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Opponent Offense Preview: Oregon State

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Injuries galore for the Beavers. Where could their offense still hurt the Huskies?

NCAA Football: Oregon State at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Gary Andersen arrived in Corvallis two years ago fresh off a short stint as Wisconsin’s head coach. What would prompt a move from Wisconsin, a upper-tier B1G school with great tradition and history, to Oregon State (no offense, Beaver friends)? He was pretty successful, and even had his Badgers in the 2014 B1G Championship Game. Wisconsin’s historically tough offensive line, combined with a ground-it-out running game, seemed to fit Andersen’s personality as a coach who values physical line play and getting tough yards between the tackles.

But perhaps the move to Oregon State reveals even more about him and the personality that he’s instilling in his team: one who identifies more as the underdog than the favorite, and embraces a dogfight (there’s also this). He wants his teams to get into the phone booth and rough someone up. He was a walk-on during his playing days and will bring the blue-collar attitude to the Beavers.

The Basics

One doesn’t get hired as Wisconsin’s head coach without an affinity for running the ball. Coaches in Madison, WI get run out of town if they don’t have massive offensive linemen paving the way for bruising running backs that are the centerpiece of the team. It’s their identity, and they rally around it. He had similar success at Utah State, guiding them to 11 wins in his final year at the helm. This is what Anderson is attempting to bring to Oregon State. The numbers, however, tell a different story. I expected to see Oregon State pretty high up in team rushing play percentage, but they in fact only run the ball 51.6% of the time. Compare that to Washington at 58%, upper end in the Pac-12, and Cal at 37% representing the pass-happy offenses of the Pac-12.

It’s a surprising statistic because Oregon State really cannot throw the ball at all, though perhaps Gary Anderson is trying to develop greater balance while still identifying as a run-first program. Either way, aligning with a strong ground game is a good strategy, at least this year: the Beavers throw for less than 150 yards per game and have only thrown 4 TDs all year. Take away the now-injured Darell Garretson’s 3 TDs in the season-opening 30-23 loss to Minnesota, and that’s 1 TD thrown all season.

Quarterback

Marcus McMaryion: 5/9 for 76 yards, 1 TD.

Hell of a stat line for McMaryion, wouldn’t you say? Believe it or not, this is the QB most Beaver fans have been clamoring to be QB #1 since Anderson took over. He’s smart, earning All-Pac-12 Academic honors, and by the coaches’ own admission mastered the playbook within weeks of fall camp. He clearly has the best arm on the team; I think anyone who’s watched Oregon State this season can attest to that. He’s also a solid dual threat, and can move a bit in the pocket.

McMaryion started last year vs. UW and threw for 109 yards and a TD, including a nice 24-yard pass to the outside shoulder of Victor Bolden. Those were the Beavers’ only points on the day. Earlier in the drive he threw a pretty ball to Ryan Nall for a 37-yard gain. Why he wasn’t starting all this season I can’t answer. Maybe the coaches don’t like his game or pocket awareness, or he makes too many mistakes in practice, and they don’t want to reward a player who is a “gamer.” All I know is, and Gary Anderson seems to agree with me, Oregon State is awful at passing the ball.

With all the injuries, true freshman Mason Moran will be the backup, meaning former Utah State QB and current Oregon State graduate assistant, Chuckie Keeton, will run the scout team.

Running Backs

Ryan Nall: 64 carries, 464 yards, 6 TDs, 7.3 yards/rush

Artavis Pierce: 48 carries, 262 yards, 2 TDs, 5.5 yards/rush

With Ryan Nall, the Beavers might have something. He arrived out of high school as an H-back, projected to make an impact in the short passing game and in blocking. During his redshirt season, he even spent time working with the returners, highlighting his extreme versatility and smarts. The sophomore got hurt against California, but not before running for 221 yards and 3 TDs. On his first carry of the game against Utah he rumbled for 32 yards but then did not return, probably aggravating his foot injury. He was in a walking boot in practice earlier this week - he’s not out for the year but they aren’t sure when he’ll be back.

