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Behind Enemy Lines: Previewing the Beavers with Building the Dam

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

We were joined by our friends Andy and Robert over at Building The Dam to preview the upcoming game, so here's our Q&A to learn more about Gary Andersen's Oregon State squad.

1 - Mike Riley was in Corvallis for a loooong time, and seemed to be a Beaver for life. How big of a surprise was it that he decided to leave?

Andy: It was quite a surprise in the way it went down; no one, apparently including Mike, saw the Nebraska offer coming, and given the team's recent struggles under him, a graceful exit didn't seem like an available option. But the fact that he would leave given a reasonable exit strategy was not that big of a surprise; there was a lot of frustration and it was growing with how things were going. Some of his assistants were even more a bone of contention, and since Riley was unwilling to make many changes, the target of frustrations rolled up-hill to him.

RVM (Robert): Yes, again, it was a surprise and yes, it was a seemingly well-timed deal too with the offer from Nebraska. That said, though, I would say overall that some sort of change happening either this season or over the next couple of years did not seem to be out of the question, but I think overall we just felt it was going to be smaller (more incremental) changes happening like for instance Riley finally being forced to replace some of his long time assistants. But a wholesale change like this was very much out-of-the-blue.

2 - To go along with that, how big of a surprise was it for Beaver Nation to learn they landed Gary Andersen? Not to mention Kalani Sitake from Utah?

Andy: Andersen was a pretty big surprise, again because no one had any indication that after being highly successful right off the bat in his brief stay at Wisconsin , he was even interested in heading anywhere else. Sitake was also a bit of a surprise, in that he was in a good situation with a better program, and the move was lateral, with no apparent short term step up. But when the friction with Utah Athletic Director Chris Hill that at least in part was over compensating for Coach Whittingham's assistants came to light, and given Sitake's long relationship with Andersen, him taking a raise to come to Corvallis wasn't that much of a shock.

RVM: I really don't have much to add here. I guess in the end, I hope it was a good surprise for some of the components making it so surprising, that they would leave seemingly better programs and situations does give me a little bit of a pause. I think there is an indication overall that it felt right to all of them, and if we as fans, and they as coaches can weather the storm of transition there could be a possible long-term success story here to be had.

3 - How would you assess the coaching staff up until now?

Andy: Encouraging, we think. I say "we think" because there is some concern that there hasn't been a little more evidence of progress, given the track record that not only Andersen, but several of his assistants have. There have been a few miscues, but overall, this is a relatively less experienced staff than some. And they are working with a very inexperienced, and very thin, team, so a total overhaul was bound to hit some bumps along the way.

But recruiting, to the extent you can tell based on rankings and the competition for some of them, has already been improved.

I've also been encouraged to see that at least Andersen, Sitake, and others on the staff, at least have been willing to try a lot of things to address issues that have come up, and that miscues, both theirs and those by the players, are getting addressed. I think most Beaver fans agree on that point.

It's too soon to know if this is going to work out, but at least we aren't finding ourselves wondering what might have happened had something more creative at least been tried.

RVM: Hmm, here is where I guess I play more of the "let's look at the flip side of things." I don't want to get into too much a Debbie-Downer role here, but I do have my question here as the season has progressed. I am realistic and I fully recognize this was not their type of program coming, it was a struggling program, and these (for the most part) are not their players. But I don't know if I am in the camp that the players they inherited are as bad as others think.

Don't get me wrong and I do not think they are like top tier or even mid tier Pac-12 caliber players as a whole, but there are some decent players to work with. I just think some of the lack of fundamentals can be attributed to coaching, and I question some of the play-calling. But in the end heck, don't we fans always question the decisions! I guess in the end, I am really trying to be optimistic, but I do worry, even with better recruiting, that you just have to have something to build on.

4 - It's been rather surprising on how empty the cupboard was left by Coach Riley. Is this something you could see coming, or are you equally surprised by the recruiting effort, or lack-there-of by the previous staff?

Andy: You could see it coming like a major storm coming over the hill. Recruiting had been having some misses, and even more never got close situations, the last several years, and missing out on even minor bowl games 3 of the last 5 years didn't help. Compounding the problem, Riley and his assistant's preferred style on both offense and defense are out of sync with what's being done at nearly all the decent high school programs in the west and Texas, and so was not a comfortable fit for a lot of players.

Riley's best recruits were as good as anybody's; see Brandin Cooks and Marcus Wheaton, Sean Mannion's record book, and of course Jacquizz Rodgers. But the problem was the quantity, and that translates to a lack of effective depth. It's what was really at the root of the problem the last year of two, and has really shown this season.

RVM: This does get a bit to my thoughts above. I get Andy's points here and do agree to some extent, problematic of recent years have been recruiting for the two lines and especially recruiting any type of depth into the offensive line. I don't know, I think in the end, I am weirdly contradictory optimistic that things at the core were not quite as bad as it has come to pass.

This is hard to explain since I don't want to give the impression I felt there was a lot of great potential going on either. Also will say I do feel a little uncomfortable saying a lot about recruiting and recruits for it is not my area of knowledge at all. But I guess what I am saying is I don't think it is quite this simple.

I think there were still opportunities to be had here with this group, but I also recognize that yes, things were not working well in this facet of the program the last few years. I will now stop with this totally obscure line of reasoning in which I think I just totally confused myself!

5 - It seems like Storm Bar-Woods has been at Oregon State since Mike Riley's first stint at OSU, what are some other playmakers Utah should look out for offensively?

