I didn’t watch a single down of college football this weekend. I went camping instead, giving my poor little heart a chance to recuperate from the #CardiacCal antics of the past few weeks. So imagine my surprise when I returned to civilization and learned that the Pac-12 had gone completely nuts. Stanford got exposed! Cal made a goal line stand! Oregon looked silly (and it wasn’t because of their uniforms)! USC actually won a football game!
Thank goodness, then, for Oregon State. Just when I was beginning to think nothing made sense anymore, the Beavers lost by 41 points to—wait, they lost by 41 points to Colorado? I think I need to sit down.
Of course, I shouldn’t make too much fun of the Beavs. Their once-lauded head coach left the program in bad shape, and the exciting new hire is having a bit more trouble turning things around than anyone expected. Sound familiar, Cal fans? There’s one big difference though; whereas Cal began to show signs of life in 2014, Oregon State is 1-3 and having itself a Groundhog Day moment. Didn’t this just happen? Shouldn’t this bizarre nightmare be over? Don’t they remember Ned Ryerson, who did the whistling bellybutton trick at the high school talent show? Needlenose Ned? Ned the Head?
Maybe in a few years we’ll look at Gary Andersen the same way people are starting to look at Chris Petersen. But in the meantime he’s still a ways away from having the Beavers ready to compete in the Pac-12. Because this is supposedly an offensive preview, let’s find some offensive statistics to prove it. Through four games, OSU ranks 107th in scoring offense, 121st in yards per game, and 126th in explosive plays of 20+ yards. All of that is...not ideal.
Charged with improving those numbers look are Andersen’s two offensive coordinators, Kevin McGiven and T.J. Woods. Andersen had originally hired his longtime Utah State pal Dave Baldwin as OC, but demoted him to inside receivers coach after an ineffectual performance last season. That meant promotions for McGiven (who had been working with the QBs) and Woods (TEs).
McGiven, who was the OC at Utah State in 2013 and 2014, is the passing game guru and playcaller. Meanwhile Woods focuses on the run game and coaches the offensive line. The two have seemingly worked out an even distribution of power, as the Beavers call just about 50/50 run and pass. Unfortunately, neither approach has been having much success with their facets of the offense. Will a game against the Bears get them back on track? Or will our newly-minted bend-but-don’t-break approach give them more trouble?
Spread offenses, like the one Oregon State runs, lend themselves to athletic quarterbacks. What better way to spread out the defense than force them to defend against a QB who can both run and throw the ball? As a fringe benefit of this principle, if it comes to pass that your spread quarterback can’t throw the ball so well anymore, you’ve still got an athlete that can find another place on your roster. Example A: Luke Rubenzer, the QB/RBQB/DB we all know and love. Texas’ Tyrone Swoops and Jerrod Heard did the same thing, moving to other offensive skill positions when it became clear that Shane Buchele was the most skilled passer on the team. And now there’s one more ex-QB to add to that list in Oregon State’s Seth Collins. Sensing that he was about to lose his grip on the starting job, Collins considered transferring before electing to remain at OSU in another role.
Taking his place in the backfield is junior Darrell Garretson, an Andersen recruit at Utah State who transferred to OSU to follow his coach. He started in place of an injured Aggie QB in 2013 before getting hurt himself in 2014. Now he’s healthy and trying to find his groove in Corvallis. It hasn’t been easy so far, as Garretson has labored his way to a 55% completion rate with three TDs against one INT. To his credit, he’s put up those numbers while fleeing for his life. As a function of his struggling O-line and his limited mobility, Garretson has been sacked 11 times this season. (And yes, Davis Webb has taken 12 sacks, but that’s on more than twice as many pass attempts.)
Should one of those sacks become too many (as was the case against Boise State, when Garretson sat out the second half feeling “not 100 percent”), his backup is the surprising walk-on freshman Conor Blount. Not even on the depth chart at the beginning of the season, Blount jumped from the scout team to the field in that Boise State game and handled himself fairly well. He did throw two interceptions in relief, but the coaches obviously trust his composure enough to let him pass sophomore Marcus McMaryion on the depth chart.
The Beavers will also have new faces in the backfield thanks to the departure of Storm Barrs-Woods. In fact, there will be a lot of new faces, as the depth chart lists starters for three different running back positions. First are the true running backs, sophomore Ryan Nall and true freshman Artavis Pierce. Nall, the team’s biggest back at 6’2” 234 lbs, has taken the bulk of the carries so far. He’s got 3 TDs on 49 carries, and averages 4.3 yards per attempt. Pierce has put up a slightly flashier 5.5 ypc but hasn’t converted that into an end zone trip yet.
Next up are the H-backs, who fill a role somewhere between a fullback and a tight end. Noah Togiai was supposed to be the guy there, but his injury opened up room for two upperclassmen in Ricky Ortiz and Jaylynn Bailey. Finally, the depth chart lists three R-backs: sophomore Paul Lucas, junior Xavier Hawkins, and man of many helmets Seth Collins. The R-back in this offense is more of a finesse position for a back that can get out in space and catch passes in the backfield. None of the three players listed in that spot crack 190 lbs.
Seth Collins, though he’ll also be performing R-back duties (and I would be surprised if he doesn’t end up throwing a pass or two some time soon), has found his place at wideout. He’s a terrific athlete and has quickly become the team’s leading receiver. The coaches like to get him out in space however they can, running a decent number of sweeps and other motions to get him the ball (much like the Cal coaches use Melquise Stovall). Senior Victor Bolden has emerged as Garretson’s #2 target and the team’s downfield threat. He and Collins will command almost half of Garretson’s looks, but Ryan Nall and junior Jordan Villamin will also get plenty of attention.
The success of this unit has been limited by Garretson’s difficulty delivering them the football, but it’s probably this offense’s best group when things are clicking. All four of last year’s top targets return, and freshman Trevon Bradford could be an interesting young contributor.
Oregon State lost two all-conference offensive linemen in Josh Mitchell and Isaac Seumalo, and their departures have been painful ones for this unit. Sacks have been a consistent problem, and run blocking (sub-4 ypc as a team) hasn’t been much better. Inexperience is likely the culprit, as only two starters made double digit starts in 2015. But even the return of senior left guard Sean Harlow hasn’t done much to shore up this unit.
In all, this is an offense still trying to find itself in year two of the Andersen regime. With the exception of Seth Collins, none of the skill position players have had particularly mentionable seasons. And the offensive line has been a whole lot of meh so far. Pac-12 nonsense and the difficulty of playing on the road certainly apply, but this doesn’t look like a squad that’s quite ready to keep up with the Bear Raid just yet. But give them time. We know Andersen can coach, so let’s see what he can do once he gets his guys in place.