By Rock Mayock 11:00 a.m. | Without a doubt last season was the worst in Mike Riley’s storied 12 year career at Oregon State. A combination of injuries and youth resulted with an overall level of ineptitude that are uncharacteristic of a Riley coached team. The Beavers couldn’t block, they couldn’t run the ball, and the defense couldn’t stop a Pop Warner team. The Beavs were so bad they lost their home opener to Sacramento State. For all intensive purposes last season should be considered a developmental year. This year the Beavers are a year older and hopefully better. Let’s see what they have to offer.
OVERVIEW: The primary issue plaguing the Beavers in 2011 was inexperience, particularly at the QB position. Compounding the inexperience factor were a slew of injuries that resulted with even less experienced players replacing the moderately experienced ones. In last’s opener against Sacramento State Riley was forced to start seven (7) freshman. The net result was an offense that averaged only 373 yards per game and a paltry 21.8 points per game. The QB question was eventually answered but the team could never get anything going, especially with the run game. The lack of a rushing game placed strain on an already thin defense. The defense gave up 35+ points in 7 of 12 games and the Beaver’s 9 losses came at a 272-143 point differential (-129 or 14 PPG). Entering 2012 the Beavers must find a way to get consistent positive production from the run game and to also find an answer at the defensive tackle position. If not, it’s going to be another long year in Corvallis.
OFFENSE: 2011 Started with a QB controversy between incumbent starter Ryan Katz and true freshman Sean Mannion. Mannion won the starting position in the Week 2 contest against Wisconsin and never looked back. He went on to post season stats of 3,328 passing yards, 16 TDs, 18 INTs and 127.1 RAT. Katz has since transferred to San Diego State and will be Rocky Long’s Week 1 starter against Washington. With the Beaver’s QB position settled for at least the next 2 seasons Mike Riley can place his focus upon two areas that are in dire need of attention, running back and offensive line.
The Beavers’ 2011 rushing game was anemic at best. In 6 of 12 games (50% to you and me) the offense accounted for sub 50 yards of positive rushing yards. Last season’s leading, Malcolm Agnew (only 423 yards, 5 TDs on 89 carries), leads what appears to be a deep roster of backs. Against Sacramento State Agnew rushed for 223 yards but he was hampered for the rest of the season with a bad hamstring. If Agnew is unable to improve upon last season’s performance expect Riley to look to get Storm Woods, Jordan Jenkins and true freshman Chris Brown increased carries. Brown is the real deal and is expected to contribute immediately. Remember that Riley has produced stud running backs Ken Simonton, Steven Jackson and Jacquizz “Jizz” Rodgers during his tenure at Oregon State.
Also needed is a much improved effort from the entire offensive line. Colin Kelly and Derek Nielsen return for an o-line that produced games with net rushing performances of 23, 88, 47, 59, 32, 33, 27 and 16 yards. This inability to run the ball forced an over dependence on Sean Mannion to throw the ball. As a result the Beaver offense was unable to sustain clock eating drives and the defense spent way too much time of the field. Riley addressed the Beavers’ need for offensive line help by bringing in recruits Isaac Seumalo, Gavin Andrews and Garrett Weinreich. Seumalo will likely start at center as a true freshman however Weinreich was lost for the season with a knee injury during Fall practice.
Mannion has a tandem of solid receiver targets in Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks. Last season Wheaton and Cooks combined for 104 receptions, 1,377 yards and 4 TDs. True freshman WR Malik Gilmore will likely see playing time as well. Complimenting the wide receivers are good pass catching tight ends Tyler Perry and freshman Caleb Smith however both have been sidelined from Fall practice for various injuries. Perry is nursing a bad groin and Smith is waiting doctor’s clearance to resume play after suffering a concussion.
DEFENSE: There is good news and bad news for the Beavers’ defense. The good news is that they return 8 starters from last season. The bad news is that last season’s defense sucked balls. They ranked 11th in Conference giving up just over 200 rushing yards per game. In their 9 losses they were run all over giving up an average 229 yards on the ground and 17 rushing TDs. The Beavers’ defensive woes last season are the direct result of a void at defensive tackle. Ever since Stephen Paea left for the NFL the Beavers have been searching for a dominate defensive tackle to take his place. Senior DT Castro Masaniai is healthy this year and his presence will help but Riley will use a rotation of Andrew Seumalo, Mana Rosa, Joe Lopez and Mana Tuivailala to find “that guy” who can assume Paea’s mantle. One of the bright spots from last season came at defensive end. DE Scott Crichton emerged as a terror off the edge finishing the season with 74 tackles and 6 sacks en route to earning Freshman All American Honors. Crichton’s partner on the opposite side is another 2011 Freshman All American Honors recipient Dylan Wynn.
The strength of the defense will be at linebacker. The trio of Michael Doctor, Feti Unga and DJ Welch are experienced and very capable. Doctor reeled in 77 tackles and Unga 67 despite missing 4 games due to injury. All three will need to play well until the the final defensive line rotation is established.
The secondary features two stars and they are SS Anthony Watkins and lock down corner Jordan Poyer. S Ryan Murphy looked great in Spring practice and appears to have won the starting position during Fall camp. The Beavers still need to find a strong cover safety opposite of Poyer to round out the secondary. Depth will continue to be an issue for a team that has been devastated by injuries over the past three seasons.
FINAL THOUGHTS: The Beavers’ fortunes in 2012 will be largely dependent upon their ability to remain healthy. Last year they lost 54 starts, 4th most in the FBS, to injuries. These injuries can be viewed as a curse or a blessing due to the fact that so many young players were exposed to game action ahead of schedule. From this game action both the offensive and defensive stars emerged. The question is whether or not the Beavers will be able to make the lead from cellar dwellers to post season play in only one year. The Beavers’ schedule is not favorable due to out of conference games at home against Wisconsin (09/08 @ 1:00 p.m. PT, FX) and at BYU (TBD) as well as conference games against Utah, Washington, Stanford, Cal and Oregon. Luckily the Beavers do no get USC on the schedule this year but one game is not going to make or break the season. The bottom line is that if Mike Riley delivers another 3-9 season there is a very real possibility he will be out of a job. Fortunately Riley is a good coach and it is very likely he will get his beloved Beavers back to the 500 mark.
Season Prediction: 6-6, 5th in the Pac-12 North