clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Behind Enemy Lines: Q&A with Building the Dam

How dangerous is Oregon State dual-threat quarterback Seth Collins? What should we expect from a Beavers defense that has replaced nine starters? Can Oregon State upset Michigan? Building the Dam's Andy Wooldridge and RVM answer in this Q&A with Maize n Brew.

Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, you got to know Michigan's next opponent, the Oregon State Beavers. Now, you will learn about them from the Oregon State experts themselves. We at Maize n Brew reached out to Building the Dam -- SB Nation's Oregon State team site -- to ask them some questions about this Saturday's match-up. Both managing editor Andy Wooldridge and editor RVM were kind enough to respond. How do Oregon State fans feel about new head coach Gary Andersen? What type of threat does true freshman, dual-threat quarterback Seth Collins pose? What should we expect from an Oregon State defense that has replaced nine starters? And how will the game play out? Those answers and more great insight will be found below!

You can find my thoughts and score prediction in my Q&A with Building the Dam here.

***

After the 2014 season, Mike Riley had just finished the 12th season of his second stint at Oregon State. He was the longest-tenured coach in the Pac-12, and, coming off a 5-7 (2-7 Pac-12) season, he didn't seem like a candidate to leave for another program. Just how shocking was it for Oregon State fans to hear the news that Riley had accepted the position to become Nebraska's new head football coach? Why did he decide to leave?

Andy: It was a surprise to everyone, the Oregon State administration included, and even Coach Riley, who hadn’t anticipated that the Huskers would come calling. But Mike saw an opportunity for everyone, and seized it. After Oregon State went 2-12 in its last 14 conference games, some sort of major change had to happen, because "minor" changes to the staff and system didn’t work. Buying out a contract that ran into the next decade wasn’t possible, and he didn’t want to make major changes to his staff of assistants, several of which were under fire.

The Nebraska opportunity gave him an out that wouldn’t hurt Oregon State , who he still cares about a great deal. He took most of his staff, including all the ones the investors in the program were unhappy with, to Nebraska , giving them a chance to turn things around. Oregon State got a chance to hire a new coach and bring in a new system, and a lot of players who were kind of in logjams got a fresh start.

How it will all work out, we are still learning, but Riley saw that everyone involved would at least have a new chance to succeed, and that’s all you can ask for.

RVM: Yes, totally surprising. I think there have been some very minor signs of the possibility, the talk about being approached from USC, but still having such a high profile program call at an interesting time was still a surprise. To me, and I totally agree with all that Andy said above, there was an element too of age, and Riley has to be thinking that this Nebraska deal will give him a chance to make some possible national scene noise within a program that has a huge traditional football history. I personally think he would have loved going to Alabama and giving back to the program he was involved with but that is/was not going to happen. I think the mentioned SC was too close being in Pac-12 and just did not have that "storied" type of history Nebraska brings. A last shot at glory (to lift from the PGA marketing here).

However, Oregon State surprised the college football world when it yanked Gary Andersen away from Wisconsin, where Andersen had accumulated a 19-7 record and a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game in just two seasons. Andersen's reasons for leaving Wisconsin became a popular topic, so there's no need to rehash them. I'm more curious as to how Oregon State fans feel about Andersen. Do they like the staff that he brought with him, particularly offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin and up-and-coming defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake? What's Oregon State's ceiling with him?

Andy: The new staff represents a lot of what Beaver fans were looking for: a spread out and sped up offense, and an updated, aggressive defense. There have already also been some impressive gets in recruiting, another area that had been struggling under some of Riley’s assistants.

After a better opening day than anyone expected from a defense that had to be almost totally rebuilt in any event, Kalani Sitake in particular looks like a great upgrade, and the ceiling is probably one of the best defenses in the conference, and very similar to what Michigan saw in Salt Lake City.

RVM: Yeah, I guess I can see where Andy is going. Personally I don't know overall if there is quite the "great upgrade" and excitement to be had yet. I feel more like it is a wait and see, with a dash of some excitement because we are trying something new. Maybe that is more only me than Beaver Nation overall, but I don't know if the buzz is there yet. Realistically I think that seems to be just how things should be for it will take time, even with new schemes and the like. I also think for more of the "generalist" fans it is too close to the Riley era and feels like just an extension of that right now. Again this may be a bit more my personal view, but from the less insiders and less avid fans I have talked to it it is more about "hey it is football again, it will be nice to have some wins but I'm not expecting truly great things this year."

