The California Golden Bears have hit a bit of a rough patch—you may have heard about it. But our game against the Oregon State Beavers presents a realistic opportunity for a win. Let's chat with the one fanbase that might actually be even more negative about their team than we are!
And don't forget to leave a comment telling me how much you hate me for forcing you to read this lazy swill of prewritten questions and answers rather than having the time to do actual interviews!
1. Is this season rock bottom in OSU's rebuilding process? Has new coach Gary Andersen helped speed up the rebuilding process, exacerbated the process, or had no real impact on the process?
AndyPanda: Beaver Nation certainly hopes what's likely to be the worst season since the mid-90s is rock bottom. Whether it is or not will depend primarily on how good the recruiting class turns out to be. And despite this season's struggles, recruiting—at least on paper—still seems to be going well. It's the strong suit of Andersen and his staff so far, though it remains to be seen if it will produce a quarterback—the single biggest issue out there at this point.
The new staff seems to have the defense overall on the right road, but there are serious and growing concerns about the offense. It's hard to assess how much of it is gaps in talent and how much is coaching at this point, though.
RVM: A great question and one I just think we can't answer until we get more Andersen seasons to assess. I have my own feelings that drift between being a bit dismayed about what we are seeing to other more (hopefully) realistically based feelings that this is going to take some time. It has been rough, and I don't personally buy ALL the "lack of talent" and "we just need to recruit" talk, BUT I do seriously think the program is going through a larger culture change than we may have thought would happen. Riley was in place for a long time and some very good football happened during that time, but it also started to really slide backwards over the last few years. And even if I am not fully in the "Andersen will solve it all with new and better recruits" camp, I do agree and think the culture of the last five or so years has affected recruiting to the point that this will need to change.
There needed to be a change. Is Andersen and his group the long term, or even shorter/mid-range term answer? Don't know, but at the least I hope they should help the larger transition that needs to happen. At the same time, I guess the less optimistic side of me wishes there were more glimpses of building this season. Sure, Riley is partly at fault for where he left the program, but I just personally don't 100% buy the "cupboard was bare" arguments here too (sorry Andy). I find myself in this weird loop of being positive with high expectations, but also negative about it all at once.
2. How is the fanbase feeling about Mike Riley's departure? You rid yourselves of a toxic contract, but you also lost the most successful head coach in the last fifty years.
AndyPanda: The losses have some reflecting on what Mike accomplished, but also has others reflecting on just how bare the cupboard was after several seasons of sub-par recruiting that have left the Beavers in their current desperate straits. Most see the direction Andersen and defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake have said they want to go to be the right direction and are moving on pretty well.
RVM: See above for my thoughts about some of this. I do wonder about the focus on the "toxic" contract and just focusing on that as some huge looming negative on the program. I believe that the contract was maybe not the best business practice in execution, but at the same time this gets at "the most successful head coach in the last fifty years" and I believe it was seen as a positive reinforcement type of deal versus a negative one. Was it going to work? Not sure it was going to in the longer term, but at the same time I appreciate some of the intent going on there. I get the big business part of it all, but also the perfectly naive part of me thinks that a more instant negative reinforcement culture can hurt things too—and this is coming from someone who wasn't a fan of the previous AD, so don't want to defend his intentions too much.
Heck, okay that really does not directly answer this question! I think this question in many ways answers itself—it is a mixed bag. Also, I think this connects to my thoughts above that there is culture that needs to be changed, but also a culture that needs to find those Riley positives and keep those in place too.
3. What is wrong with the OSU quarterbacks?
AndyPanda: None of them have Pac-12 quarterback talent.
Seth Collins is a great running threat, but before he hurt himself, he tended to cut and run too soon and too often, and hasn't come close to finding adequate accuracy.
Nick Mitchell can't seem to wean himself from unnecessarily throwing jump passes and the coaches can't seem to get it straightened out. He understands the offense better than the others, but as a result of having both feet off the ground, he sacrifices accuracy, timing, and velocity all at once far too often to be able to sustain drives.
Marcus McMaryion hasn't been able to master the system and the decision making process either.
The latter two are in their second year too, so it's getting to the point where they should be progressing by now, but it isn't happening.
RVM: Andy has covered this well. I don't want to harp on coaching too much here, but want to add somewhere there seems to be a disconnect in how all of the QBs are being coached in what to me seems like the fundamentals. They are all young and inexperienced—I get that—but also they all seem to have the same issues in misreading routes and hitting spaces as timing patterns. It is a hard one to figure out, for like we are "discussing" on Building the Dam right now look at Sean Mannion's early work and skill level. He was not that good either in his early years; it takes time for some. But I do have some worries here about the coaching too.
4. Is there any relation between Oregon State and Oregon recruiting? Do you see any sort of uptick in results with Oregon's weaker year, for example?
AndyPanda: There is very little effect by either one on the other. There just aren't many players the Ducks and Beavers are both seriously going after. And the systems are different enough that the ideal player looks very different for one system vs. the other in most cases.
RVM: I agree, and defer to Andy on this one!
5. After playing Utah tougher on the road, OSU took a step backwards by getting shut out at UCLA. What was the biggest difference between the two games?
