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Q&A with Building the Dam: Talking Oregon State Beavers

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We reached out to fellow SBN blog Building the Dam to get to know a little bit more about the current state of the Oregon State football program.

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We talked with AndyPanda, friend of the blog and Manager for the SBN blog Building the Dam and RVM, one of the Editors for Building the Dam.  Here's what they had to say:

UWDP: The big storyline with Oregon State this year is obviously the transition from Mike Riley to Gary Andersen.  As expected this has been a tough year for the Beavers so far - how much should that be attributed to a big change in the playbook and current players trying to adapt, and how much falls on what Riley left behind?

Andy: There's certainly been some of both, but this far into the season, its mostly a case of the lack of depth of talent that Riley left. Once injuries hit, the Beavers have a lot of people who are playing in a different position, or in a different role/assignment/responsibility (the defensive schemes used have fluctuated a lot due to both the varied opponents and who is available) than even what Coach Andersen and crew had them training on at the start of the season.

For example, and its not an isolated one, Devin Chappell has been the safety assigned to the slot receiver, the nickel back, the strong safety, the free safety, at corner, and at linebacker all already this season.

RVM: You know I just can't quite go the same full distance with the lack of talent answer.   I totally agree this is an issue for sure, but I think I am starting to chalk this all up to just an overall culture change that was much larger than we expected (and I think the coaches too).  I do think depth is an issue and Andy's example is an excellent one, so I am not trying to totally disagree and/or downplay this issue, but I think there have been other important things going on too.

And yes the playbook and schemes have changed up enough to cause issues.   Again though I don't know if this can be placed just on what Riley left behind, for there were some transferring going on too, which is part of the culture of change.   To go more out on a limb I think some of the older guys were more disillusioned with how the change happened then I think we expected/know about, and they have not bought into the system and new coaches.  To me this maybe then caused some issues with the team atmosphere.  This is a bit out there I know, and I honestly could be totally off base here (I hope so actually), but I just sense there has been a bit more of a larger adjustment from a long coaching era under Riley to a big, and sudden change.

I think also, and don't get me wrong I am guilty of this too, that the fan expectations that this new staff was the instant answer to the problems we were seeing with Riley's last few years has not helped the atmosphere either.  Maybe it is being naive but I do feel as bad as all this is and also in terms of what I am putting out there, I think this could bode well longer term if things settle down into Andersen's control of and vision for the program.

UWDP: In recent year the Riley offense was very heavily tilted toward the passing game behind the graduated Sean Mannion; with Andersen, the approach is very different and much more tilted towards running the football.  Are Beaver fans embracing this new approach?

Andy: Some are, and more I think will if/when it begins to produce results. Most people were calling for a change in style before Riley left, because it was becoming apparent that it was becoming increasingly hard to find top-tier talent that also fit into a pro-style of play that no one runs, and the patch-work of players that they were able to assemble were having trouble against the top-tier opponents.

We have all seen what Andersen and Sitake are running work, and work well, when they have the right players, and more importantly, enough of them, to run it as drawn up.

RVM: Are we focused on the run?  Sure it is not the pro-set of throwing the heck out of the ball deal we saw with Riley and Langsdorf, but at the same time I just don't know if I am seeing a great effort to establish a new rushing focused scheme.   Sure this totally is also falling into that issue of depth and talent that Andy brought up, the offensive line again is not a deep group and has been shifted around with injuries.   I don't know, maybe this is the flip-side of my feeling like there is a possible longer term potential to be had, and we need to be patient with it all, but I have been frustrated with the lack of tapping into the talent of runners like Storm Barrs-Woods and Ryan Nall.

Now I need to also seriously think about my own arguments here too, and injuries have not helped at all with allowing Andersen to establish things in a more consistent manner.  Plus the issues with the passing attack and getting behind in scores quickly and big have not helped the ability to go to the run more often.   So I may be a bit too harsh on the coaching with this one, but it has been disappointing that more of a vision here has not been at least somewhat apparent.

UWDP: When Oregon State was at its best under Riley, DC Mark Banker's defenses were very, very good.  Can you describe what's different about the defensive approach under the new staff and diagnose what they need to do to get better results?  Is it just a matter of youth/talent/adapting to the new staff?

