I love getting the perspective of a big game from opposing fans. It keeps me grounded.
So, on the eve of Utah's big conference opener, I thought I'd chat up some Oregon State fans to get their take on this year's Oregon St. Beavers team. I think, of all the fan bases, the fine folk in Corvallis remains the most grounded. Maybe it's because they sat and watched awful football for so long - but on the whole, I think they're generally rational and don't let their love of the Beavers get in the way of sound judgment.
Which makes their answers always interesting for me.
Before we get to the Q&A, you can view my answers to their questions here.
Block U: This season has probably not started out quite like fans expected in Corvallis. With the injuries and suspensions, along with the loss to Eastern Washington, has the mood changed among Oregon State fans?
Andy: It has at least among a segment of the fan base, probably mostly the band-wagon variety (though those are also the "swing audience" market. It showed in a turnout of only 38K & change for the Hawaii game, the lowest other other than for Nicholls St. in several years. And this on a perfect day, with no built in excuses for weather or other events.
It's probably an over-reaction that would have been totally different had Sean Mannion had even 30 more seconds to work with, and the Beavers had pulled out the win.
I still expect a good contingent to show up in Salt Lake City, because they come from the more stable base of fans, but this game's outcome will be huge, as there are still expectations ranging everywhere from 7-8 wins down to around 3.
RVM: Overall I'm with Andy on this, but I will say I am a bit more of the critical of the "this is the end" sign wavers that seem to come out only when things are going bad (of course). I think the core group will be there and will be supportive and overall we have not panicked yet, BUT yes if OSU loses this game all of us will be starting to get our sign paints out....I will disagree a bit and I think if how that game was going against Eastern Washington and even OSU ends up winning it does not change a lot actually. I think maybe there is a slight feeling of "phew, we escaped that one" by the "swing audience" but still EWU rolled up over 40 points and over 600 total yards. The doom and gloom people would still come out and the more diehard fans like me would be still questioning the performance, which ironically enough is not a terrible thing for I think this OSU team needs to find itself and adversity might be the best way to do that. Maybe a little too much confidence coming in this season.
Block U: The Beaver defense is suspect - what exactly do you anticipate from them Saturday?
Andy: A mixed bag. The secondary has made some adjustments toward getting more speed on the field, but the linebackers are shuffled due to injured players coming and going.
There's also a realization that containment, communication, and assignment responsibility actually are even more important than individual effort, thanks to Eastern Washington.
But the system is still subject to exploitation by quarterbacks that are mobile AND creative. I fully expect Travis Wilson to make some big plays against the Oregon St. defense.
RVM: Well "suspect" in terms of EWU type of offensive schemes for sure, but for other schemes like say Hawai'i the OSU defense should be just fine. Injuries, as mentioned above, could be an issue though. Wilson yes should make some plays, but I am curious, nervous, and slightly confident that the OSU defense has learned some good lessons and will bounce back from those big shots against them. This was one thing Banker (I think it was Banker) commented on and the team just did not adjust and bounce back from the big plays, and these type of plays happen and as such the defense was always on its heels against EWU. I saw a much more focused team against Hawai'i, but Utah is no Hawai'i (a good thing for you all!). I think in this game a big question I have actually is whether or not we see that on-the-field leader/commander of the defense that has been missing so far (insert Jordan Poyer here from last season).
Block U: How big of a loss is Jovan Stevenson?
Andy: Not that huge. He's #3 on the depth chart at running back, and if his absence becomes an issue there, much bigger issues have already happened.
He is however on every special team, so a break down by any of the 5 guys that will be filling in for him could produce a big play on special teams. I wouldn't look away on a special teams play.
RVM: Agree with Andy here and mainly special teams loss and hopefully someone off the bench is fired up enough about proving themselves that they fill in just fine here.
Block U: Sean Mannion is off to an impressive start ... but what other offensive weapons does Oregon State have?
Andy: WR Brandin Cooks. Cooks already has 20 catches for 288 yards and 4 touchdowns, and it would have been more but for his ability forcing Hawaii into a pass interference penalty to save what would have been another 66 yard touchdown.
The tight ends as a collective also bear watching. Connor Hamlett at 6'7" & 265 lbs. is the biggest contributor, both statistically and literally, but Oregon St. head coach Mike Riley LOVES tight ends, and already has used 4 of them to good effect.
RVM: The entire passing offense seems to be a clicking offensive weapon! Sorry to be a bit redundant here but yes totally Cooks and Hamlett so far. I would add that Richard Mullaney has impressed me a lot, the OSU bio page for him states "arguably the best hands on the team; reminiscent of 2005 Biletnikoff Award recipient Mike Hass," and I haven't wanted to go quite there yet, but so far he has very much reminded me of Hass and that type of receiver who is going to have a grow into the system and breakout season behind the leadership of and mentoring by the main guy (Cooks).
Also there has been a little grumbling by me and others about the lack of the running game, but when you have backs coming out of the backfield and leading the receiving yards last week like Woods did, I don't think we can complain much for both Woods and Ward added another dimension for Mannion to tap into.
Block U: How are Oregon State fans feeling about this game?
Andy: Nervous. Oregon St. has struggled in recent trips to Salt Lake City, and Utah has the elements to create matchup problems, not good things on top of having very little depth at both LB and on the offensive line.
RVM: Not going to speak for everyone! But yes nervous is probably the best way to describe it. I will add I am personally a bit excited too, a test early and the team has the potential here to show what they can do (in a positive way). Big, big game.
Block U: Prediction?
Andy: I think a lot of people haven't picked up on the improvement Sean Mannion has made. We began to see it last year in the UCLA & Arizona games, but then he got hurt. He kept Oregon St. in the Eastern Washington game, and was the reason they pulled away from Hawaii.
I think we will see a game similar to last year's Arizona game, with Mannion directing a 33-27 win with a 4th quarter touchdown drive.
RVM: Hmm, well Andy knows me well here and I don't like doing the score deal. I the diehard OSU fan predict a fun passing back-and-forth game where surprising to everyone out there the OSU defense steps it up in the second half to win the game for OSU. But realistically I don't know if anyone can really predict this game, it has all the hallmarks of one of those games that could go in so many different directions it is hard to predict.
I'd like to thank both Andy and Robert (RVM) for taking the time to answer some questions. This Saturday should be a fun one!