AndyPanda: Mitchell regressed seriously, RB Ryan Nall got hurt, and it poured relentlessly. As a result, the offense totally stalled against the Bruins.
Defensively, Coach Sitake made a tactical decision to play a lot of "cover 2" and UCLA's Josh Rosen was smart enough to recognize it and make several very good plays in a 24-point second quarter that put the game away before halftime.
Sitake knew the Utah system and personnel inside and out and Andersen is quite familiar with the Utes too, so the game plan was pretty well crafted. UCLA was much more of an unknown and Sitake's plan—while not unreasonable—just didn't work once the Bruins figured it out (around the second quarter). This is what happened at Washington State too and with limited options in the personnel, it's a risk that the players might not be able to execute any given game plan.
RVM: As much as I hoped otherwise, I agree with Andy here—it just now seems like you had a game with a coach that knew the other team's system very well and was able to leverage that to make a better showing of things. So even though I personally thought Utah was going to come out blazing mad after their loss to SC, the Utes I think were caught a bit at the right time to make this a closer game; and also after their first two easy scores. I think: 1) They eased up mentally in that they felt this was theirs for the easy taking, and 2) Again with Sitake's knowledge of the Utah offense he was able to make some nice adjustments.
Very unfortunately, it looks as if the UCLA game was not a true "step backwards", but really the norm of what is going on for this team this year and the Utah game was a bit of an outlier for it all.
6. OSU's four leading rushers, by volume, are all averaging more than 5 YPC. What's been the key to maintaining some success in the run game despite some struggles in the passing game?
AndyPanda: The season long averages were helped by Collins' escapability, and both Storm Barrs-Woods and Ryan Nall are both pretty good at what they do well. Offensive Coordinator Dave Baldwin also hasn't called their numbers when he doesn't think it will work; so for example, Nall didn't get a single carry against a Utah defense that Andersen and Baldwin didn't think the Beavers could run inside against.
RVM: Hmm, I personally think that looks better on paper than in action on the field. I think some bigger runs by the backs—and also yes Collins' running ability—have combined with the aspect of always playing behind, so the offense has to do more passing (more than this offense wants to do), which has skewed the numbers. This unfortunately has all become a fairly negative feedback loop in terms of trying to find success and balance on offense. Some good running happens, then the box gets stacked by the opposing defenses, but then the OSU passing can't bail out the run game that is bottled up, the other team gets up by double digits, now the offense has to pass more to do anything, more three and outs, then some nice runs happen because the opposing defenses have adjusted to focus on the pass game, and so on. I do agree with Andy though and I think there is potential in the running game with Barrs-Woods and Nall giving an interesting different punch back there, so don't get me too wrong here and not saying there is not some potential here to be had—there is.
7. Who's one player on offense and one player on defense that Cal fans should be aware of?
AndyPanda: On offense, it would have been Nall, but he's out injured after suffering a blow to the head midway in the UCLA game.
Instead of an offensive player, I'm going to highlight punter Nick Porebski. He had a career long 66-yarder against the Bruins and averaged 42.1 yards on 7 punts. In a couple of games this season, Porebski has been the most impactful player on the field for the Beavers. When the player with the biggest impact is your punter, that's not good, but it's not his fault either. He could actually impact the game because he consistently impacts field position.
RVM: Hmm, I would have gone with Nall here too, but I'll fall back on Victor Bolden Jr. here. I know I keep going back to him, but seems like he has the potential to make things happen with some big plays on offense or in the kick return game. Plus maybe more 'Wildcat' stuff for him? Defensively, let's go with Larry Scott and he is now back
playing, can he shake off that injury rust and also issues of not making plays (as in time off the field has he learned anything)? Going to need some good secondary play to compete in this game.
8. To win this game, OSU must ______________.
AndyPanda: OSU will have to have Cal commit some turnovers. And probably a fair number of penalties. The offense can't sustain drives and sometimes even stay on the field long enough to give the defense a chance. The Beavers need some opportunities to compensate for their offense and the usual route to an upset, or a win over Cal in any scenario, seems to involve some turnovers by the Bears.
RVM: I think, as noted above, if someone like Bolden Jr. can have a big play type of breakout game that could spark things for this team just enough, for instance helping the defense especially to find more of its game. I think IF Oregon State is going to win—or even compete in this game—the defense needs to find what it had in the games against Colorado and Utah. I don't see the OSU offense turning any type of corner to have a full game performance, but if the defense can make things happen in terms of turnovers and stout stands and the offense (and/or special teams return game) can get some big hits here and there, then there MIGHT be a chance.
9. Whom do you want to punch in the face, and why? Bonus points if your answers are "TwistNHook" and "because".
AndyPanda: I'll snag those bonus points if I can transfer them to the OSU offense! How about "I want to punch "TwistNHook" because he made me make Robert have to write about Mike Riley again this week!"?
RVM: And on that note, I thank Andy and apologize (somewhat apologize) for any disagreements I had with him above!
Our thanks to Building the Dam—and AndyPanda and RVM in particular—for giving us some insight into Beavers Football!