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Opponent Defensive Preview: Beavs

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Jonathan Smith back at it.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 25 Oregon State at USC Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Well, no one will accuse the Beavs of being inconsistent this year. In their three games against FBS competition, their opponents have each time scored between 27 to 30 points (USC and Hawaii 27, Purdue 30). And of course they shut out FCS Idaho, but that certainly couldn’t mean anything, right? Everybody whoops their FCS opponents’ butts ha ha ha that’s not impressive *sobs into coffee*.

Personnel and What to Expect

Anyhoo, their looks are pretty much what you’d expect from a team run by a Chris Petersen disciple — primarily 2-4-5, some 3-3-5, pretty conservative, and starting to not only not suck, but actually be pretty dang functional.

There are a couple similarities and differences that I noticed immediately: One, like Washington, their defensive line doesn’t get completely pushed around, but also doesn’t tend to disrupt much regardless of their opponent’s play type. In the back of my mind, I wonder how much having edge guy Hamilcar Rashed back instead of in the NFL would have helped them in the pass rush, although that probably wouldn’t have too huge of an effect against the run.

One big difference, though, is that Oregon State’s linebackers look, uh, better in coverage than Washington’s.

This is especially true regarding former quarterback and Camas boy Jack Colletto, who took the Chazz Surratt route of being a “meh” quarterback, converting to linebacker, and whooping ass at that position, albeit with very limited snaps. Considering the Beavs have spent the last few years having a pretty good offense and not so great defense, a development like this for them is huge as far as overall team success if he can work his way into more playing time. While Colletto doesn’t play too much compared to the established starting ILBs of Avery Roberts and Omar Speights, it feels to me like his name comes up often when he does.

Behind them, the secondary isn’t full of a bunch of stars but they move pretty well together across the field. Alton Julian is a good-sized safety at 6’2” and 210 lbs who had an interception against USC and tends to be near the top of tackle lists. Corner Rezjohn Wright also had an interception against USC and is 6th in the country in passes defended. And the Beavs also have a versatile nickel from West Linn because Jonathan Smith refuses to take any shortcuts when it comes to Washington similarities — don’t be surprised if this nickel, Jaydon Grant, blitzes a bit along with his other responsibilities, although he’s still got a ways to go before he’s the reliable tackler that West Linn’s last star nickel was.

Oregon State’s pass defense isn’t yet as stingy on preventing long passes though, although there is a surface-level irony that the more you attempt long passes against them, the worse you’ll do in that regard (and every regard, honestly); Kedon Slovis threw three interceptions against them and completed a long pass of 32. Hawaii’s Chevan Cordeiro threw two interceptions and had completions of 40, 35, and 30. Purdue, meanwhile, gameplanned for far less of a focus on the deep ball but had zero interceptions and receptions of 50 and 42 yards, among others. Purdue chipped away patiently and then exploded, repeat.

That feels very significant to me.

My gut is that Oregon State’s defense would be really good if they had a more consistent pass rush, although that could materialize more as this season goes on; the Beavs were frequently putting Purdue’s quarterback under duress, while against USC they looked more conservative schematically. Either way, look for that in the future as Jonathan Smith continues improving the program.

It’s not like the Beavs don’t generate pressure, rather that their approach seems pretty focused on containment and coverage pressure — it’s not crazy rare to see them only rush three — plus they don’t at the moment have a star like Rashed that can be exceptionally disruptive despite that. Yet because they do otherwise tend to be more conservative with who they send up front, the Beavs will occasionally blitz someone that can completely take the offensive line by surprise; on Kedon Slovis’ fumble against OSU, the aforementioned Roberts was shot out of a cannon through the B gap, rocked the running back tasked with picking him up, initially overshot Slovis, then came back to pop the ball out from behind.

