2011 Spring Fish Wrap – OSU Beavs Edition

What up Cougs?  Happy end of May to you, and here’s hoping all y’all enjoyed the holiday weekend.  Gotta love this March weather in late May…..?  Worst.  NW. Spring.  Ever.  I just want it to be warm, don’t you?  Then we can get to where everyone complains about how hot it is??  :)

So it’s time for another spring fish wrap, and we roll into opponent #7 on the Coug ’11 schedule as the Beavs are up next.  In a cool twist though, OSU comes into Seattle to take on the Cougs at Qwest Field.  Or, hang on a second, I guess it probably won’t be called “Qwest Field” any longer?? 

The Cougs and Beavs will take over Seattle on 10/22, and while I know the reaction to this has been somewhat mixed out there, I for one love the idea.  This game gives both schools a chance to perform on a bigger stage with more media attention than it might garner in Pullman (or even Corvallis if you want to know the truth).  Both programs should benefit from the experience, and it’s time to change the whole Seattle “experience” for the Cougs anyway.  Bill Moos made it a priority to play a CONFERENCE game in Seattle every year, and there is even talk that the 2012 game vs. Oregon could be played there as well.  But it’s a forward thinking move by Moos, as he continues to reshape WSU athletics into his own vision of what it should be and where it needs to go.  Live in the dark ages, stay in the dark ages, and Moos is going with the new Pac-12 flow of getting out in front of things, know what I mean?  You can bitch and moan about a WSU conference home game being moved to a neutral site, but at the end of the day we’re playing in Seattle, like it or not.

So the Beavs – how do they look heading into ’11?  Was last year’s non-bowl appearance an aberration, based on the last decade of excellence?  Or was 2010 a warning about what’s to come for Oregon State football?  Let’s check ’em out….



2010:  5-7, 4-5 in the Pac-10.  The culture shift has come a long way at OSU, and last season was a disappointment, no doubt about it.  It’s kind of funny to think about it now, but a 5-7 season for Oregon State used to be cause for celebration in Corvallis.  After all, the school had those 28 miserable consecutive losing seasons in the 80’s and into the late 90’s.  But today the Beavs have become an excellent program, competing for bowl games and Pac-10/12 championships on a pretty regular basis.  Mike Riley has built it up over the years, with layers and layers of depth, to the point that while 5-7 used to be cause for celebration?  Today it’s cause for disappointment. 

The weirdest part about 2010 and Oregon State?  It did NOT fit their recent profile, in any way, shape or form!  Instead of their usual strong finishing kick to a season, where they would usually struggle early and then become a nightmare to play at the end of the year?  Nope, instead the Beavs actually started out OK at 4-3, but then fell apart down the stretch, losing four of their last five to close out the season.  But where did it all go wrong?  It’s hard to pinpoint exactly, but I think the double-OT loss to UW started the beginning of the end of 2010.

Oregon State was coming off a huge road win at Arizona, shocking the 9th ranked Wildcats in Tempe, 29-27.  It propelled the Beavs to 3-2 on the year, and it felt like “here we go again”, well, again!  But then they went to Seattle and after a sluggish start, would end up dropping a double-OT shootout, 35-34.  Joe Halahuni was unable to reel in a two-point conversion pass attempt in the end zone, ending the game and quite frankly, changing the entire 2010 season for both Oregon St AND UW.  If Halahuni could have hauled that sucker in, it would have been the 6-6 Beavs playing in yet another bowl game, most likely the Holiday Bowl.  And UW would have been 5-7, and of course, home for the holidays.  But it’s kind of amazing to look back at it now and see how much changed for both programs in that one singular moment that, really, more or less defined their 2010 seasons.

Injuries really hurt the Beavs down the stretch, but probably the biggest loss of all was dynamic playmaker James Rodgers.  Rodgers was lost for the year during the upset at Arizona to a gruesome knee injury (note that I will NOT embed the video here, but if you really want to be grossed out, hit the link….).  Without him on the field and his ability to help open things up on offense, they would struggle to find consistency in the passing game.

For example, Ryan Katz in 2010 before the Rodgers injury?  9 TD passes, ZERO int’s, before Rodgers would go down with 5:07 left in the 2nd quarter vs. Arizona.  After the Rodgers injury?  How about 8 TD’s, but 11 INT’s for the rest of the year.  Now Katz was probably going to start turning the ball over a bit as the season wore on, I mean that just happens with starting QB’s making their first run through the conference.  But no doubt about it, the passing game took a hit without James Rodgers.

