Oregon State had their first passing touchdown in the second half of last Saturday's game – in Week 3. Oregon State has been able to do an okay job of gaining yards, converting third downs and most other things on offense – but they simply not been able to put the ball in the end zone or put points on the board. Missing their starting running back the last two weeks while trying to break in a redshirt freshman QB hasn't helped, and the defensive secondary, supposed to be a strength, has not been as sharp as hoped for. OSU has played well against the run at times, but the pass rush has been poor.
Because Oregon State has the history of slow starts, does the fan base think this is par for the course and is generally not worried about it or does is this slump truly a sign of what is about to come?
No, this one feels markedly different to the OSU fan base. Losing in Week 1 to an FBS team in Sac State took care of that right off the bat.
What does Oregon State need to do to turn this thing around and do you feel confident they still can?
The Beavers need to get back to playing 11 hats to the football on defense, and they need to execute better on offense and win more battles in the trenches. Sean Mannion needs to grow up faster than it is probably fair to ask of him, and the Beavs need to start making some of their own breaks. And overall, OSU needs to play nastier and with more enthusiasm. Can all of that be done? Sure. But time is running out fast when you're 0-3, and there are a lot of things that need to be fixed all at once.
Even though he has had some relative success in recent years, is there any "hot seat" chatter going with Mike Riley?
There is always going to be hot seat chatter when a team disappoints and there has been plenty of it among the fans this season beginning with the shocking defeat to Sac State and coming off a disappointing 2010 (5-7). But it's hard to believe there's anything to it no matter how many losses the Beavs suffer in 2011. Riley is signed through the next 9 seasons, and OSU isn't a school flush with cash and that can afford to buy out his contract.
A little more than a year ago, most everyone in the media, as well as some of the fans calling for his head now, had labeled him a genius and were worried about losing the defensive coordinator, Mark Banker, to another school looking to fill a head coaching vacancy. Things sure have changed up here on Walton Mountain.
How did James Rodgers look in his first game back and how much can he make a difference this week?
He looked good. He wasn't making all the same cuts and moves but that's to be expected the first game back. It won't be a surprise to see him play with more confidence, speed and do an even better job this week. He can make a difference every time he gets the ball out in space.
What are some of the other playmakers ASU fans should be aware of on both sides of the ball?
Jovan Stevenson, something of a forgotten man the first two weeks, played with more confidence and speed and had a monster block last week on Jordan Poyer's punt return for score. Malcolm Agnew, the starting running back, is probable this week after missing the last two games. WR Markus Wheaton is a potential star but like everyone on the offense, has not yet burst upon the scene.
Defensively, redshirt freshman defensive end Scott Crichton is playing the best of any Beaver d-lineman, while reserve Dylan Wynn is coming on strong and could conceivably be on his way to earning a starting role before the year is out. The Beaver secondary is better than they have shown, but Lance Mitchell and crew need to prove it on Saturdays.
QB Ryan Katz had a great 2010 season. What contributed to his demise this year?
Katz had a poor first half against Sac State and got the hook. He was the starter in name only the following week and the poorly managed QB situation by the OSU coaches was finally put to rest the following week with Mannion being named the starter and no plans for Katz to come in. The quick hook has been a mystery to many fans, with Riley and offensive coordinator explaining it as Mannion having played very well in the spring (when Katz was out) and in fall camp.
Whatever the reasons, OSU has clearly decided to take whatever hits they need to in order to get an experienced, and potential four year starter out of this, down the road.
How has Sean Mannion done as Katz's replacement and what adjustments, if any, did the offense have to make with Mannion taking snaps ?
Good and bad, as one might expect. His numbers were decent enough against Wisconsin and UCLA but there were at least two would-be interceptions dropped at Madison and he threw into double and triple coverage against UCLA. Mannion, like most any young QB, has a tendency to lock on to a receiver and is in the process of developing his reads and checks.
At the same time, there are plays where he makes the perfect pass, to the right man, at the right time. OSU receivers have to help him out by running crisper routes and making the proper adjustments. And the o-line needs to do a better job of protecting him and opening running lanes so that Mannion doesn't feel he has to do it all himself.
In recent years, Mike Riley has been known for not going after the big recruits an finding the 2-star "diamond in the rough". Do you feel that this approach has finally caught up to him and been one of the reasons for the sub-par start to this season?
It's some of that but it's other things, too. