Gary Andersen knew it was going to be difficult. Perhaps he didn't know exactly how difficult it would be.
Taking over a team that just three years prior had been one of the surprise "breakout" teams in the nation, you would forgive Andersen if he had assumed all that was required was a little tinkering of the playbook, a few well-placed transfer candidates, and a little bit of his patented "tough love" leadership style.
What transpired was completely different. A QB race that at one point featured seven players turned into a one-man race, where a true freshman whose only other major scholarship offer was from San Jose State essentially competed against his own experience level to win the job. A defense which had boasted the return a difference-making DT and an All-PAC-12 shutdown corner turned into a disaster of a unit that was able to record just 18 sacks on the season (9 fewer than the next worst) and force just 167 opponent third down attempts (fewest in the PAC since Colorado in 2012). A passing attack that featured standout receivers across the board and had averaged roughly 4000 yards per year over the previous three couldn't even eclipse the 2000-yard mark (think Washington 2008 as a point of comparison).
It was that bad.
The record reflected it. Oregon State managed just two wins on the season, none of which came against a PAC-12 opponent. And, yes, Colorado was on the schedule.
The Beavers did finish the season on a bit of an upswing as they put arch-rival Oregon through the wringer in a 52-42 loss that, in many ways, could easily (and should have been) an Oregon State victory. Coach Gary Andersen hopes that the Civil War is a precursor to the kind of hustle and effort that the rest of the PAC can expect from his team in 2016.
Are the Beavers on the upswing? Is there any juice left in the Orange? Let's put the Gekko File to the test and find out.
|Newcomers to Watch
|RB/TE Ryan Nall
WR Jordan Villamin
|QB Darell Garretson (txr)
RB Kyle White (JC)
In an era where teams seem to be increasingly moving back to pro sets and multiple looks, the Beavers are now into their second year of moving forward in their quest to become Oregon North. A youth movement to accommodate that change is underway as 9 of Oregon State's offensive starters from a year ago return. But when your offense manages just 19 points a game and is widely panned as the worst in the conference, is that a good thing?
It's hard to project OSU's offense based on last year's mostly because junior QB Darell Garretson, a transfer from Utah State, was not a factor. Instead, Gary Andersen was forced to start true freshman Seth Collins, who was mostly incapable of delivering the ball to weapons like senior WR Victor Bolden and junior WR Jordan Villamin. Garretson is an upgrade over Collins. The best comparison for Garretson might be, ironically, former OSU QB and current UW offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith. He is an average-sized, average-armed, heady, accurate QB who understands what it means to be a point guard as a quarterback. The biggest concern for a guy like him might be his durability. If he can't go, OSU does have experienced backups in Marcus McMaryion and, if necessary, Collins.
Garretson has some weapons to work with. In fact, it is hard to look at two players - RB/TE Ryan Nall and Villamin - and not consider them legitimate all-conference types of guys.
Nall was an absolute revelation in 2015 despite the fact that most people still haven't heard of him. As a hybrid player in Andersen's spread attack, Nall was a weapon as a receiver and a rusher. He resembles former Seahawk FB John L. Williams in how he approaches the game. He's not fast, but he's quick. He's not big, but he's strong. When he gets a head of steam going, he is hard to take down and he's used in a way that results in him showing up all over the field. He's just a grit-and-grind kind of guy and a joy to watch. If you saw him put up 253 total yards in the Civil War against Oregon, you know what I'm talking about. Oh, and he's just a sophomore this year.
Villamin is no longer a spring chicken. The junior still hasn't had a true breakout season, but that is likely more about the OSU QB situation than it is the receiver. When you look at him, he's got all the tools: 6'5", 230 lbs, soft hands, and 4.5 level speed. Expect to see a heavy dose of Villamin as the beneficiary of short slants, rub routes, and bubble screens in Andersen's offense.
Beyond those guys, there are some capable players that could really help out a new QB. Senior Victor Bolden is a legitimate upper-tier-of-conference receiver. Senior TE Caleb Smith is a big, reliable target. Big sophomore TE Noah Togiai is a high-upside guy. Junior Hunter Jarmon and Collins will both be factors as receivers (by the way, watch Jarmon as a blocker from the slot - he really embraces the role). JC transfer Kyle White looks like a capable go-to running back to balance out the run game. Given the tear-down that Andersen went through, this is a relatively well-stocked offense.
The line is of particular interest to me. Senior and 3-year starter Sean Harlow returns after missing most of last year due to injury. When healthy, Harlow is one of the most reliable LTs in the league - particularly when he gets to attack. His right-side twin, senior Dustin Stanton, is another big, nasty road grader. In fact, the entire OSU offensive line is made up of seniors and juniors with about 75 career starts between them.