The Swede Simon Sandberg and redshirt freshman Cade Brownholtz had some moments against Purdue. Also, the whole linebacking corps of Roberts and fellow inside guy Omar Speights, plus outside linebackers Andrzej Hughes-Murray and Addison Gumbs are known to come into the backfield from time to time.

Against the run, on the other hand, they’re not great (good lord they really are Washington, aren’t they?). Not bad, just not great. Or, not consistent, anyway. This begins with the fact that their line doesn’t consistently get great push, like mentioned above.

For reference, USC’s leading rusher averaged 5.6 yards per carry — all while only having a long of 12 yards, meaning this average is pretty dang representative and not skewed by one breakout run. Purdue’s leading rusher averaged about four, but Purdue’s offense was far more balanced so that makes sense given how Oregon State would then focus their defense’s resources on the field.

Their line doesn’t typically get uniformly overpowered against the run — rather they can just be pushed so that there’s staggered spaces for opposing running backs to go through. (Any rugby players or those familiar with rugby will immediately recognize Oregon State’s front seven against the run as an example of why rugby defenses stress remaining straight-lined across the front.) Because of this, though, opposing offense’s running success can really hinge on a running back having good vision more than anything else.

That said, while the running game doesn’t look like a huge strength, they don’t tend to frequently allow huge runs. USC had a long rush of 12, Purdue of 24, and Hawaii of 17; you won’t see a bunch of tackles for loss, nor many back-breaking 50 yard breakaways — just bit-by-bit progress on the ground.

Overall, while OSU’s defense is far from flawless and isn’t super flashy, they work well as a unit and are clearly on the upswing. While they were constantly a weakness for the last six... seven years, they’re now putting this team in a position to compete in every game and win many of them. Tentatively, the future looks good in Corvallis.

Bottom Line

Due to the Beavs’ pass rush being somewhat variable, if you’re JohnDon you want to shy away from over-utilizing long-developing routes. I’d argue much of USC’s offensive stagnation against them could be attributed to over-relying on those combinations (and over-relying on the passing game in general) — and that was the P5 game where OSU got the least pass rush. USC’s bonkers level of receiver talent was able to carry them for a while, but eventually that couldn’t overcome that they were mostly playing into Oregon State’s hands.

Meanwhile, they generated a significantly better pass rush against Purdue, but Purdue was far better with using shallow-medium route combinations that got the ball out relatively quickly to players in space. Then they struck deep on occasion and were able to get some very important chunk plays of 35-50 yards.

Combine that with the fact that OSU’s pass defense covers the middle of the field quite well, and a general air attack plan becomes a bit more clear: My gut is that it’d be wise for your passing game’s backbone to be a combo of something like quick slants, RPOs, and shallow crossers with some deeper outs and go routes peppered in to A) keep the defense from honing in and B) take advantage of the fact that you can, ya know, successfully complete those so long as you don’t fall too in love with chasing them. McMillan, Odunze, Bynum, and Davis from there would have lots of space for yards after the catch in more modest routes and some explosive plays every once in a while. Similarly, giving Sean McGrew some opportunities in the passing game just by getting it out to him in the flats isn’t a bad call.

Which brings me to the last thing, that really should be the first thing: This could be Jimmy Lake’s dream scenario. You can have a balanced attack that passes to set up the run, as they discussed last week or whenever, and also have that running game be consistent, gashing, and demoralizing — as long as it’s not out of personnel groupings and formations from 1992. You don’t even have to run it off tackle etc. all the time like they should’ve done against Cal! You can — dare I say it? — even attack the A and B gaps primarily and be successful against this run defense! As long as it’s not out of gee dee 22 personnel, I formation malarkey. This should be Sean McGrew’s paradise, honestly.

Relatively short-developing routes, a healthy but modest dose of longer passes, and single back running plays would serve Washington very well. Trust your playmakers, my guy.

Now, do I have any faith that that will actually happen? Mmmmminimally... but it’s there for the taking.

Do good things, don’t do bad things, and bow down to Washington.