With the Oregon State Beavers coming into town this weekend, we chatted with our orange and black SBNation brethren over at Building the Dam. BTM's Andy Woolridge and rvm answer our questions and help give us an in-depth inside look at what to expect from the Beavers:
1. Given the relatively soft preseason schedule, and Mike Riley's overall assessment of the first three games, what should USC fans expect to see from the Beavers right out of the gates?
Andy: While there is a lot of experience on this Oregon State team, there are also some areas with a lot of newcomers, most notably the o-line and wide receivers, so Coach Riley knew there would be some growing pains, but I think he was generally encouraged, given that they still came through it 3-0, but also played much better, and much more consistently, against a much better opponent in San Diego State than had been the case earlier.
Against the Aztecs, quarterback Sean Mannion threw to 10 different receivers, and got 50+ yard rushing games from both Storm Woods and Terron Ward. Some semblance of balance and clock control worked well for them against San Diego State, and so while not necessarily exciting, expect to see Oregon State try to establish the run, and also get multiple receivers involved early on. If the Beavers can make that approach work, it will simultaneously spread out and stretch a good, but thin, Trojan defense, and also keep the USC offense and all of its weapons off the field.
Given that Oregon State will have one starting WR making his 2nd start (Hunter Jarmon), and possibly another making his first start (Jordan Villamin), with Victor Bolden out with a hand injury and the only experienced WR in Richard Mullaney, playing out of position at times, the passing game will have to focus on making good on executable plays much more so than being able to do something really aggressive with a James Rodgers, Markus Wheaton, or Brandin Cooks.
2. Oregon State is an experienced club on both sides of the ball. How does that experience, especially on the line of scrimmage, help them against a somewhat inexperienced and depth-riddled offensive line?
Andy: The defensive line and its depth, and a senior-laden linebacking corps is one place where the Beavers should have a worthwhile advantage in the matchup, something that rarely happens against the Trojans. The d-line has done a good job of engaging the opposing offensive line, which has allowed the three senior linebackers to slide into gaps and coverages as necessary very well.
Michael Doctor is a sixth-year senior, and the leader of the group. Because of all that experience, D.J. Alexander and Jabral Johnson also have by now seen just about everything, and they read offensive schemes very well.
Oregon State also uses depth on the d-line, and will move senior captain Dylan Wynn around, bringing him from the edge, a DT spot, or over center in a three-man front. The young USC line will have to be on its toes, or risk losing someone at some point because of the variety of what they will see.
RVM: Not much to add here! I will chime in with the "overlooked, but possible impact player" answer here and don't overlook Obum Gwacham. As basically every announcer so far this season has noted, he is raw and a converted receiver, but he is quick and right now leads the team in sacks with three. He could very well create some big plays for the Oregon State defense.
3. After the manner in which USC ran all over the field and, quite arguably, upstaged the Beavers in Corvallis, does this game hold any more significance for OSU nation and the players?
Andy: Beaver Nation had gotten pretty comfortable with that three-game home winning streak, and what the Trojans did last year came as a bit of a rude awakening. But more surprisingly, the players, some of whom's parents weren't even born yet when that 1960 win happened, have picked up on the subject of the streak, and seem to be focused on making a place in Oregon State history by ending it.
And despite all the PC coach speak, the fact is the USC game is always "different".
RVM: One would have to think the Corvallis game last year will be still in the minds of the players, so I agree with Andy here. I think what better way for the players to get revenge but to break the incredible streak USC has over OSU in the Coliseum. One would have to hope too that the "rude awakening" will be still with the team and now spun into a positive learning experience. There is no way any player on Oregon State would "overlook" USC, but if there is any possible overconfidence because of OSU's dominating win over San Diego State and SC's loss to Boston College it should well disappear after watching some game film of the November 1st game last year.
But yep, this is OSU versus USC, one of the more under-the-radar rivalries in college football, but year in and year out I don't think it is under appreciated for the players on each team, this year will be no different.
4. We've heard a lot about the assortment of TE packages coach Riley plans on running this season, but what specifically will the Beavers have in mind for USC's defense from many of these pass-catching threats?
Andy: It will depend on what Trojan defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox throws at them. Coach Riley has always liked to use big TEs on medium routes between the numbers, looking to get physical mismatches with safeties who aren't nearly as big, or linebackers who aren't as fast. Connor Hamlett is 6'7" and Caleb Smith 6'6", and both weigh nearly 270 pounds. They can be a load. And at some point, expect to see multiple TEs in the pass pattern at the same time.
But against blitz-crazy San Diego State, the TEs only combined for three catches, and the biggest reason was the TEs had to be held in more for blocking purposes. But that allowed Mannion time to survey the field for targets, which led to that 10 different targets number.