I'm telling you now, Oregon State is going to surprise with this offense in 2016. I'm not saying that they are top-half levels; there are still depth and team speed issues that can't be overlooked. However, if Garretson can stay healthy, I don't see any reason that they can't be the fastest-rising offense in the PAC.
|Newcomers to Watch
|LB Caleb Saulo
DE Baker Pritchard
|DE Isaac Garcia (TFr)
CB Christian Wallace (TFr)
As bullish as I am on the OSU offense, I'm equally as bearish about their defense. I fully acknowledge that trying to project the OSU defense in any of these past few years has been a futile exercise. They've been remarkably dependent on JUCO transfers each of the past three of four seasons. That makes projecting them difficult.
What I can say is that they are missing some important pieces from a defense that was truly awful (rivaled only by Oregon) a year ago. Their best player - DT Kyle Peko, their DC in Kalani Sitake, their entire defensive line, their star CB (Larry Scott), and their leading tackler (LB Rommel Mageo) are all gone from a year ago. In their place...well, let's just say it's going to be hard to put it all together.
Kevin Clune is the new DC and has a long history with Andersen. He'll bring in a more flex/hybrid style than what Sitake was running a year ago. As such, you can expect OSU to look a little different schematically. They'll be more 3-4 in their alignment, with more dropping of their BUCK style backer into zone coverages. Sitake was very aggressive and it opened OSU up to a lot of chunk plays. Only the Arizona and Oregon defenses surrendered more plays of 10 yards or more in the PAC. I expect more bend-don't-break looks this year.
Personnel will be a fluid situation. The most stable group is the linebacking corps that returns senior MLB Caleb Saulo and sophomore Jonathan Willis. This duo returns over 100 tackles and are each capable guys, even if they don't wow you with their measurables.
I mentioned the d-line as a complete unknown. There are three returners who have game experience - senior DE Baker Pritchard, junior NT Kalani Vakameilalo, and sophomore DE Sumner Houston. Of the three, Baker is the probably the most important. Not really a flashy guy, he's a big end that will shine the most in sealing off the pocket and defending the run.
Those guys are going to need some help. 324-lb redshirt freshman NT Elu Aydon is an interesting prospect who will definitely get some snaps. Also, keep you eyes on true freshman Isaac Garcia. He may get a chance to start right away as a pass rush specialist for a team that has no obvious candidate to fill that role.
I'm just as concerned about the secondary that, by my eyeball, returns just a few pieces of moderate accomplishment and not much else. Big corner Treston Decoud is probably their best player. The 6'3" senior is an effective enough coverage guy with 3.5 PBU last year, but he is more effective in run support. CB Devin Chappell and Cyril Noland-Lewis are both good players who will provide some depth, but neither has shown effective coverage skills. If some of the young guys like Jalen Moore or Jay Irvine don't step up and seize the opportunity, I fear that this secondary will continue to get exposed by PAC-12 opponents.
One Breakout Star
TE Noah Togiai
Since I am coming around on this idea that OSU's offense is going to surprise some people, it only makes sense that I look to that side of the ball for a breakout player. It would be a little too cliche to jump on the Garretson bandwagon, so I'm going to highlight a player that I think will make Garretson look that much better.
Sophomore TE Noah Togiai is an interesting prospect who really fits well into what Gary Andersen is trying to do on offense. More of a receiver than a blocker, Togiai has good height and flashes really soft hands. He looks a lot like Joshua Perkins as a younger player. I expect that he'll be a regular part of the receiving rotation and, as evidenced by his team-leading 7 receptions for 107 yards in the OSU spring game, he already has struck up a rapport with Garretson. It wouldn't shock me in the least to see Togiai's production jump up into the 35 catch/500 yards range which, for the Oregon State offense, would be a huge contribution.
I like what the Beavers are putting together under their new coach and his staff. The offense has the benefit of an experienced offensive line and leadership at the QB position. It also has more playmakers than you think, even if depth is an issue for what is otherwise a young team. Defensively, the Beavers are at least coalescing around a plan that makes a little more sense than what Kalani Sitake was doing with them. The fact that they continue to be so heavily reliant on JC transfers is an indication of how much work is left to do to stock up the talent pipeline on that side of the ball.
OSU's schedule is one of the more interesting of the PAC. The first thing that jumps out at you when you look at it is the timing of the BYE. OSU's break comes after their Thursday night home opener. Once past that September 10th date, the Beavs are playing every week until the end of the season.
Fortunately, OSU does have a pretty good run of home games. After their road trip opener at Minnesota, they only leave home one time - an October 1st trip to Boulder - before taking on the Huskies on October 22nd. The Beavs are really going to have to take advantage of that time because the end of the schedule is highlighted by a brutal stretch of @Washington, vs Washington State, @Stanford and @UCLA.
I don't really expect Oregon State to survive that stretch wholly intact. While I think that they will compete in a few games that people don't really expect - Boise State and Cal, for example - I don't see too many scenarios where attrition and depth challenges don't take steam out of their sails by the end of the year. I do, however, expect Gary Andersen to improve upon the two-win mark he hit on last season and to put the Beavers within a game or two of bowl eligibility before it is all said and done. If he does that, we'll be talking about Oregon State as a team on the rise in 2017.