1. When we talked in the summer on our podcast, Matt and I had expected Oregon State to win three or four games. You thought they could win six. They've far exceeded those projections. What has been the biggest factor in the team's turnaround this season?
Yeah, I remember everyone saying they just couldn't find many wins on the schedule for Oregon St.
Other than staying mostly healthy, there have really been 2, and they are equally important. Offensively, Coach Mike Riley resumed calling the plays, which he did back when the Beavers were having those 8-10 win seasons, but had handed off in recent years. There is an art as well as a science to calling a game (Duck fans understand this, with Chip Kelly), and Coach Riley gets more out of the same play book as someone else by getting the mix right.
Defensively, secondary coach Rod Perry, who came to Oregon St. after years in the NFL, exceeded all expectations in what he has brought to the secondary, both against the pass and the run. The advent of using dime packages, as well as more and better nickel schemes, has gotten more speed on the field, and has in turn helped the rest of the defense.
2. Mike Riley has been playing musical quarterbacks the last few seasons, something that has manifested itself between Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz this year. While Mannion is the starter for the Civil War, and it looks like Vaz is still out with injury, has this had a negative effect on the team this season, and what will happen going forward?
There's been no negative impact, in large part because Sean and Cody like each other. They compete, and each hates it when they aren't in there, but it doesn't become personal, or something that divides the team. It also helps that they are similar in style, so the offense doesn't have to be changed when one replaces the other, and that they have both proven they can win.
Right behind them if not right with them. Some weeks they have out-performed Woods and Lee. They are different, in that neither is the really big, tall receiver, but they are both very fast. And they do a better job of blocking down field.
Cooks' progression from last year to this giving Oregon St. an elite pair of receivers is another big factor in how much the Beavers have been able to improve.
4. Why has it been so difficult of OSU to get a running game going this season?
Going against the Wisconsin, BYU, Utah, and Stanford defensive fronts had something to do with that. 200 yards against Cal and 157 against Arizona St. reflect that progress is being made. But you are right, Oregon St.'s rushing attack isn't the first thing any opponent is worried about.
The biggest reasons are a lack of true break-away speed in the backs (few "good" runs that do get to the second level turn into "explosion" plays), and an offense that still looks to pass about 2/3 of the time.
5. To me, the play of the defensive line has been the biggest reason for Oregon State success this season. Tell us a little about that unit, and how will OSU attempt to handle an Oregon rushing attack that has given them all kinds of problem in the past.
DEs Scott Crichton and Dylan Wynn are fast, and I expect Oregon St. to try to have them get upfield, as Stanford did, in order to keep the Oregon backfield in the pocket. In the recent past, containment has been the biggest problem for the defensive front, and that's what Oregon does best when they are playing well; break containment.
In the middle, Castro Masaniai is a big, run stuffer, and he's been healthy all season for the first time in his career. But the real secret is the second and third units, which has allowed Oregon State to rotate more players than they ever have before, keeping people fresh.
6. Give us a couple names to know elsewhere on the defense.
You obviously already know Jordan Poyer, but elsewhere in the secondary, Rashaad Reynolds has really progressed into a pretty solid corner opposite Poyer. At linebacker, Michael Doctor has had a break-out season.
7. What has it meant to Beaver Nation for Oregon State to climb back into the upper tier of the conference this season?
That's a great question. The obvious answer is it has restored the confidence and enthusiasm that was in real danger of collapsing as last year fell apart. But the more important affect has been to dispell thoughts that were beginning to appear that as college football and the Pac-12 continues to ramp up both the level of product on the field and the quality of program required off the field that maybe Oregon St. couldn't keep up.