Artavis Pierce will get the bulk of the carries if Nall is unable to go. He got his most extensive work of the season against Cal, going for 58 yards and a TD on 13 carries. He’s got good size for a freshman at 5-11 and over 200 pounds, and is a real speedy threat at running back. He’s got some shiftiness as well, and is improving as a pass blocker. His 9 receptions so far this year hint at his good hands and versatility, but probably also indicate OSU quarterbacks’ inability to throw the ball past the line of scrimmage.

Though the overall numbers might not indicate an offense that wants to run a lot, looking at Nall and Pierce, these are two talented enough backs to be the cornerstones of a run-first offense.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

Seth Collins: 26 catches, 286 yards, 11 yards/catch.

Victor Bolden: 22 catches, 192 yards, 1 TD, 9 yards/catch. 17 rushes, 222 yards, 1 TD.

Paul Lucas: 3 catches, 61 yards, 20.3 yards/catch. 18 rushes for 78 yards.

Jordan Villamin: 8 catches, 49 yards, 6.1 yards/catch

This is an interesting group. Victor Bolden is a very strong Pac-12 receiver, but as has been documented here, there’s no one that can get him the ball (through the air, at least). At only 5’9” he’s got great pace and burst to him, and the coaches give him touches all the time on end-around plays. Against Utah, he rushed the ball 7 times for 61 yards, with a long of 26. He can definitely get his yards out of the backfield, given that he’s also had runs of 32 and 96 yards this year.

Seth Collins was last year’s QB, who started as a true freshman. The coaches moved him to WR to take advantage of his skill set, but he decided to transfer elsewhere in hopes of playing QB. He ultimately chose to stay at Oregon State and the coaches made him earn his way back onto the team. The move worked out well for him as he’s the team’s leading receiver. He possesses good size (6’3”) but has yet to catch a TD this season, which is more an indictment of Oregon State’s QBs than anything.

Jordan Villamin, paired with Collins, is OSU’s other big receiver, standing 6’5”. Both he and Bolden were supposed to anchor an air attack that I’m sure many expected to be much more potent. Despite the down year throwing the ball, he hasn’t really made his mark, with only 8 catches on the year and just 1 in his last 3 games. Since he doesn’t provide the rushing threat of players like Bolden and Lucas (who had a 76-yard run against the Huskies last year), he has limited chances to make plays when the quarterback can’t get him the ball.

Offensive Line

With a team like Oregon State, you would think their OL is completely awful, but I was surprised to see they are a bit better than I thought. For one, they average over 200 yards per game on the ground, and only give up 6.3 tackles for loss per game, less than one TFL more than Stanford, and better than UCLA. They fare worse with sacks, ranking near the bottom nationally by giving up over 3 per game, though I suspect some of that is poor QB decisionmaking and holding on to the ball too long.

Against Utah’s tough defensive front, they only allowed 2 sacks and 3 tackles for loss. Those are solid numbers regardless of the opponent, but especially against Utah. The Cal game showed they have the ability to push people around, running for over 470 yards and 6 TDs in that game. That’s an impressive turnaround from a team that averaged only 140 rush yards per game and allowed 19 sacks in its first four games. It began when Sean Harlow decided not to redshirt the season after breaking his leg last year. They put him at LT, and shuffled things around: redshirt freshman Blake Brandel moved from LT to RT, senior Dustin Stanton moved from RT to RG, and senior Gavin Andrews from RG to C. That’s a big shakeup to have mid-season, and if the Utah and Cal games are any indication, this might be the starting five the coaches stick with.

Final Thoughts

There is nothing about this offense that should scare Husky fans. There are a few playmakers, like Ryan Nall and Victor Bolden, and Seth Collins seems like a solid possession receiver. The problem for the Beavers is at QB. While OSU fans and just about everyone watching the Beavers this season seem to agree that Marcus McMaryion is the best QB on the roster, there’s still a reason he was #3 to start the season. Frankly, I think he’ll get eaten alive against Washington’s defense, which is not completely uncommon for QBs playing in Husky Stadium recently.

The offensive line is better than I expected, and might just be starting to come together into a cohesive unit for the second half of the season. They did an okay job keeping Utah’s strong defensive line out of the backfield last weekend, and were also able to get the ground game going a little bit with 35 rushes for 197 yards.

Ultimately, this is a completely one-dimensional offense whose one dimension doesn’t come close to dominating, so they will struggle a lot against the best defense they will face all year.