RVM: Also don't overlook how important these TEs are going to be in the establishing the run game too. I would not be surprised to see less action in the passing game for the big guys because of the emphasis in the run blocking. But yes Hamlett and Smith will see some throws come their way, and it could well cause issues for the SC defense to manage this along with the deeper receiver routes and also (my personal favorite) the backs coming out of the backfield for screens and short dump offs.
5. The numbers really don't lie, the Los Angeles Coliseum has been quite daunting for the Oregon State Beavers (no wins since 1960).
But what about this particular matchup, especially with a senior quarterback and good defense gives fans promise about possibly pulling off an upset this weekend?
Andy: A senior quarterback and a good defense is a good recipe for a win any time, and when that quarterback is Sean Mannion, it actually could translate to a chance to snap the streak. Everyone knows if they do their job, Mannion will deliver, and there will be "In-N-Out" for everyone.
Mannion has demonstrated he can be both the game manager and the guy to deliver the big-play throw, as the situation dictates. As we saw last November, Mannion does need help, but the hope is that the rest of this team is good enough, when combined with the depth issues USC has, and that hopefully the Trojans won't play at the level they did for Coach Orgeron last year, to put the pressure on.
RVM: I have been going a little crazy with this one for this game in my other write ups (coming soon on BtD!), but wow the QB deal in this game is such an intriguing matchup. Sean Mannion is going to be key, there is no question about that, and if he is protected well enough and the offense can get decent production out of the rushing game, it will be hard to beat the offense with just a defensive effort.
So then it flips to Cody Kessler and will his experience and skill be able to match up with a very good secondary and pass defense, and as such keep pace with Mannion enough to overtake Sean in the end? So then this flips back to the Beavs defense and how under control will they be? I like this Beavs defensive group this season to be the key in actually pulling off the LA win, they are experienced, and are playing some very smart and athletic football right now.
I think another aspect that is giving me some hope is that there could be a good mismatch with the strong OSU rush defense and what looks to be one back to contend with. Granted it is a pretty darn good back in Javorius Allen, but really if the Beavs can shut him down that will force more Kessler into the teeth of the strong OSU pass defense. Going to be a tall order, and don't get me wrong that I am overconfident here, but at the same time there is potential here to take USC into areas of their game they don't want to be in and force some critical miscues.
I would like to add too that I feel maybe another overlooked component for helping the Beavs break their bad LA streak is the two RBs in Storm Woods and Terron Ward. I think because there is not that 100+ yard average "stand out" guy yet in the backfield, and add in they have not played the toughest of defenses yet, that USC's run game is seen as the better one coming in. But SC's rush defense is last in the conference right now, and you have two different styles in the OSU backs to mix things up nicely. Woods and Ward are both pretty solid 70-yard-per-game guys right now, and in many ways this translates into having one back who can average 110-120 yards a game. This could be a nice place for the Beavs to exploit the SC defense to help the team go to 4-0.
6. Predictions for the game, and any thoughts on the number of Oregon State fans you expect to travel down for the ESPN late-night matchup, an all-too familiar time slot for the Beavers this season?
Andy: The USC ticket is a spendy one, and Beaver Nation faces back-to-back road trips, with Colorado coming up in a week. But as noted before, the USC game is always "special". There are also a considerable number of alums and friends of the program in southern California and Arizona, and this is the only trip south of the Bay Area this year, so this is the game for a lot of those folks, and members of families of players from Southern California. I expect it could be close to 2K fans in orange that USC will have to tuck away into a corner of the Coliseum.
As far as all the late nights go, it's something we have a lot of experience with, and it didn't hurt turnouts in Salt Lake City, Pullman and Berkeley last year.
As far as predicting the game, about as far as I will go is to say the game should be in question at least deep into the third quarter. Coach Sarkisian, especially with Coach Wilcox running his defense, has out-coached Coach Riley several times in recent years, and I think the key to the game, and the biggest thing I will be watching, is if Coach Riley can turn the strategy and motivation tables this time around.
RVM: Yep, one has to think a good number of area fans are going to show up for this one. As for my predictions, I don't know, it could go high scoring with the two senior QBs (editor's note: Cody Kessler is a redshirt junior) lighting things up, or maybe it will go more the route of a defensive struggle. I doubt very much it will be along the lines of the USC vs. Stanford game. I would not be surprised to see a 27-21 type of game (hopefully with the Beavs on the 27-points side!). I may be thinking too dramatically overall, but one thing I really think we will see is a darn good football game. These two teams match up so interestingly right now, and it is such an early important conference game for both teams too. It should all add up to making it worthwhile staying up late to watch some West Coast football!