line and linebacker. The Beavers will need at least two, perhaps three backs to help recoup the production lost when Jacquizz Rodgers left for the N.F.L. a year ahead of schedule. If the injury issues are resolved, the receiver corps will be in fine shape; unfortunately, there’s no way to know if James Rodgers and Halahuni will be back by the start of the season – it seems unlikely that Halahuni will be back for September. The defense has significant holes to address along the front seven, especially along the interior of the line. Glover is a nice prospect at end, but I’m worried about his ability to handle the punishment he’s due to take at tackle. Now, keep this in mind: with last season as one of the few exceptions, Oregon State seems to play beyond its means under Riley. So perhaps returning to an underdog role will be just what the doctor ordered for the Beavers in 2011. I do think this is important, and it’s perhaps the main reason why I think O.S.U. will return to bowl play this fall. But I don’t think this team is going to be great, even if Riley always seems to make something out of less than something. It’s going to be tough to make waves in a deadly Pac-12 North, but O.S.U. could challenge California and Washington for the third spot in the division.
Dream season Back in the underdog role, Oregon State responds to the doubters with a 9-3 finish, 7-2 in the Pac-12. The regular season is capped with a win over Oregon, which knocks the Ducks out of the national title game.
Nightmare season The Beavers just don’t have the horses to compete in a tough Pac-12: 4-8, 2-7 in conference play.
In case you were wondering
Where do Oregon State fans congregate? You can find an independent viewpoint at Beaver Sports Central II, though I continue to be curious as to the whereabouts of Beaver Sports Central I. Recruiting coverage can be found at Beaver Football and Beaver Blitz. For a blog’s take, check out Building The Dam. And Paul Buker covers the Beavers over at the Web site of The Oregonian.
Through 55 teams 159,009.
Who is No. 65? The recipient of the 2009 James Beard award for Best Chef: South has a wonderful restaurant in the city housing tomorrow’s university.
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Tags: Brandon Hardin, Dominic Glover, Feti Unga, James Rodgers, Lance Mitchell, Mike Remmers, Mike Riley, Oregon State, Pac-12, Ryan McCants
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