2010 Spring Fish Wrap – Oregon State Edition

Happy July 1st Cougs!  With the calendar flipping over to a new month, you realize we’re now just what, 65 days away from the season opener in Stillwater, OK??  And we’re only about a month away from fall camp.  Just amazing how it flies by, isn’t it?

Meanwhile, I know some of you haven’t exactly been “thrilled” with the whole fish wrap thing.  They can be long and drawn out, I know.  But fear not, dear reader – we are almost done!  Today we look at Oregon State, tomorrow we’ll look at UW, and then that’s it.  Have to hang in there and finish the job once you start it, right?  So hold tight, we are almost there.  Today we take a look at the Beavs for ’10.  Read on….

Oh, those Beavs.  Our “state” cousins from Oregon, they used to be the definition of little brother to the big, bad Oregon Ducks.  And this was a program that had 28 straight losing seasons, rolling out a 51-166 record combined in the 80’s and 90’s.  But wow, do those days seem long gone or what?  Did you know that with their eight wins last year, Oregon State finished off the 2K decade with an amazing 80-45 record!?!  Those 80 wins are good for third in the conference in that time span, behind USC (102) and Oregon (87).  And those 80 victories are a whopping nine games better than Cal’s 71 wins over the last 10 years.  But if you were to ask the average Joe football fan on the street, would they really say that Oregon State was nine games better than Cal over the last 10 years?  It’s really remarkable what they’ve been able to accomplish. 

What makes it even crazier is to look at their trend in recent years – the super slow starts, then it’s circle-the-wagons time, only to finish with an incredible kick to close out the season.  What’s the deal with these guys?  Why is it they struggle out of the gate every year…..yet by the end of the season they are as good as anyone in the conference, and always seem to be playing for SOMETHING?!?  For example:

2009: Beavs struggle to a 2-2 start, losing to Cincinnati and Arizona.  But once they roll into October, everything changes as the Beavs win six of their next seven, steamrolling into the Civil War with a winner-take-all showdown for the Rose Bowl.  They lose to the Ducks, unfortunately, and then slog though the Vegas bowl with a major Civil War hangover in a 44-20 wipeout at the hands of BYU.  Still, they finish with an 8-5 record, 6-3 in the conference.

2008:  Ho-hum, more of the same.  An 0-2 start, with losses to Stanford and an embarrassing 45-14 blowout to Penn State, and things look bleak.  But they turn it all around with a shocker over #1 USC on ESPN, as the world is introduced to a dynamite little tailback in Jacquizz Rodgers.   

The next thing you know they win six of their last seven to set up another Civil War showdown. They lose to the hated Ducks with the conference title on the line, but beat Pitt in the Sun Bowl to finish at 9-4.

2007:  A lousy 2-3 start, including blowout losses to Cincinnati (34-3) and UCLA (40-14, in Corvallis!).  Absolutely left for dead after that UCLA loss, what happens?  They get off the mat in a huge way, winning six of their last seven regular season games and then a win over Maryland in the Emerald Bowl, capping off a 9-4 season.

2006:  Yet ANOTHER 2-3 start, including big losses to Boise State (42-14), Cal (41-13), and a tough loss to the Cougs in Corvallis, 13-6.  Once again, the outlook is beyond bleak, but they get up and fight their way to win seven of their last eight games, including another upset of #3 USC, 33-31, and an exciting 30-28 win over Oregon in the Civil War.  They finish off the year by beating Mizzou in a wild 39-38 Sun Bowl, and wind up with a 10-4 record.

That’s far enough, don’t you think?

There are some theories as to why the slow starts, yet strong finish.  I’ve seen a few of them floated, and Ted Miller broke down some of the reasons over the last few slow starts in a story last fall:

Fact is, the Beavers slow starts often can be reasonably explained. This year and last season, eight defensive starters had to be replaced. In 2007, the Beavers were breaking in a new quarterback. In 2006, they were coming off tough 5-6 season — they’d lost four of their final five games — and fans were starting to wonder if Riley could coach.

Ha! I see all those sheepish looks, Beavers fans.

The best explanation for the strong finishes, in fact, is good coaching from Riley and his staff, which may be the best collection of coaches in the Pac-10. Oregon State’s players get better as the season progresses. They learn. They improve. They grow more confident.

