Roll On: Previewing The Oregon State Defense

Steve Dykes

Well, here we are. The end, for better or for worse.

When the schedule was released for the 2012 season, the final game of the regular season was generally chalked up as a likely win amidst other tough games, even for those scarred by years of painful games against the Beavers.

Yeah, about that . . .

Oregon State collectively probably isn't quite as good as their record and ranking suggest. But they're plenty good, much better than they were last year, and they'll be rewarded with a nice bowl in a few weeks. Their defense has turned in some really impressive performances against better offenses than Cal, and so for the nth week in a row, optimism is low. As always, let's dive in:

Personnel

Oregon State's defensive turnaround from 2011 is an interesting example of rebuilding. Only 4 seniors are starting, and two of them were injured for major portions of their junior seasons. Last year's forced youth movement has resulted in a defense with a ton of experienced sophomores and juniors - only two starters weren't starting last year.

Defensive Line: So. LE Scott Crichton; Sr. DT Castro Masaniai; Sr. DT Andrew Seumalo; So. RE Dylan Wynn

We should all be terrified of Crichton, who is following up a solid freshman campaign with a terrifying sophomore year. He's averaging 1 sack and 1.66 tackles/loss per game, and he'll be facing the 3rd worst team at preventing sacks. On a side note: the only two teams behind Cal? Wazzu and Colorado. Man, the Pac-12 has some great pass rushes and/or awful offensive lines.

The other linemen aren't nearly as explosive, but they do their jobs effectively.

Linebackers: So. SLB D.J. Alexander; Sr. MLB Feti Taumoepeau; Jr. WLB Michael Doctor

Doctor is the leader of the unit, and can I just say that typing 'Michael Doctor' just after typing 'Feti Taumoepeau (vowel to consonant ratio of 7:3!) made me giggle. This is the insight you pay for, and that insight significantly degrades on the last game of a 3 win season.

Secondary: Sr. CB Jordan Poyer; So. SS Tyrequek Zimmerman; So. FS Ryan Murphy; Jr. CB Rashaad Reynolds

Poyer is one of a handful of players in the conversation for defensive player of the year. He's a senior that has started forever, and teams surely don't throw his direction much . . . and he still has 5 interceptions and 9 passes defended. He's good, and he'll likely be a day 2 draft pick.

Perhaps making the issue more complicated has been the emergency of Reynolds across from him. He's getting targeted waaay more than Poyer for obvious reasons, and has responded by leading the team in tackles and passes defended. So instead of picking on a weakness, now you have to pick your poison.

Meanwhile, Murphy has been excellent in run support and Zimmerman has been solid at the safety position, giving his cornerbacks the latitude to play with confidence. Oregon State may very well have the best secondary in the conference. Have fun with your (presumed) 2nd start Mr. Bridgford.

This Season

  • 207 yards allowed (3.39 yards/play) in a 10-7 win over Wisconsin
  • 444 yards allowed (6.34 yards/play) in a 27-20 win over UCLA
  • 545 yards allowed (7.17 yards/play) in a 38-35 win over Arizona
  • 227 yards allowed (4.45 yards/play) in a 19-6 win over Washington State
  • 386 yards allowed (4.60 yards/play) in a 42-24 win over BYU
  • 307 yards allowed (4.21 yards/play) in a 21-7 win over Utah
  • 293 yards allowed (4.85 yards/play) in a 20-17 loss to Washington
  • 303 yards allowed (4.15 yards/play) in a 36-26 win over Arizona State
  • 417 yards allowed (6.13 yards/play) in a 27-23 loss to Stanford
Exactly three teams have found success against Oregon State, and unfortunately all three have offenses that are objectively superior to Cal's offense in every way. Arguably Stanford had a comparable offense . . . before they replaced Josh Nunes with Kevin Hogan.

OSU could easily be undefeated right now - they thoroughly outplayed Washington and had a late 9 point lead over Stanford. But they could easily be 5-4 considering their close wins over Wisconsin, UCLA and Arizona. Such are the margins in college football, but it's instructive to note that the Beavers haven't really blown anybody out this year - even the BYU game was tied entering the 4th quarter. In all likelihood, Cal will be in a position in which a couple of critical plays could put them in position to win. Those plays haven't gone our way all season, but it would be nice if they could this time to end the season on a high note.

Against the Run

For those unfamiliar with S&P, read up on it (and other advanced metrics), by heading on over to footballoutsiders.

3.32 yards allowed/attempt, 19th in the nation
Rush defense S&P+ ranking: 25th in the nation

OSU's run defense has been juuust a bit inconsistent. Sure, shutting down Montee Ball was impressive, but Stepfan Taylor and Bishop Stankey saw some success as well. This isn't to say that I think they can be gashed, but they're not going to shut us down like Stanford did.

Against the Pass

6.4 yards allowed/attempt, 28th in the nation
Pass defense S&P+ ranking: 18th in the nation

It's also worth noting that S&P+ ranked Oregon State as the 2nd best team in the country on passing downs - i.e., when the Beavers know you have to throw you're in big trouble. That coincides with their 3rd down percentages below. There will be space underneath on standard downs, but if Crichton can pin back his ears and when Poyer knows you're throwing your way you're in deep trouble.

Stats of Dubious Value

Turnovers

22 turnovers forced (6 fumbles, 16 interceptions), 23rd in the nation.

16 interceptions is good for 7th in the country. Gulp.

3rd Down

Opponent conversion percentage of 27.42%, 5th in the nation

Double Gulp

Red Zone
Opponent scoring percentage of 82.76%, 68th
in the nation; Opponent touchdown percentage of 58.62%, 58th in the nation.

Well, that looks a little better. Cal found just a little bit of red zone success against Oregon, in part because their line was so beat up. It would be nice if that extended to Saturday's game. If Cal was really efficient in the red zone against OSU I'd upgrade their chances from slim to vaguely reasonable if you squint. Is that official sounding? Sorry, I make this up as I go.

Conclusions

Like I mentioned above, Oregon State just isn't a team that blows you out. Their offense isn't that good and their defense, while solid, isn't impregnable. But they are masters of slowing things down, keeping plays in front of them, and forcing teams to play really really disciplined offense to move the ball. They limit big plays and they don't make mistakes, and that means that the Beavers are really tough to beat if you spot them a lead.

Does Cal have the pieces to do that? Maybe, if things fall right. I think Cal's running game can potentially stay ahead of the chains and mostly keep Bridgford out of the obvious passing downs that OSU will almost assuredly dominate.

What it will take is consistent blocking, no penalties, no turnovers (duh) and just generally no execution errors. If you think that sounds like Cal's offense, then you're an optimistic person and I admire you. I truly believe that Cal has a game like that in them. Unfortunately, that game might have been against UCLA. One might logically conclude that if they did it once they could do it again. I'd like to see that on Saturday. There's always hope.

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