Intros are the worst, so instead of writing an intro, here’s a shoutout to my optometrist, who informed me, when I came in for the usual do-your-eyes-suck-even-worse-than-normal? checkup, that he was sad today’s defensive preview wasn’t out yet. Hi Dr. Paul!
If you or a loved one
suffers from mesothelioma would like an intro dedicated to your awesomeness, send three easy payments of $6.66 on over to Paypal.me/gabeynotgabby. Kidding. Kind of. (Who am I kidding you could totally bribe me to write you an intro for, like, a nickel.)
Anyhoo, here’s the scoop on Oregon State:
Personnel and What to Expect
We should begin this with the caveat that OSU scored 70-bajillion points at one point this year. No, not this OSU — the other OSU. Against this OSU.
Can that be all my analysis for this week on account of “I am lazy and don’t want to do a whole write-up on Oregon State’s defense when it could be summed up with ‘They bad’”? No? Ugh, fine.
In the same way that it’s difficult to talk about a really good defense’s strengths and weaknesses with their “weaknesses” being relative and still far above average, it’s really difficult to talk about OSU’s mega-rebuilding defense because, while the offense has made notable strides immediately, the total lack of talent pool and fundamentals left over from Gary Andersen has made it a massive multi-year re-tooling for Jonathan Smith and company. Subsequently, this defense is quite not good (“bad,” if you will) and any strengths would still be a weakness on a good defensive team.
Formation-wise, they like to play in nickel (it feels redundant including this, since it’s standard to not only all of the Pac-12 at this point but also to pretty much all of college ball, teams playing Wisconsin notwithstanding), particularly in a 3-3-5 that’s a quick change-up from their otherwise standard two-gap that the 3-4 brings — the latter you’re quite likely to see in the majority of clear running situations. Otherwise there’ll probably be some 2-4-5, too... Moving on.
Watching their performances, what stood out to me — starting the lil’ film journey with their game against Ohio State — was how they initially weren’t getting totally manhandled by a far athletically superior team. I mean, they were still getting mostly manhandled, but that’s an improvement as long as you ignore the Buckeyes’ 77 point achievement. Per PFF’s imperfect-but-generally-alright rankings, their run defense, pass rush, and tackling are particularly struggling.
A noticeable elaboration on their troubles in the run game is that the foundation of their two-gap scheme frequently fails, breaking down the other units’ abilities to react unimpeded; in other words, the interior defensive line simply doesn’t have players who can consistently clog things up and free lanes for linebackers or safeties to come in and make the stop. In practice, this means a common theme for OSU’s defense is opposing blockers getting into the second level and allowing ball-carriers to make it into the secondary before someone can make the stop. Similarly, in zone blocking, running backs who could get skinny and then explode also have broken off many a long run.
These themes have been pretty consistent whether against Ohio State, USC, CU, Cal, Stanford, etc. — a particularly effective run-stopper (reminder, by the Beavs’ standards) has been DT Elu Aydon, and he’s likely the only effective cog where that’s concerned.
Otherwise, the not short list of true freshmen who’ve burned their redshirts starts in the defensive line with DE Isaac Hodgins. This trend continues behind him with the linebackers Matthew Tago and Isaiah Tufaga, the former of which forced a fumble against USC. While there’s clear growing pains currently, they’re exacerbated by the fact that the linebackers are home to the biggest loss of the entire defense (and probably the biggest loss of the entire team, Ryan Nall notwithstanding) from 2017; Manase Hungalu was a multi-pick Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week last season and one of the lone bright spots in Andersen’s disastrous tenure. His graduation and signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars, therefore, was obviously a bonafide big loss.
The OLBs include former Federal Way High School player, Andrzej Hughes-Murray, who is in-line with much of OSU’s roster core — made up of tweeners from the PNW as well as California and Hawaii who were evaluated as recruits as being good enough to play above the FCS and lower-G5 level, but who, for varying reasons, received few Power Five scholarship offers. If there’s one thing that sums up OSU currently, it would be that and, for that reason, you’ll see plenty of guys in orange from the Evergreen State on Saturday who never got a spot at Washington or Washington State.
But I digress.
Back to the linebackers and defensive backs, who, based on what we’ve seen this year, are better fundamentally than under Andersen. That being said, their tackling in space has been somewhat of a weakness, with lots of broken arm tackles and disengaged lower body-drive leading to backs and more physical receivers getting lots of barely-earned extra yards.
The defensive backs are made up of lots of players who were part-time starters in seasons past. Safety Jalen Moore recovered Matthew Tago’s forced fumble against USC and was a multi-year starter as a junior last year while racking up the second-highest amount of tackles on the team. The cornerbacks Isaiah Dunn, Dwayne Williams, and Shawn Wilson all have part-time starting experience and have played in a boatload of games as non-starters, with Dunn doing so for five games last year as a true freshman.
The secondary has been interesting to watch because, for how many points per game this team has given up, they haven’t looked like a total crapshow all the time; a greather-than-expected amount of opponents’ passing touchdowns have come against quite well-covered man coverage, including a couple against Colorado and USC that were both simply placed perfectly by Steven Montez and JT Daniels, respectively, and which the cornerbacks just had no chance against. Similarly, there have been a greater-than-expected amount of instances where explosive long passes or touchdowns on fly routes have been against a cornerback in not-perfect-but-still-pretty-good man coverage and a safety who covers the distance of his shell to be so close to intercepting or breaking up the pass but can’t finish or mistimes the jump.
On the other hand, they give up so much yardage by frequently playing a super soft zone and giving opposing quarterbacks easy dink n’ dunk yardage and then (remember when I mentioned this like 200 words ago?) failing to complete the tackles and giving up needless yards after catch.
So that’s Oregon State in a nutshell.
The reality is that even with Washington’s offensive inconsistencies this year, they shouldn’t be challenged hard at all. The Dawgs’ power running and Myles Gaskins’ vision therein would probably win this game by itself, if we’re being honest. Furthermore, while it’s no secret Jake Browning’s game has been off and on this year, the mega-soft zone that the OSU defensive backs often play is exactly the kind of thing that Browning can destroy — although, with no receivers who’ve shown themselves to be a significantly physical yards after catch threat, Washington’s passing game probably won’t take full advantage of the Beavs’ specific weaknesses where that’s concerned.
If the Huskies’ offensive line can’t handle business against OSU’s struggling front seven, especially on running plays, that’ll be surprising and deflating. Luckily for us, it’s more than reasonable to think the line should be fine.
Do good things, don’t do bad things, and bow down to Washington.