And we're talking today with AndyPanda of the SBN site BuildingTheDam. They write about Oregon State, that really annoying team that kept beating us, independent of any level of talent, skill, or ability the two teams had "on paper." Finally, Cal won in 2011, but before that OSU was the thorn in our proverbial paw. Year in and year out, it seemed like we just couldn't get over that hump. Even as far back as 2005, Oregon State was surprising Cal with a disastrous victory. Don't even get me started on 2007! In 2009, they nearly killed Jahvid Best. In 2010, they ended Kevin Riley's career.
But how will they be in 2012. As spring camp finishes up, we wanted to touch base with BtD and see what wa going on. So, after the jump, their answers to our questions. Many thanks to them for taking the time to answer the questions. GO BEARS!
The primary questions everyone has are about the offensive line, and the interior of the defensive front.
With multiple recruits to the o-line, both freshmen and JC help, not coming until summer, as well as injuries being rehabbed, everyone knew we wouldn't get a lot of answers this spring. But I was hoping to see some of the players we did have healthy establish themselves, and I don't think that happened. That's partially because there may need to be some more shuffling based on what we see from the new-comers. However, I think there is also an unsettled question as to whether offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh will adapt the blocking scheme to best fit the best players, or go with the players who best fit his preferred scheme.
Defensively, DT Castro Masaniai missed all contact rehabbing the leg he broke last year. The other apparent starter will be Andrew Seumalo, but at 6'3", and 287 lbs. he's still on the small side for the position. Masaniai has gone down each of the last 2 seasons, and so there is a real question about whether he can make it through a season. With the lack of depth at middle linebacker after Tony Wilson was forced to retire, leaving no one with experience besides Feti Unga, who also missed time last season, the ability to stop an inside rushing game by a team that can line up bulldozers for linemen is the concern, and remains so. It's going to take creativity to survive and counter what will be mismatches against some opponents, and the problems Oregon St. is working on with their own offensive line prevented getting a complete read on the defensive interior.
2. Any major style changes coming our way in the fall? New offense or defense installed?
Major changes and Coach Mike Riley are almost mutually exclusive, but there is a significant change in the secondary, where long time NFL coach Rod Perry has taken over as defensive backs coach. Expect an increased level of aggressiveness and subtle improvements in coverage as a result. The secondary had the best spring of any unit, and that should work nicely against some new quarterbacks in the conference, and help in dealing with some of the advanced passing schemes being introduced.
3. What players emerged on offense? On defense?
On offense, 6'5" 225 lb. red-shirt sophomore to be WR Obum Gwacham. Gwacham is a physically imposing figure, and an accomplished high jumper, and creates real matchup problems for a lot of defensive backs. Gwacham could challenge Jordan Bishop for playing time as the slot receiver, and is also the backup at WR. Look for some packages specifically designed for him in short yardage and red zone situations.
Defensively, sophomore Ryan Murphy emerged as a probable starter at safety. Murphy has a nose for the interception, and the speed to go with it. That's assuming he can stay out of Riley and Hill's dog house, though; Murphy got in trouble when he decided to try to sneak into a local bar and grill using senior safety Anthony Watkins' ID earlier this month. Riley hasn't announced what he will do about it, but historically this can cost a game. (This is Murphy's only mis-step so far.)
4. What are your biggest worries coming out of spring ball for the fall?
As discussed above, serious uncertainty remains about both the offensive line and the interior of the defensive front. If the Beavers struggle to find consistency in these areas, not much else is going to matter. The defensive front lacks size and depth, and the offensive line will be behind as far as developing as a unit.
5. Project your season. Contender? Pretender? Middle of the pack?
While there are probably 8 or 9 games that Oregon St. could have a chance to win, there are even more where the opponent should have a good chance to win as well. Its hard to find more than 5 or 6 wins at best without eliciting laughter unless there is a rash of injuries to some other teams.
6. Any frosh you can't wait to get on campus?
TE Caleb Smith is already here, having graduated high school early in order to participate in spring ball, so the popular answer is 6'4" 290 lb. OL Isaac Seumalo, who many expect to work into a starting role. But I'm interested in seeing what 6'5" 300 lb. OL Gavin Andrews can do. It's possible he could see a red shirt instead of the field, but with the problems Oregon St. has had the last couple of years with an undersized offensive line, he could find playing time pretty quickly too. The o-line has rightly come in for considerable criticism based on their performance, but injuries have not only taken players out, it has forced others into playing out of position. Andrews' size could make him a game changer.