One of the biggest questions entering the season was who would replace Sean Mannion as Oregon State's quarterback. However, after just one game, it seems the answer has been found. True freshman Seth Collins completed 10-of-18 passes for 92 yards and two touchdowns, while running for 152 yards on 17 carries, against Weber State. More importantly, Oregon State finally began to pull away from the FCS program when the Beavers went to Collins exclusively in the second half. How would you describe Collins's debut? What problems can he pose for a Michigan defense that is stout up front but can be prone to mistakes against dual-threat quarterbacks?

Andy: Collins’ debut, which claimed the starting job out of a rotation plan, was certainly a success. The passing yardage is getting a lot of comment because there wasn’t more of it, but it's important to note that the yardage and the point production would have been better (and not getting the amount of angst from people who looked at the stat sheet, but didn’t see the game from field level) but for a couple of drops and a couple of great one on one defensive plays by Weber State DBs on passes that were on target and on time. The passing numbers also don’t include the yards from a couple of pass interference penalties that happened because of accurate passes.

But what Collins brings that will cause Michigan problems is his ability to get outside the box with his legs. Travis Wilson’s running was a difference maker against the Wolverines, and Collins is much faster and more athletic.

RVM: At this point it is a mixed bag for, as an overall replacement, Collins is not there as a total replacement for Mannion yet (key in on that "yet" again!). It was great to see a dynamic and at times fired up QB who can run, but the passing game does need work. I am not as convinced he was seeing the field as well as someone more seasoned (though it was his first college game!), and again love his running but he needs to read the field better and stay in the pocket longer. Granted there was the challenge of Andersen playing two QBs as a try-out, so yes one has to look at if Collins was playing the whole game his attempts would have been up. Again I am not in total disagreement with Andy's assessment above, and we probably will come very close to agreeing when all is said and done for I agree there was some pretty successful stuff to come out of Collins' performance. But even if the starting QB seems to be set now with Collins, I have to be careful with expectations for it is too early to start looking for 'an heir apparent' to one of the best QBs in Oregon State football history. Don't get me wrong and I would have said (if I did not actually say) the same thing about Mannion after Sean Canfield's great 2009 season, so the lesson there is need to be patient for a true freshman that will have some good and some bad before he really finds his stride and identity.

I do think it will be a great opportunity for Collins to amp up his leadership and potential against Michigan.  A much better challenge for sure, but also one that is not totally out-of-hand, like say if he had to go up against Ohio State or Alabama at this stage of the season. And if Collins can settle down a bit more and stay in the pocket to start reading the field (short and mid routes especially) better, and he also brings the running ability? He will be a tough match up for many teams, not just the Weber States.

Oregon State's offensive game plan is to run the ball ... a bunch. In 2014, the Beavers were effective on the ground -- 30th in Rushing S&P+ -- but struggled through the air -- 83rd in Passing S&P+. With a true freshman at quarterback this season, Oregon State knows that its success relies on running. That may be why, led by Collins and running backs Storm Barrs-Woods (15 car., 63 yards) and Chris Brown (14 car., 54 yards), the Beavers ran on 72 percent of their snaps against Weber State. You've discussed what Collins brings to the table. What can you tell us about Barrs-Woods and Brown? Are they similar types of runners or do they have different styles that mesh well together?

Andy: Barrs-Woods & Brown are somewhat similar, in that neither are punishing runners, and both are best slashing through holes and then accelerating. Barrs-Woods is much more experienced, and Brown at times against Weber State either hesitated or couldn’t hit the hole he saw, but Brown might have more raw speed. They are similar enough that Oregon State does the same things with either one interchangeably. Michigan will see them used as a 1-2 punch intended to keep both fresh.

Oregon State offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin will try to get better balance, which means more production out of the passing game, but will definitely still try to establish the run against Michigan.

RVM: Yes this will be interesting, for it is funny for really the passing game with Mannion was much more a threat than the rushing game last year. For the first game this year I felt that the first game under Andersen and Baldwin we saw some skewed numbers and success because our QB went wild running. Neither Barrs-Woods nor Brown are seemingly big "star" type of rushers that will concern opposing defenses that they will run all over the place for 200 yard games individually, but what they bring is a pretty efficient and workman approach to the run game. Key of course will be the offensive line, and now with the threat of a running QB too one has to think this will open things up for the RBs. One would have to imagine if Barrs-Woods and Brown can get solid 75+ yard games each the Beavs will be competitive in, and win a good amount of their games this season.