Fair points, across the board.  But even more, Rivals.com also asked the same questions a couple of years ago, and touched on Riley’s NFL experience as a factor:

Riley’s NFL background also may have played a major role in Oregon State’s ability to bounce back from adversity. Riley spent three years as the San Diego Chargers’ coach and one season as the New Orleans Saints’ secondary coach before beginning his second stint at Oregon State in 2003.

After working in a league that usually rewards the teams playing their best at the end of the season, Riley perhaps instilled an attitude that a season isn’t necessarily over after a team drops a couple of games. Riley’s unyielding optimism has carried over to his players each September and has helped the Beavers turn lost causes into unexpected resurgences.

“When you lose early, you have to live in the moment,” Riley said. “You’re not thinking about a conference championship or a national championship. You’re thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh. What are we going to do? We have to focus on the next game and winning it.’ “

There is one last theory I have heard about with Oregon State under Mike Riley, a theory you don’t hear a whole lot about, and it’s this –  they don’t go crazy and kill each other during the heat of August camp.  Oh, they work hard, no doubt.  And they hit each other.  But it’s not as much hitting as some of the other programs out there.  It’s sort of an NFL approach, where the franchises have so much money invested in their talent that they don’t crack skulls on each other too heavily.  Instead, they use the preseason to get their top-end hitting in preparing for the year.  So, when they get into game conditions for the first month or so, they aren’t used to the flat-out physicality compared to the opposition.  They might turn the ball over more with fumbles, or they might not be quite as physical on defense as they would be later in the season.  But once that first month is out of the way, they get their sea legs, they are just as good as any team left on the schedule.

So, who knows.  Maybe Oregon State’s September is sort of like an NFL team’s approach to the preseason, where it’s a process of getting out the kinks and such?    Whatever the reasons, they are an undeniable success story of rag-tag losers to upper-division Pac-10 power!

LAST TIME vs. WSU: The Beavs came to Pullman in November last year, in an absolute must-win game to keep their Rose Bowl hopes alive.  After a bit of a slow start, where WSU was hanging around at 21-10 at the half, the Beavs would turn it on and run away with it, 42-10.  Jacquizz Rodgers would run for 165 yards and a couple of TD’s, having his way with the Cougar defense.  The outmanned Cougs would have just 13 healthy scholarship players on defense, and they eventually wore down against a much better team. 

But hey, at least the outnumbered defense came to play!  Check out the hit by Xavier Hicks on Quizz:

Ouch!  Some good shots by Hicks in that entire highlight reel, but that has to be one of the biggest hits delivered to Rodgers in his time at OSU?

Scoring:  31.5 ppg, 3rd in the Pac-10 and 26th in the nation.
Rushing:  139.9 ypg, 6th in the Pac-10 and 67th in the nation.
Passing:  270.8 ypg, 1st in the Pac-10 and 27th in the nation.
Total Offense:  410.6 ypg, 3rd in the Pac-10 and 34th in the nation.

OFFENSIVE SCHEME:  Danny Langsdorf leads the one-back attack, where OSU rolls out three wide receivers, a tight end, and a running back. 

2010 RETURNING OFFENSIVE STARTERS: The Beavs look really strong, with eight starters back for ’10.  Per Phil Steele,  the Beavs return 54.73% of their total yards for this year.  Obviously losing Sean Canfield takes the biggest bite out of the returning offensive numbers, but there is a lot of experience everywhere else.

TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER: Not to take anything away from James Rodgers, the do-everything flanker who caught 91 balls last year with nine TD’s, as well as rushing for 303 yards via the “fly sweep” play.  But we have to go with his little brother.  And little bro is not just the top offensive player on OSU, but maybe the most complete offensive player on the west coast – Jacquizz Rodgers.

Quizz is, quite simply, special.  Excellent speed and moves, the low center of gravity making it so hard to get a real shot on him, the vision and moves to get into space, the ability to stop and start on a dime.  Despite his 5-7, 188lb frame, he can do it all.  After an incredible breakthrough ’08 frosh season where he ran for 1,253 yards in just 10 starts, Quizz ran for 1,440 and added a school record 21 rushing TD’s, all on 5.3 yards per carry.  Oh, yeah, he also caught an amazing 78 passes out of the backfield!  The Heisman campaign is officially on.  While he might get overshadowed by UW’s “Locker-palooza” media blitz, would it be a shock if Quizz ended up being the best offensive player in the Pac-10 for ’10?

