1. After facing arguably the most physical defense in the Pac-12 last week against Stanford, what is the Oregon State game plan against the USC defense that although struggles against the pass, but ranks first in the conference in sacks and total yards?
Andy Woolridge: Pass a lot, and try to get the ball out quickly, maybe a little more quickly more often than they were able to do against Stanford. Toward that end, look for a fair number of short passes, to backs Storm Woods and Terron Ward, as well as the tight ends, with the idea being to both slow the blitzing by the Trojan linebackers, and also to prevent doubling the wideouts.
Robert: Yes, as Andy has noted Stanford did a great job pass rushing in a much more dynamic way that the offensive line or Mannion were truly prepared for. They had Mannion almost looking a bit like the Mannion of last season. On this though it was not really all that close to last year and that was his worse performance this season.
With all the frustrations this still caused is all a very good sign, especially since Stanford did not get him enough on edge to throw a costly INT, I feel even with the sloppy loss Mannion should get a bit more credit than he has for that pretty gutsy performance. As such I still totally agree that what Mannion should have learned last Saturday night is he needs to improve his in-the-pocket-clock for he did a good job fighting off some of the rush, but other times should have released the ball much sooner.
There were times it would not have mattered, but he did hold onto the ball a bit too long at times. I also agree about the short stuff, but they also need to reopen the play-book a bit and get the ball down field more too, though Stanford is one quick and punishing defense.
2. The Sean Mannion to Brandin Cooks connection has been well documented over the first eight games of the season. Outside of this dynamic duo, who else on the Oregon State offense should the Trojans be concerned about, and can Mannion properly utilize those weapons on Friday night?
Andy: Split end Richard Mullaney has had a number of big catches in several games, especially in the early portion of games, before opponents fixated on containing Cooks figure out that Mullaney is a threat. Also, whomever is lined up at tight end. Oregon St. hopes to have Connor Hamlett back after he missed the last 2 1/2 games after having his knee cleaned up, and also hope to have Caleb Smith healthy again. Coach Mike Riley likes to use his tight ends, and even with Hamlett out, and Smith going down in the first quarter against Stanford, Mannion still completed 11 passes to the position, despite playing with only his #3 & #4 TEs available.
RVM: Richard Mullaney will give the USC defense some issues, especially since I think he had an off game against Stanford and should be ready to step it back up a notch. Tight ends will be essential again, and also I think if USC over-commits on the pass rush at times, as in trying to replicate the Stanford success, I think that Storm Woods and Terron Ward on short screens and dump offs could cause some big time damage. I also was a little more happy with the rush game and seeing Ward and the line seemingly at times take advantage of the very aggressive Cardinal pass rush, hoping that continues Friday night.
3. Looking ahead at the schedule, it seems like the Beavers are really gearing up for its most difficult set of games. What is the level of concern in Corvallis about possibly losing a fair amount of games down the stretch, in a similar fashion to last season after starting hot, and do the Beavers believe they can still compete for the Pac-12 North title?
Andy: There is considerable concern, because as you noted, the last 5 opponents are all pretty good. Any team could play very well against all 5 of them and still have trouble beating any of them. It (hopefully) won't be similar to last year, in that Mannion was already hurt, with a knee injury, and Cody Vaz suffered a severely sprained ankle against Stanford.
The Beavers lost 3 of their last 5, but had 2 quarterbacks with only 1 leg under each down the stretch.With a healthy, and much more experienced Mannion, Oregon St. figures to always have a chance, because as long as there is time left, the Beavers have a classic, Pac-8/10/12 type gunfighter who won't stop throwing effectively until they take the ball away at the end of the game.
RVM: To be more of the glass half full than Andy's seeing it both ways (!), I'd say we should feel excited. We have a battle tested offense and defense now, even if many of the games were mismatches, and played a very tough down to the wire game against a very good and physical Stanford team (especially their defense). Sure the games are not any longer gimmes or even will the Beavs be favorites in many of them, but I think they have the games there in front of them and they can use them to make some pretty big conference and national noise if they play their game. Plus even though some of the hype has faded from him, Mannion is not done quite yet this season and has some more to prove.
4. The Beavers rank second-to-last in the nation against the run and USC's rushing defense ranks near the top in the nation so that being said, how important is the running game to Mike Riley's offense?
Andy: Coach Riley would like to have a traditional rushing attack, but its also important to realize that passes to Woods, Ward, and fullback Tyler Anderson (11 combined catches against Stanford for 57 yards, and 10 at Cal for 106 yards and a td) amount to the rushing game. Those numbers should be added to the traditional rushing total to get a proper picture of the production from the backfield.
Offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh realized early on that Mannion was going to be capable of a monster season, but also knows he isn't at all mobile, so the plan has been to provide as much pass protection as possible. It worked well initially, as Mannion had only been sacked 9 times in 7 games before the Cardinal came to town.
As far as a slowed down pace goes, despite throwing 57 times against Stanford, Oregon St. still had a time of possession edge of over 17 minutes. The Beavers are not a hurry up offense; Mannion is content to throw a lot of screens and short crossing routes if that's what's available, and has been generally accurate enough to put even some 10+ play drives together.
5. After posting one its best performances of the season, what should we expect from the Beavers defense this week against the run heavy, play-action passing attack from USC?
Andy: Defensive coordinator Mark Banker has never been a heavy blitzer, though he will mix some in on occasion. Having the likes of Scott Crichton and Dylan Wynn also means the Beavers have been able to get some pressure on opposing quarterbacks without a lot of blitzing.
If USC is able to run effectively, Oregon St. will drop into a traditional 4-3 front, but generally play a lot of nickel as a base, and more than a little dime coverage. The Beavers will put corners Rashaad Reynolds and Steven Nelson on islands, and use the safeties to simultaneously take care of the middle of the field and also provide run support. They will try to make Kessler execute accurate passes in quantity, and try to capitalize on any errant throws.
6. What are your predictions for Friday night and also, what type of Halloween-themed flavor do you expect in the perfectly colored Corvallis community?
Andy: It's an"Orange Out" for Dad's night, and should be a sell-out if USC brings a good contingent that uses all of their ticket allotment.And while every week is a big game in the Pac, the Trojans always have been "special" in the eyes and minds of Beaver Nation. I don't think another 3-0 game is likely, but I do expect a game and score that looks a lot like the Stanford game did. Hopefully, with the Beavers on the top end this time.
RVM: Should be loud and energetic! And will be interesting if the Beavs can find more of that offensive swagger and put up a bit more scoring, but things do seem to point to a more low scoring deal. I do hope personally for more of the former though and that Mannion and Co. take their struggles against Stanford personally and take it out on USC! But a hard-hitting gritty football game is always fun too and ironically enough (if ironic is correct here) both team's defenses seem to have that potential right now.