Personally I am very curious about how will the new offensive play calling and schemes establish the run game? In the past Riley always wanted to establish it and with the right guys he could do it (Steven Jackson, Yvenson Bernard, and Jacquizz Rodgers), but with issues in the offensive line's depth and injuries it also became a bit behind the eight-ball at times, and Riley's offenses would fall back on chucking the heck out of the ball in the passing game. So again how will Baldwin's offensive attack work out with passing more successfully in the those more high % areas? I would initially guess if things continue a bit rough like we saw against Weber State and Collins decides to try and run his way out of things that opposing defenses are going to stack the box and contain the outside edges, and as such it will be hard to establish a run game. A bit of an over generalized analysis of course for I am pretty much long-winded saying what Andy said above about "balance," but I will be curious to see how this new coaching staff adjusts and stretches the field in both facets of the offensive attack (passing and rushing).

Though Oregon State will want to deploy a three-headed rushing attack, Michigan returns most of its front seven from a defense that was eighth in Rushing S&P+ last season. Further, the Wolverines just held Utah's Devontae Booker -- 1,500-plus-yard rusher last season -- to 69 yards on 22 carries (3.1 YPC). If the Beavers are not able to move the ball on the ground against Michigan, will they have any chance of success passing the football? Does Oregon State have a dangerous threat at wide receiver?

Andy: No one expects Oregon State to run for a lot inside against Michigan, but they didn’t tear it up against Weber State between the tackles either. The key to the Beavers’ rushing attack is to get a lot of those yards outside the tackles.

As far as wide receiver threats, that position was expected to be one of the strengths of the squad, due to numerous returners.

Sophomore Jordan Villamin, at 6’4" and 235 lbs., is a mismatch for most corners, and is continuing to improve his game on a game by game basis. As noted above, he’s more disruptive than his stats show; he creates defensive penalties because of his size.

Junior Victor Bolden had an "off" game against Weber State , but mostly because he had a couple of drops and timing miscues that he should be able to correct. He is the fastest receiver Oregon St. has, and is a factor in the fly-sweep as well as catching passes. Weber State did a good job of shutting that play down, but if Bolden can get to the edge, similar to if he can get behind the defense on pass routes, he has the speed to generate a lot of yards after the catch.

RVM: Ah, Andy has covered this well! Plus I would refer to my previous comments above about the running game too! All I would add here is it will be interesting to see if another receiver, and/or TE, and/or the RBs also become a bit more involved in the receiving side of things. Villamin and Bolden will get their catches for sure, the real test for the team will be who also can step things up here? An experienced, tough, and fast team like a Michigan will be able to fairly well cover those two if those two are the only threats out there.

Oregon State's defense finds itself in a peculiar position this season. It's not every year that a team must replace *nine* starters in one unit. It's even more peculiar that Oregon State must replace its top three tacklers at each level of the defense: defensive line, linebackers, and secondary. With fresh faces all over this Oregon State defense, which position group will be the strength of the defense: the defensive line, linebackers, or secondary? Which defensive position group will be the weakest?

Andy: At this point, I don’t think anyone knows, and the Weber State game didn’t provide any answers, as Coach Sitake got better than expected performances from all three groups. Depth might be the biggest issue for the linebackers of the three groups, but the biggest challenge this week will be that facing the defensive line, because Michigan has so many offensive linemen that are so big and physical. Whether Oregon State can contend this week will hinge heavily on how well the defensive line can control the Michigan rushing game, hopefully similar to what Utah was able to do.

That won’t be the same every week, and each group will be the ones most pressured by different opponents at some point in the season. How well Sitake and the rest of the defensive assistants manage the varied challenges the defense will face will determine how good of a season Oregon State has, and it's still too soon to predict.

RVM: I very much agree with Andy here, and this is a bit becoming the theme of we still have a ton of unknowns going on. And yes the defense is another question mark. They looked very solid and very aggressive against Weber State, but Michigan at "The Big House" is another story. I think we all will learn more about the Oregon State defense come Saturday morning!

This question may overlap a bit with the previous one. Generally, I like to ask detailed questions that relate to the opponent's matchups with Michigan. However, because the Beavers are inserting so many new players into the defensive starting lineup, I'm not sure how much weight last season's statistics hold. For example, Oregon State's run defense was 115th in S&P+ in 2014, but, with six starters gone from the front seven, I'm not sure what to expect from that unit in 2015. So on which Oregon State defenders does Michigan need to focus extensively? Who are the playmakers on that defense?

