Barry Bolton writes for beaverfootball.com and knows the Oregon State football program as well as anyone. We asked Bolton five questions to gain better insight to the team Utah will be facing this Saturday at Rice Eccles stadium.
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Bolton: The Beaver defense played as if they hadn't been on a football field months. The secondary in particular got trounced, and this was the most shocking as three of the four DBs were legit first-team, all-conference candidates based on what they did on Saturdays in 2012. Our theory is that with OSU scrapping plans for any fall camp scrimmages, and because OSU under Mike Riley doesn't do live scrimmaging periods in other fall camp practices, the players were not ready to play tackle-to-the-ground football.
It's important to also note that Eastern Washington is a very good football team, and nearly knocked off two Pac-12 opponents in the previous two years. Oregon State has not historically done well against a good running QB and that held true again against Eastern and oh, what's this? Utah has a good running QB, too.
Oregon State addressed some of the EWU issues, and some of the play, and injuries incurred in that game, still leads to concerns, which we'll get into in a moment.
Bolton: Mannion is a pocket passer with an above average arm. Many times he can be great out there. He can also go into funks. But this year, through two games, he's not only been great, he's been outstanding. Mannion is a sterling 68-of-86 for 794 yards with seven TDs against one interception. And he's done that without much of a running game.
What he's improved on most this season is hitting his receivers on the play side and not trying to throw the ball into tight spaces, which led to too many interceptions last season.
Bolton: Oregon State’s base is a pro-set offense, and they sometimes have a fullback in the backfield, other times they go with an H-back. The star on offense is WR Brandin Cooks. He has a great burst, top-end speed, and he's a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball because of those things. After that, OSU has some very solid, workmanlike players who may not be stars, but they can collectively win any given Saturday in the Pac-12 against teams that might boast “better talent.”
The big concern is the run game, where OSU is averaging only 81 hashes per game, which is not exactly a typical Mike Riley offense. But the Beavs haven't tried to run enough for some fans, with 41 carries split amongst the two featured backs and 53 runs all told. Storm Woods, the starting tailback, looked great in spring and fall but hasn't emerged, albeit some fans would argue he hasn't had nearly enough touches in two games (33 carries).
One other thing for Utah fans to watch for is how Oregon State utilizes its tight ends in the pattern. Both Connor Hamlett and Caleb Smith are dangerous, and are the third and fifth leading receivers on the team headed into Utah.
Bolton: OSU runs a base 4-3 though they will run more nickel this year. The star is DE Scott Crichton but he has yet to break out this season. OSU has serviceable tackles on the inside but Crichton and fellow d-end Dylan Wynn have gotten more attention because of it. One star outside linebacker, Michael Doctor, is out and the other star, D.J. Alexander, is doubtful and may need another week.
Safety Ryan Murphy can play on Sundays and Tyrequek Zimmerman is underrated, as is corner Rashaad Reynolds. But again, all three of those players looked confused in the opener and while improved last week against Hawaii, they haven't risen to their playing level yet of a year ago.
Oregon State has no illusions about how difficult it will be to get a win on the road at Utah, and if they did, they went out the window after the news that Doctor was out and two starting o-linemen would also be sidelined for this game. OSU didn't have a lot of depth at those positions to begin with and now they're forced to play backups.
The No. 1 concern is clear as day —- the ability of Utah's QB to get out and run, and that's been heightened by the fact Beaver linebackers in this game will all be young and inexperienced.
Oregon State will need to contain Travis Wilson not only through the air but on the ground if they are to win. They'll need to take him and the passing game away and force Utah to beat them with their running game. Crichton and Wynn also need to step up their production on the edge.
Offensively, Oregon State ideally would have more balance and more runs, which would in turn make their play-action passing more effective. But if the script is anything like the first two games, OSU is going to put their prospects on the arm of Mannion, with the hope that Cooks, Hamlett, Smith and possibly someone else, such as WR Kevin Gilmore or WR Richard Mullaney, can make enough critical plays and chain-movers to get the road win.