Andy: It's mostly youth and a lack of depth. Some of the biggest blowups have come because Kalani Sitake made reasonably sound tactical decisions that just didn't work, often because Oregon State has struggled to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

It's hard to cover Washington State's receivers with 7 in back when a 4 man rush can't force Luke Falk to throw inside of 6-7 seconds, for example.

It's hard to run cover-2 with inexperienced safeties and corners against Josh Rosen when he can stand and read the coverage because the rush can't get home, and 3 starters in the secondary are on the sideline.

That doesn't make the strategy bad, just one Oregon State doesn't have enough experienced bodies at all 3 levels to consistently execute.

RVM: Yes this has been a tough one to figure out.  Hard to tell for reasons of depth of players, AGAIN injuries and I do agree with the youth issue too.  I think this one overall will be a time will tell.

UWDP: With Seth Collins out for the season, Mt. Si product Nick Mitchell is the man at QB for the Beaver.  Does the Beaver offense change at all with Mitchell in there?

Andy: Not much. Mitchell isn't near the running threat that Collins is/was, but he is still relatively mobile, though Coach Andersen has said he will be reined in some this week in light of the concussion he suffered last week against California. They won't want him to get hit more than necessary. The mix will change a little, but the general scheme won't.

RVM: Yes, not really much to add here beyond what Andy has mentioned.   I did like some of what we saw from Mitchell though before he was knocked out of that Cal game, in the third quarter, I hope they try some more of those dynamic schemes with him to see if that was just an aberration or if maybe he and the offense can sustain that energy to make a bit more noise on that side of the ball.

UWDP: Who are the players on defense that Husky fans should be aware of?

Andy: Watch Kyle Peko. He's had a good year at NG, but due to more issues at DE, he is going to slide out there at least part of the time this week.

RVM: Ah, my editor planted some idea that I was to mention Caleb Saulo here!  So how about Caleb Saulo!   Seriously though it looks like Saulo will be moved to the key middle linebacker spot for this game, so he and Jaswha James are going to be anchoring that defense it looks like for the next two games, so throw in James a bit here too.  (Sorry Andy could not withhold the mini-potshot at your very nice earlier nudge!)

UWDP: Taking a longer view, how soon do you think Andersen can have Oregon State battling for the Pac-12 North?  Given how tough the division looks, how much patience do you think Beaver fans will give him to build his program?

Andy: I think it will take 3 more years to be able to expect to contend to win the North. Next year, they should minimize the number of bad losses, and be more like what Washington is this year; i.e. have a shot to get bowl eligible going down the stretch, and be in the middle of the division somewhere.

But this year's recruits will still be freshmen, and last year's recruits will only be sophomores or red-shirt freshmen.

The following year, they should be restocked and experienced enough to compete in the top half of the division, and get to a mid-tier bowl, kind of like the step up Cal took in year 3 under Coach Dykes, and most of us expect UW to take next year, in year 3 under Petersen. But I wouldn't count on winning the conference; I don't believe Stanford or Oregon are going to fall off the face of the earth, and they will also be chasing UW. Plus, the south will provide at least several tough opponents.

In year 4, Andersen should have a good core of seniors and juniors that have been in his system their whole careers, and enough additional players recruited to fit the system that they can compete with the best opponents. I don't think anyone can ever "plan" to win the division and conference, and go to the playoffs, even the Stanfords and USCs of the world. But you can build to be able to consistently contend at those levels, and then it's a matter of who stays relatively free of injuries/Pac-12 officiating/bad scheduling luck.

RVM: Wow, great question!  And actually great answer by Andy!  Can I just have the last word and predict the outcome of the game?  Wait a minute I don't really want to do that! 

Back to the original question.  I think three years is a realistic goal, but not sure in reality truly contending will be that easy even with the program clicking better with Andersen and his recruits.  So I think a key question really becomes for the fan base, what are we comfortable with as success if the program is not year in and year out competing for that top tier placement?  I mean no offense to you all but look how difficult it has been for the Huskies and that is with a better resourced program.  But heck look at Washington State this year, it is not totally unreasonable to see some type of turnaround and actually contending to happen from a program like Oregon State.  I just don't know, like with WSU it can happen on a consistent basis. 

Oh, wait a minute I just mentioned the Cougs here in a positive light, sorry about that, well maybe not that sorry.  Okay this is now going nowhere is it but awkward?  Ah, hmm, Go Beavs!

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Thanks again to Andy and RVM for answering our questions.  Please check out Building the Dam for more info on all things Oregon State Beavers.