DEFENSIVE SCHEME:  D-coordinator Mark Banker leads the defense, which is an attacking 4-3 style that is aggressive against the run and isn’t afraid to bring the heat in the passing game.

Scoring: 25.0 ppg, 6th in the Pac-10 and 57th in the nation.
Rushing: 114.4 ypg, 3rd in the Pac-10 and 25th in the nation.
Passing: 235.1 ypg, 6th in the Pac-10 and 84th in the nation.

Total Defense: 349.5 ypg, 6th in the Pac-10 and 46th in the nation.

2010 RETURNING DEFENSIVE STARTERS:  The Beavs welcome back eight starters on D this year.

:  While nine of the top 12 tacklers return for the Beavs this season, there are some good options to pick from.  Lance Mitchell is a really good free safety, with 72 tackles and a team-high three interceptions last year.  But we’ll go with the monster defensive tackle, Stephen Paea, as the top defensive player in ’10.

Paea (pronounced “Pie-uh”, by the way) is a force in the middle, a 6-1, 311lb ball of fast-twitch muscle.  He might not blow you away with pure stats, but despite facing constant double-teams, he’s racked up 19 tackles for loss and eight sacks in two years.   But there is a reason he won the Morris Trophy last year, awarded to the Pac-10’s top defensive lineman.  The guy can absolutely bring it.  And calling him merely “strong” is an understatement.  Some claim he could be the strongest player in the nation, COLLEGE OR PRO!  Why do you hear claims like that?  Because he has benched 225 pounds….44 TIMES in a row!  Note that the NFL combine record at 225 pounds is 45 reps.  It’s hard to believe, but with another year in the OSU strength program, he might get even stronger?  Check out the tape that has been making the rounds in the Pac-10 blogosphere:

He’s got a ways to go before he is in the same breath of big Suh from Nebraska, but there is little doubt he is setting up for a potentially huge senior year!


1)  START WITH THE BIGGIE – IS RYAN KATZ READY AT QB? Sean Canfield had a checkered career, with injuries and inconsistency over the first few years of his time at OSU.  But it all finally clicked for the big lefty last year, where he threw for 3,271 yards, 21 TD’s and a school record 67.9% completion percentage!  Canfield has left the building though, picked by New Orleans in the draft this spring, and along with Lyle Moevao graduating, the Beavs have to start over at QB.  Who will it be?  Ryan Katz, that’s who!  NOTE – I missed the whole part about Peter Lalich getting booted from the team.  I remembered that he got in trouble with the boating thing, and was suspended indefinitely or up to three games, but I should have double-checked on the whole kicked-off-the-team part of it!  My bad, Beaver fans.  Thanks for the heads-up.

Katz was the #1 QB thoughout the spring, and is the projected starter by all the preseason mags and previews and such.  Katz has the physical tools, a sturdy 6-1, 210 with a very strong arm.  But he is awfully inexperienced, just 232 yards in mop-up duty last year as a frosh.  The worry is that over the last several years in the Riley/Langsdorf offense, new QB’s have started slow in the one-back OSU scheme.  As Ted Miller pointed out this spring:

But there’s a caveat hidden in that positive point, because every recent Oregon State quarterback has improved steadily during his career, from Derek Anderson, to Matt Moore, to Lyle Moevao, to Sean Canfield.

But each of those guys started his career slowly and, well, unimpressively. Anderson completed just 47 percent of his passes his first year as the Beavers starter under then-coach Dennis Erickson. Moore threw 19 interceptions. Moevao and Canfield combined for 21 interceptions in 2007.

The question is how steep Katz’s learning curve will be.

If Katz does hold on to the number-one spot at QB, he’s going to have an amazing amount of returning skill position guys to spread the wealth.  The Beavs return the top six rushers from last year, and seven of the top nine pass-catchers as well.  James Rodgers of course is an ultra-dynamic playmaker at flanker, but they also bring back a really good tight end in Joe Halahuni.  Halahuni had 486 yards and three TD’s as a sophomore last year.  And his 35 catches were just one shy of the school record from a tight end, Joe Netwon, with 36 catches.

