CORVALLIS, Ore. — Barry Bolton covers Oregon State football for Beaverfootball.com and knows the program as well as anyone. We asked Bolton five questions to gain better insight on BYU's next opponent.
1. How big of a loss is Sean Mannion to Oregon State? He was playing great and will be replaced by Cody Vaz. Talk about Vaz and how well he'll likely do replacing Mannion.
It’s a big loss. Mannion was really realizing the benefits in 2012 after paying his dues last year (2011: 16 TDs, 18 INTs). The biggest thing the Beavs lose here is probably his chemistry with the receivers. Vaz was our pick coming out of high school to be the next great OSU quarterback — then Mannion came along and rendered that prediction wrong.
No one knows quite what to expect with Vaz come Saturday — he barely played in 2010 and not at all last year. From what we’ve seen of him in practice over the years, Vaz is poised, accurate and can throw better on the run than Mannion. That said, there are reasons why he was the backup and Mannion was the starter. He does have some offensive tools at his disposal, and he does have talent. But BYU is one heckuva test for a first-time starter right out of the gate.
2. Oregon State is off to a great start on the season after struggling last season. What has precipitated the change and what is the team doing differently this year?
In a nutshell, a lot of OSU players have turned the corner/had the light bulb come on this season. The starting offensive line has taken a big step forward from last year — the additions of true freshman center Isaac Seumalo and left tackle Michael Philipp have been key. The OSU d-line and secondary are both suddenly now deep. That’s allowed defensive coordinator Mark Banker to rotate liberally in both areas — something he loves to do — without significant drop-off.
DEs Scott Crichton and Dylan Wynn, LB D.J. Welch, CBs Rashaad Reynolds and Jordan Poyer have all raised their games and DT Castro Masaniai might not get the stats but he’s been huge in allowing others to rack up tackles. OSU’s running game is better with new starter Storm Woods (and you’ll see Malcolm Agnew getting reps too). It’s not yet where it needs to be, it’s not “great,” but it is better.
3. Talk about Oregon State on offense. What type of system does it run and who are the primary playmakers?
OSU runs a multiple offense that is primarily pro-style. I’ve already mentioned the quarterbacks, o-line and running backs but a pair of wideouts — senior Markus Wheaton and sophomore Brandin Cooks — deserve mention here. They are two big-play receivers to watch for on Saturday. Wheaton (124.5 receiving yards per game) is a guy who has long been talked about as a potential Pac-12 star and this season, he’s showing why — some of his catches/plays have been remarkable. Cooks (121.5 ypg) is a real burner who still has loads of potential. He’s awfully good now, and he could be great down the line.
One other note about the offense that’s not getting much ink these days — Mike Riley is calling the plays this season, taking over that game day duty from offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf. Riley loves to run the ball but OSU is not yet to the point he can employ a scheme predicated on 5-yards and a cloud of dust. There’s been more balance but he’s surprised fans by how often he’s called for both the pass and deep ball.
4. Same question on defense. What type of system do the Beavers run and who are the primary playmakers?
OSU runs a multiple defense but their base is a 4-3. They have toyed a little with some new 3-4 and dime packages this season. Crichton and Wynn are the two d-linemen who will stand out most — both are first team Pac-12 candidates. The fourth member of the defensive front I haven’t mentioned is senior DT Andrew Seumalo — he’s done a solid job in helping Masaniai clog the middle. Super-sub Rudolf Fifita is fast while Rusty Fernando and others are also showing up on the radar. Can’t really state enough that Banker has the depth and talent to rotate more this year. BYU fans will see a lot of guys, and in any situation, coming in and out on defense for Oregon State.
The secondary hasn’t produced stellar numbers and they’ve had some lapses, most notably at Arizona. But this is a case where statistics are lying a bit. Reynolds has been nails and Poyer had a three-interception game this past Saturday. Safety Ryan Murphy is a (ball hawk) and both he and Tyrequek Zimmerman are highly adept in run support. CB Sean Martin and S Anthony Watkins are also making their marks and will see plenty of reps.
5. How does Oregon State regard BYU? What are the expectations for the game and what does Oregon State need to do in order to beat BYU?
Oregon State already regarded BYU as a very tough test and it’s that much more pronounced now with Mannion out. OSU desperately wants to continue their unbeaten streak but they’ll have to play better than they did last week against WSU if they’re to move to 5-0 and improve on their No. 10/14 ranking in the polls. The running game doesn’t need to be lights out, but it does need to at least be credible to take pressure off Vaz. And Vaz needs to make quick, correct decisions and throw the ball away when the walls are closing in. The o-line needs to play their best game to date in order to give Vaz time and to open enough holes for Woods and Agnew to squeak through.
That’s a long list and all of those things might not be realistic against this BYU defense. And so the biggest thing Oregon State needs to do in order to come out on top is to win on defense. A prescient interception here, a key stand there — OSU should be able to bring pressure and put BYU in a few holes. And if they force the turnovers, that may be what decides it. Even if the offense doesn’t score after a turnover or a big defensive stand, taking the ball away and/or stopping BYU’s momentum enough times on D for Oregon State may be enough to win this one for the Beavs.