LAST TIME vs. WSU:  In what was the biggest surprise of the 2010 Pac-10 season, the Cougs came into Corvallis and cruised to a 31-14 stunner over the Beavs

Jeff Tuel led the Cougs with an efficient performance throwing the ball and making plays with his legs, rushing for a career-best 79 yards out of the occasional option play as well as some memorable scrambles on passing plays.  WSU would outgain OSU 378-261, and the Cougs would go 10-for-17 on 3rd down while the Beavs struggled at just 2-for-10 in the same category.

The win snapped a 15-game losing streak in Pac-10 play, the last coming in the ’08 Apple Cup over winless UW.

RUSHING:  119.6 ypg, 9th in the Pac-10
PASSING:  206.9 ypg, 7th in the Pac-10
SCORING: 24.4 ppg, 7th in the Pac-10
TOTAL OFFENSE:  326.5 ypg, 9th in the Pac-10

2011 RETURNING STARTERS – OFFENSE:  Seven starters are back on offense.

TOP RETURNING OFFENSIVE PLAYER:  This is kind of tough.  If he was healthy, it would be an easy call to go with James Rodgers as the most explosive, dynamic playmaker on the Oregon State roster.  But after a second surgery in March to his troublesome knee, right now it’s really not clear if Rodgers will truly be back and ready to go by the 2011 opener.  Instead, we’ll go with what we do know, and that’s QB Ryan Katz as the top returning offensive player.

Despite his inconsistency down the stretch of the 2010 season, taking the year as a whole, Katz really did play well.  He threw for over 2400 yards and 17 TD’s in his first stint as the starter, quite respectable numbers across the board.  And as mentioned previously, they really were a missed 2-pt conversion from going to another bowl game, and to do that as a sophomore QB in your first year at the controls is pretty damn impressive.  Katz isn’t a huge guy for the position at 6-1, but he’s a strong 212 pounds and has a really strong arm.  ESPN.com’s Bruce Feldman said last fall that Katz and Ryan Mallett of Arkansas had the two strongest arms in college football, and he didn’t really disappoint when you look at the entire 2010 season.  And accuracy is coming along as well, completing exactly 60% of his throws.  While he will miss James Rodgers if he can’t get on the field, still, Katz showed enough on his own last year to push into the upper echelon of starting QB’s in the Pac-12 this fall.

RUSHING DEFENSE: 179.5 ypg, 7th in the Pac-10
PASSING DEFENSE:  228.4 ypg, 7th in the Pac-10
TOTAL DEFENSE:  407.9 ypg, 8th in the Pac-10
SCORING DEFENSE: 26.8 ppg, 7th in the Pac-10

2011 RETURNING STARTERS – DEFENSE:  Five starters are back on defense.

TOP RETURNING DEFENSIVE PLAYER:  Stephen Paea is gone to the NFL, and while he never was the huge playmaker that many hoped he would be, still, he was the anchor in the middle of the defensive line and one of the strongest players in program history while having his best season in 2010.  But of the starters coming back this fall, let’s go with senior safety Lance Mitchell as the top returning defensive player.

Mitchell has been a mainstay of the OSU defense over the years, now with 24 career starts and 21 in a row.  He had a huge game in the opener last year vs. TCU, recording 18 tackles, and was named Pac-10 defensive player of the week.  He was a 2nd-team All-Conference selection by Phil Steele, and overall was third on the team with 74 tackles.  The 6-2, 206 pounder is the leader of the secondary and looks poised for a huge senior year. 

TOP POST SPRING-BALL QUESTIONS:  1)  THE QUIZZ IS GONE.  In what is still kind of a stunner, it’s true – the Quizz is gone, as Jacquizz Rodgers moved on to the NFL as an early entry draftee.  Quizz went to the Atlanta Falcons, but fell all the way to the fifth round of the NFL draft.  Certainly not where he thought he would go when he declared, wouldn’t you say?  Although some said at the time that he was likely a 3rd rounder when he declared.  The knocks on Quizz coming out were his height (5-6), and his less-than-stellar 40-time (4.64) at the combine, and unfortunately he slipped on draft weekend.  But the Quizz era is now over, as he takes his 3800+ rushing yards and 46 TD’s in three seasons with him out the door.  So who’s going to “carry the mail” going forward?  Most likely it will be a committee, but senior Ryan McCants will get first crack at the tailback spot. 