2)  WHAT HAPPENED TO THE PASS RUSH? It was a big step down on defense last year, at least in terms of sacks.  The Beavs had just 17 sacks, the lowest ever under Mike Riley.  Losing Slade Norris and Victor Butler from the defensive end positions hurt the pressure on the outside, and with the lack of pressure, the passing defense numbers slipped from 181 yards per game in ’08 to 235 yards per game in ’09, putting them at 84th in the nation.  And the lack of sacks are a big concern.  Consider that the Beavs had 39, 44 and 47 sacks from ’06-’08, creating pressure on the opposing passing game is a big staple of the Beaver defense.  Stephen Paea is the top returning “sacker”, but had just three last year out of the D-tackle position.  Gabe Miller will be at one defensive end slot, a converted tight end who is athletic but still learning to play the position.  He showed some promise last year, tied with Paea with three sacks among his 23 tackles.  But they are going to need to get more out of the defensive ends, no doubt about it. 

It’s going to be tough.  The 6th-toughest schedule in the nation as rated by Phil Steele, the non-conference slate looks daunting.  They open at Jerry Jones World (new Cowboys Stadium) vs. TCU on 9/4, and that won’t be a picnic by any stretch.  After hosting Louisville, they then go to Boise State.  They good news is that they get five Pac-10 home games this year, including Cal, USC and Oregon all making the trip to Reser.  But wow, are we looking at yet ANOTHER slow start?  A tough early slate of games, a brand new QB, but Cal, SC and Oregon in Corvallis from October 30th through December 4th could indeed see ’10 as a repeat of ’09….or ’08….or ’07…..etc.

WSU FB SEZ DOT-DOT-DOT….Like several Pac-10 teams, Oregon State has “enjoyed” playing WSU the last few seasons.  They have outscored WSU 160-40 over the last three years (52-17 in ’07, 66-13 in ’08, and 42-10 in ’09).  WSU has won just one of their last five vs. OSU, 13-6 in ’06…..Sacks and turnovers as well have been a huge part of OSU’s success the last decade.  OSU is +14 in turnover ratio the last four years, all winning seasons.  The last time they had a losing season – 2005 – the Beavs were MINUS-14 in turnover ratio.  Yes, turnover ratio is a huge key to whether or not you succeed!……….Despite losing Canfield, as well as a bulk of the linebacker corps, OSU will be one of the most experienced teams in the conference.  They return 58 letter winners total from last year, #1 in the Pac-10 ahead of Cal (55) and USC (54)….The offensive line looks strong, as usual.  Four of the five starters from last year are back, led by center Alex Linnenkohl and rising sophomore tackle Michael Philipp……Reser Stadium is one of the top home field advantages in the conference, as the Beavs have gone 47-14 at home since the ’00 season.  Their 47 home wins puts them at third overall the last 10 years at home, behind USC and Oregon, both tied with 51 wins…..One last thing on Riley and this great run they have been on – over the last four years, OSU is 25-11, second only to USC in the Pac-10.  And, they are the only Pac-10 school to finish in the top three in the Pac-10 over that time span!…..The Beavs had a tough go of it on the recruiting trail last year.  They were last in the Pac-10 with the 67th-ranked class in the nation for the class of ’10.  But low recruiting rankings aren’t anything new in Corvallis.  The Beavs were 48th in ’09, 61st in ’08, and 40th in ’07.  But the rankings, well, you know how that goes in recruiting.  That ’08 class has produced Jacquizz Rodgers and Stephen Paea, maybe the best offensive AND defensive players in the Pac-10 for 2010!…..Some of the best stops on the web for all things Beavs are:  BeaverFootball.com, part of the Scout.com network; BuildingtheDam.com, part of the SBNation network; GazetteTimes.com’s Beaver Sports section; CliffKirkpatrick.com’s OSU BlogOregonLive.com’s Beaver Blog; BeaverBlitz.com, from Rivals.com; and finally,  OSU Beaver Football Blog.

For prior Spring Fish Wraps on the previous ten WSU opponents for 2010, go here.

All for now.  Enjoy your Thursday, and as always, GO COUGS!