Andy: Junior linebacker Rommel Mageo is one of the first year starters, and he had a monster game against Weber State , with a game high 11 tackles, including a sack, and he forced a fumble.

Nose guard Kyle Peko didn’t record a lot of individual stats, but at well over 300 lbs., he absorbs a lot of attention in the middle of the line. And he did have a leaping pass breakup that exhibited a degree of athleticism not many expected to see from someone that big.

RVM: Hmm, dare I say it? You and me are going to find out a good bit more about the Oregon State defense and how well they match up against a team like Michigan this Saturday! And yes hard to compare at all to last year, totally new scheme and very different players.

In my questions, I've touched on the fact that Oregon State beat Weber State -- an FCS program that had only a 2-10 record in 2014 -- by a score of 26-7 in the opener last week. But this was a 13-7 game heading into the fourth quarter before the Beavers finally put some distance between themselves and the Wildcats. How did you feel about the victory? How concerning was it that it took so long for them to put it away?

Andy: With as many new faces in key places as Oregon State had, plus completely new schemes on both sides of the ball, I was expecting it to take some time for things to come together. The single thing that surprised most of us were that the veteran offensive line struggled to get any push against an FCS opponent, though its worth noting that they had another of those 300+ linemen (another Sitake, by the way).

The fact that the team got better as the game went on was more encouraging that the slow start, at least offensively, was concerning.

RVM: I don't know if I would say "concerning," it was more frustrating. One would expect roughness, rust, and just a big learning curve for the new schemes, but at the same time being up only 6 to 0 (two field goals only) at half was frustrating to say the least. Need to give it time I know, and not going to go on some "oh, for the good old days" for Riley and Co. lost to two FCS teams but in a way not sure this was any more impressive than last year's frustrating victory over Portland State. Just was hoping for a bit more control of the game. Give Weber State some credit for their defense played very well overall, but still was hoping for a bit more "dominating" spark on offense much sooner in the game. Even if Bolden catches that perfectly placed TD pass and the Beavs win 33 to 7 it still would not have been a totally reassuring game for as you noted it was 13 to 7 late into the proceedings.

But again it is not yet concerning for lots of good stuff happened like the defense did dominate their game, Collins showed leadership and athleticism, the placekicker Garrett Owens had a very good day, and even the rush game had glimpses of opening up. I may seem a bit down on it all but realistically it was not the greatest of football games. Okay, that all said I am optimistic too that things will improve, and that will mean that we will look back at the Weber State game as just a rusty learning curve for a new coaching staff and football team. And heck we did not lose it at least!

Okay, it's time for a prediction. Though Oregon State won last week and Michigan lost, the Wolverines are more than a two touchdown-favorite against the Beavers. Many think that this will be the game in which Jim Harbaugh earns his first victory as a coach at Michigan. Will that be the case? Or will Oregon State come into the Big House and spoil Harbaugh's debut in Ann Arbor? Which team wins? What's the final score?

Andy: We don’t usually engage in score predictions, in part because there are sooo many things that can go other than expected in a college football game, but I think it's safe to say this game will be a relatively low scoring game. Michigan is floating around a two touchdown favorite at home, but because the Wolverines, based on the Utah game, and Coach Harbaugh’s emphasis on a physical, pounding style of game, I don’t see Michigan putting up a lot of points, and even if Oregon State can’t pull the upset, I like their chances to cover that large of a spread.

The emotion in the crowd in the Big House for the return home of one of their own as coach will be a factor too, and a tough one for an inexperienced team to overcome. But Andersen and some of his coaches have experience there, and I think will do a good job of preparation for the circumstances as well as for the actual game.

I just can’t call a score, but I do think the first team to 24 probably wins, and I’m far less sure of which team that will be.

Robert: I also will not go into any specific type of predictions score-wise. I think there is the possibility Andy describes, but honestly I think this is a tough one for the Beavs. Just going to be a ton of energy and expectations for the Michigan squad and their head coach in front of a huge home crowd. I'm personally thinking much more a deal like when Oregon State went to Penn State in '08, but maybe not quite as blow-outish as that game. I think Michigan will put up more points than Andy is expecting, and I think Oregon State will show glimpses of promise that we will can look back upon as one defining moment in certain players careers (Penn State was Jacquizz Rodgers' breakout game), but I don't know if right now, quite yet, the Beavs have it together to do a program launching team full effort to pull out the upset. That said though this team is still a big unknown, and who knows for there does seem to be the potential for this team to be dynamic and competitive.

***

Big thanks to Andy and RVM! Make sure to check out their work at Building the Dam!