03.Nov.2011 Stanford @ Oregon State (Pre-Game)
This is from my interview with Hank Waddles of gomightycard.com. He'll have the interview up later today if you want to check it out.
Oregon State's season has been something of a disappointment, but it seems like there's more going on than just the early injury to quarterback Ryan Katz. What's really going on here?
It’s hard to say. What we know is that Ryan Katz broke his wrist in the 2010 Civil War and the diagnosis took months. Barney Graff, the trainer at the time (who has since been replaced), took heat for it. It also became known that many players distrusted Graff and would routinely receive second opinions. Now, one could speculate that Katz said something about Graff that soured the coaches, but OSU is tight-lipped on those issues. Also, there were chemistry issues last year between Jacquizz Rodgers and his offensive line. He called them out late in the year. Considering Katz played behind the same line, was constantly pressured or sacked, and wound up injured, it’s not a leap to think he called them out, too. That never became public, however. It’s also possible Riley just liked Sean Mannion’s upside. That’s what the media prints, and that’s what Riley says. Given Mannion’s play, I can see why Riley would prefer him. He’s raw and makes mistakes right now, but his potential is great.
Freshman quarterback Sean Mannion has had some great games, particularly in the win over Washington State. What are his strengths as a quarterback, and how worried should Katz be about his starting job?
Well, barring injury, Katz is done at OSU. Word is he will transfer to Portland State next year so he doesn’t have to sit out a season. Sean Mannion’s best trait is his poise. After a sack or interception, he doesn’t sulk or show poor body language (traits of Katz). Instead, he gets right back up firing. Besides that intangible, his best traits are his accuracy and quick decision making. For a freshman he really goes through progressions well and understands the check down relatively well. His arm strength is good but not elite, and he can evade the rush surprisingly well for a man his size. His one downside is turnovers, but if you watch the games, you’d see these are not always his fault. By next season, Mannion could be the conferences next Andrew Luck. He has those tools; he just needs better offensive line play in front of him.
Oregon State ranks near the bottom of the nation in rushing yardage, and Stanford's run defense has been a strength all season long. Can we expect to see a one-dimensional offense from the Beavers, or will they try to stay balanced?
Riley always preaches balance. He’ll try it, but he won’t succeed. OSU’s offensive line is much better at pass protection, and the Beavers running backs all have their issues. Terron Ward is small, a step slow, and gets overwhelmed by blitzing LBs. Malcolm Agnew is quick and shows great potential, but he can’t hang onto the ball. Jovan Stevenson is actually the most complete back, but he’s been injured. I don’t see the Beavers running the ball well, and if they do, expect to see Agnew turn it over at inopportune times.
It's no secret that the Stanford defense is vulnerable against fast, athletic wide receivers. How worried should Stanford fans be about Markus Wheaton and the rest of OSU's wideouts?
Moderately worried. It is OSU’s lone advantage in this game (well, besides kick coverage). The problem is…OSU will not be able to run. Stanford won’t have to stack the box to stop them. Stanford will then blitz, and Mannion will be forced into quick reads where he’s erred in the past. Besides Markus Wheaton, Brandin Cooks is another deep threat. James Rodgers and Jordan Bishop round out a great WR corp.
Defensively, how will the Beavers attack Andrew Luck and the Stanford offense?
They definitely should blitz Luck, run stunts, and let their safety act as a rover who cheats toward Stanford’s best WR. But then again, they should have put eight in the box versus Utah, and they didn’t do that. If they let Luck stand back there, he will kill them. The CBs are simply not good enough to hold coverage more than two seconds. Defensive coordinator, Mark Banker, has lost his touch. All season, his defense has looked slow, antiquated, and flat out confused. He plays a base 4-3 with the CBs on an island. One would think in such a system LBs would play freely and blitz often, but they don’t. On many plays the LBs are out of the equation entirely, playing 10 yards downfield or completely out of position. Beaver fans have lost all confidence in Banker’s scheming and rightfully so. Apologists claim the defense is young. It’s not really true, and further, the upperclassmen on this unit have been a huge disappointment.
Stanford fans, of course, see this as a dangerous trap game since it comes the week after an emotionally and physically taxing win on the road at USC and a week before the biggest game on the schedule against Oregon. Give me a scenario in which Oregon State pulls the upset.
Much like Oregon State/USC in 2006, the only way Oregon State pulls the upset is if Stanford gives them the game. It would require a +2 turnover margin with those turnovers converted into touchdowns. What OSU needs to do: play a physical game, win the turnover battle, score TDs rather than FGs, use their solid kick return game to shift position/get easier scores, use their speed advantage at WR, and blitz/rattle Andrew Luck.
Finally, what's your prediction? How do you expect the game to play out, and what will the final score be?
I don’t love Stanford’s team this year, mainly due to (a) lack of defensive speed and (b) the change at head coach. Harbaugh was a game changing motivator. I don’t see Shaw as that guy, so there’s some vulnerability there. But, since they have Andrew Luck and the remnants of Harbaugh’s physical mindset, I love Stanford in this game. It’ll be something like 41-17. OSU could theoretically put up 30 on Stanford, but a lot would have to go right. My guess is that OSU will come out and go through the motions, completely expecting to lose. I don’t think we’ll see a USC ’06 performance where they came out ready to not only play that game but win it.
That being said, if I were a Stanford fan, I’d be worried about one thing: OSU always has one unexplainable, unforeseeable, shocking upset per year. They haven’t had it yet, and the season is nearing an end. Signs of this would be the Beavs coming out and hitting hard/playing fast from the get go, maybe catching early momentum and the fan base thriving off that. OSU is not going bowling this year, so this game and the Civil War are their bowl games. If they’re going to put forth their best performance, it’ll be in these two games. Had I any faith in Riley and Banker scheming Stanford, I might actually pick them in an upset for the reasons just mentioned. My negative prediction is an indictment on the coaching staff and their lack of preparation, urgency, and passion; in addition to their inability to scheme for a given opponent.