Andy: Everyone has heard about Seth Collins' scrambling, and most Pac-12 fans by now know about WRs Jordan Villamin and Victor Bolden. Someone you might not have heard about is a big bruising running back named Ryan Nall. Nall is 255 lbs. of forward-leaning, downhill running that just had his career best night so far, 122 yards on 20 carries, both personal highs, against Colorado. With Barrs-Woods struggling to stay healthy, and Chris Brown out, Utah will likely get a good look at Nall.

RVM: Villamin and Bolden would be the first ones to come to mind after Collins, but dang where have they gone? Also Nall has potential, but I fear he is not dynamic enough of a runner to go up against such a good rush defense like Utah's.

We need a QB to step up their game badly, otherwise neither Villamin and Bolden will be much of a factor. If the QB, whether that be Collins or Nick Mitchell (or both) it really does not matter, the team really needs that position to be the leader. That is a bit a sideways approach to answering the question I know, so hope that makes sense.

6 - Utah fans are very familiar with the defensive scheme Coach A and Coach Sitake want to run. What defensive players must Utah fans keep an eye out for on Saturday?

Andy: Defensively, LB Rommel Mageo has had a big year. After paying his dues for 2 years, he has been at or near the top of the tackle chart every week. And he's done so regardless of whether the Beavers are playing well or struggling at any given point in a game.

RVM: This one comes down to again a bigger picture in my opinion, and if the Beavs are going to show any competitiveness you will be seeing the secondary making more plays. They had their opportunities against Colorado actually, but did not capitalize on some key chances for creating turnovers.

7 - After a very rough season, what are the goals for the Beavers? What do fans want to see?

Andy: The only realistic goal at this point is to see improvement and growth out of the players, which suggests that next year can be expected to be better. I think fans would like to see at least 1 win, but Washington is the only likely opportunity unless an opponent has some sort of a major meltdown.

But some consistency from the offense, and seeing the team play to the end every week, would probably be deemed satisfactory. It goes back to the old point about regardless of whether the team wins or loses, you want to see the best effort possible put forth, and evidence of growth and maturity.

RVM: Some sort of progress! This is obviously not a move forward by leaps-and-bounds type of Michigan rebuilding year. But the first area that I think is very important, and you may have guessed already what I will say here, is the offense and especially at the QB position. The team needs to see some sort of improvement and consistency in the passing game.

I think this may help with my convoluted commentary about the recruiting and player depth above, but two players I see as under-utilized by the entire team's poor play are Villamin and Bolden. These two have a ton of potential, but they are being frustrated and demolished by poor QB throwing ability. I think you can see a downward slide for Bolden especially in that he is trying, but at the same time trying to catch ball after ball that are setting him up to be smashed and continuing to be thrown off his routes is making him become more and more unfocused in his play. This goes beyond just getting them the chances to make great plays this season, these are two guys coming back next year who you would think could play a key role as seasoned veterans helping the program weather the transitional storm and be great leaders for Andersen's newer players.

8 - Coach Andersen is now at his third school, now at Oregon State. Do you foresee him in Corvallis for a long haul? Or do you think there's another job out there for him?

Andy: He says he's happy here, and here for the long haul. But after what we saw last winter, and what we see on a regular basis in college football, who knows?

The bigger concern is how well he will be able to hold onto his assistants if things do start to turn around, and the bigger hope at this point is that Andersen and his staff will be able to make enough headway soon enough that yet another rebuild won't

RVM: No idea, Honestly, I drastically switch back and forth on my feelings here. Out of my control so I guess I will just sit back and see what comes of it.

9 - What's it going to take for the Beavers to win on Saturday night? And how do you see the game going?

Andy: I suspect that the Beavers will make it competitive for a while, as Utah and Oregon State in recent years consistently seem to play each other hard and close, no matter who is favored. And there are the issues of player pride and the coaching ties that should ensure against a flat start.

And Oregon State can't have 7 players go down in the game, as happened against Colorado!

But Utah is probably as good as they have ever been exclusive of the two BCS teams, and maybe not that far behind them. It's hard to see the Utes not pulling away. Regardless of what anyone in SLC is saying, I'm sure the Utes are looking to right the ship in a big way, after what happened against USC.

But because it could be a massive dose of Devontae Booker, the final score might not get as lopsided as it could. Still, an Oregon State win would probably require a rash of turnovers and penalties by Utah, and maybe a key injury as well, not that we would ever wish for that.

RVM: For Oregon State to win, or even compete in this game they will need to keep Booker in check and force Utah to go to their weakest part of their offense which is the passing attack. This of course means OSU's secondary and pass rush defense needs to amp up their games by nine or ten notches. The Oregon State offense, again (!) needs for one of the QBs to step up their game, take control of the offense, and drastically improve their ability to pass the ball.

I see absolutely no real role in this game for the OSU rushing game beyond maybe Seth Collins scrambling if he is the guy who steps up his game at QB, this is in my opinion just too much a mismatch in this game. For Oregon State to win, they will have to air the ball out all game long and just let things totally fly open in my opinion, which will be a challenge of large proportions for I think also the offense needs to limit their miscues and this will be hard to do if you are just playing wide-open.

So maybe some weather issues combined with a wide open passing attack, along with Collins making some big time scrambles, and the OSU defense doing a SC on Utah by forcing some huge miscues on the Utes side of things. Well, maybe, just maybe, but honestly that would be a hell of a trick for Halloween, and a VERY surprising treat for us Oregon State fans.