McCants has been waiting his turn behind Rodgers the last few seasons, and finally, it looks like this is his shot.  He’s a completely different player than Quizz too, with an NFL body type at 6-1, 237, with a physical style.  But McCants only had 14 total rushing yards last year, and for his career, just a grand total of 376 yards and 2 TD’s.  Others in the mix include Jordan Jenkins and Jovan Stevenson, but McCants should be the first guy in line to try and replace Quizz.

2)  WHAT’S WITH THE D?  One of the biggest reasons for the Beavs’ mediocre-at-best 2010 season last year has to be laid at the feet of the defense.  As highlighted above, they finished 7th or worse in the Pac-10 in all the “glamour” defensive stats, but they also struggled in other areas, such as third down conversion defense (last in the conference at 46.6 %), and pass efficiency defense (9th in the conference, 142.7).  Now Stephen Paea did have a career-best six sacks last year, and overall the team did improve to 30 sacks on the year, good for fifth in the conference.  But the defense just couldn’t get it done consistently, and the 407 yards allowed per game were the most since 2005 (coincidentally, the last time the Beavs had a losing season).  They return just four starters from 2010 on D, and the probably two best defensive linemen are gone to the NFL in Paea and also Gabe Miller.  This is all uncharted territory in recent years under Mike Riley, and something has to change quickly if the Beavs want to get back to postseason play.

3)  AND THE SCHEDULE?  Not as hard as last year, no doubt, when OSU had to play four top-10 teams and were rated as having the toughest schedule in the nation last year!  They do open with Sacramento State at home, but then have to travel to Wisconsin to take on a projected top-ten opponent on the road in the Badgers.  In kind of a strange twist, they do get BYU smack dab in the middle of the season, 10/15 in Corvallis (normally you knock out the non-league portion of the schedule early on?).  They have five Pac-12 road games, including at ASU, at Cal, and at Oregon in the Civil War, but overall things are spread out pretty well as, as the Beavs have a 6-6 home-away split.     

POST SPRING RAMBLINGS, DOT-DOT-DOT STYLE.….The D’s performance is tough to swallow last year, as OSU has had a strong run on D since they established a winning tradition in the 2K decade.  They were down in several categories, but the hardest thing had to be the rushing defense.  The 179.5 ypg rushing yards allowed per game were the most in several years, and the most since they gave up 157 yards per game in 2001.  This from a program that led all of college football in rushing defense just three years ago (71 ypg in 2007).  Something has to change on D, as the Beavs try to get their defensive identity back…..Even though the running game seems a little thin with Quizz now moving on, the offensive line should be just fine, thanks.  OSU returns four starters up front, and overall the four returners have combined for 91 career starts…..While the uncertainty about James Rodgers is out there, the Beavs do bring back Marcus Wheaton.  Wheaton had a bit of a breakthrough 2010 season, leading the team in receptions (54) and receiving yards (660).  But he also was third on the team in all-purpose yardage with over 1,000 total yards (1,028), rushing for 235 yards overall.  If Rodgers isn’t able to recover from the knee injury, Wheaton becomes the biggest offensive weapon on the roster…..While Ryan Katz showed a lot in 2010, he did end the season with a wrist injury that caused him to miss spring ball.  He should be fully recovered for August, but it is at least something to watch heading towards camp.  Cody Vaz looks like the backup QB at this point…..The 5-win season was disappointing as it was last year, but it saw the Beavs finish below .500 for the first time in Pac-10 play since ’05.  But did you know that it was also the first time in five years that the Beavs didn’t finish in the top 3 in the Pac-10 standings?  OSU has been no worse than third in each of the prior four seasons (#3 in ’06 and ’07, #2 on ’08 and ’09) before 2010…..The Beavs did OK in recruiting last year, signing the #44 class in the nation per Scout.com It was their best class – on paper anyway – since the ’07 season, when they signed the 40th ranked class in the nation…..Even with a losing season last year, the Beavs still had a successful home schedule, going 4-2 in Reser Stadium.  Since 2000, Oregon State is now 51-16 at home, and are behind only Oregon and USC in the conference in that time frame with success on the home field….Some of the top stops around the web in regards to all things Beavs include BeaverFootball.com, part of Scout.com; BuildingtheDam.com, part of the SBNation network; GazetteTimes.com’s Beaver Sports section; CliffKirkpatrick.com’s OSU BlogOregon Live’s Beaver Blog; BeaverBlitz.com, from Rivals.com; and finally,  OSU Beaver Football Blog.

For the rest of the spring fish wraps, go here.

All for now.  Enjoy your back-to-reality Tuesday, and as always, GO COUGS!