7. Who will you miss the most from last season? Who will be stepping up to fulfill those shoes?
James Rodgers. Sophomore to be Brandin Cooks looks to be ready to break out at wide receiver in place of Rodgers. Cooks had some good moments last year, especially as the season went on, and he had a good spring.
8. Any particular Pac12 match-up/rivalry you are looking forward to this Fall?
It may not turn out to be a good match-up for the Beavers, but I'm really interested to see how things go for Washington St. under Mike Leach. I think the Cougars and especially Jeff Tuel and Marquews Wilson will thrive in the "Air Raid" offense, but the real question will be how much Leach can get out of Washington St.'s existing defense. If the Cougars can make just a few stops, they could really change the equation for most of the teams in the conference.
9. What are the specific injury concerns coming out of this spring?
There's obviously widespread concern about RB Malcolm Agnew and his persisting hamstring problems, but Storm Woods looks good, and there is depth at the position. I'm more concerned about WR Jordan Bishop, who has had trouble with his foot, and missed contact in spring ball again this year. Bishop has tremendous leaping ability and reach, and can do things many DBs can do little about. When healthy, he forces defenses to do things they otherwise wouldn't, and the Beavers need him on the field.
10. Based on what you've seen, who is ready to take a major leap this fall?
I mentioned Cooks at wide receiver, and I also expect DE Scott Crichton to also have a huge year. Crichton is listed at 6'3" and 265, and is all of that and more, and still has the speed and quickness that made him one of the best DEs in the conference as a freshman last year. Coupled with 6'2", 265 lb. Dylan Wynn, who also played a lot as a freshman last year, the Beavers haven't had this kind of speed and athleticism on the ends of the defensive line since DeLawrence Grant and LaDairis Jackson in 2000, on Dennis Erickson's Fiesta Bowl team.
11. Who do you want to punch in the face?
Cal fans seem to have a curious preoccupation with wanting to punch someone in the face. Oregon St. fans not so much, except when dealing with obnoxious Duck fans (often redundant terms, I know), and the occasional "dumb Coug" fan (far less common). But if forced to punch someone, its probably someone involved with that Corvallis bar I mentioned earlier. So far this spring, at least 4 DBs have been involved in one way or another in at least 3 incidents there, and those are just the ones that made the police reports!
12. Who's got the best nickname on the team?
At Oregon St., we don't get "Black Mamba"s or "Gronk"s. We had 'Quizz Rodgers, but that was more a contraction of Jacquizz than a nickname. Before that, we have to go back to QB Derek "Poose" Anderson (who came from Scappoose, Oregon), in 2001-04, and then all the way back to FB Bill "Earthquake" Enyart in the 1960's. So its even money as to which comes first, the next Oregon St. nickname player, or a Cal Rose Bowl team.
13. Which one of your assistant coaches is in the hot seat?
If you listen to Coach Riley, none of them. But those who are paying for tickets are starting to think otherwise, and in rapidly increasing numbers. Both coordinators are coming under fire not just for the repeated failures that have produced 18 losses in the last 26 games, but for schemes that had little chance to succeed in the evolving world of college football in too many cases even without injuries and inexperience.
Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf's play calling too often is predictable, and an immobile quarterback doesn't help keep defenses honest.
Defensive coordinator Mark Banker has a scheme that isolates corners and tries to force running backs out into the open. The idea is to isolate receivers and backs from their blockers, but with the increased speed those players typically possess these days (recall what Isi Sofele did to the Beavers last year at AT&T Park?), the last thing you want is to have them loose in space.
14. Cal managed to beat Oregon State last year. Has Mike Riley lost it?
Riley seems to believe that if the Beavers do what they do better, it will still work, whereas the improved tactics and increased athleticism more and more opponents are using would seem to indicate that Oregon St. needs to counter with strategic changes of their own. Riley hasn't lost it, but he hasn't stayed ahead of an overall improved cast of competitors who have caught up with, and in more and more cases, surpassed him.
15. Last year almost felt like an intentional rebuilding year, as if Riley realized that they team was too hurt/young to compete, so he focused on developing talent. Is that a fair perspective, and if so, did enough talent develop for Beaver fans to get excited for 2012?
It's the only plausible explanation for the quarterback switch from Ryan Katz to Sean Mannion, and then never even giving Katz or backup Cody Vaz even a mop up snap, or a try in the games that went totally off the rails. The rest of the moves were a matter of necessity.
A number of players (Crichton, Cooks, Murphy, Wynn) have benefited from the trial by fire they endured, and should become household names, and real headaches for opponents. It depends on whether the offensive line can match that improvement, though.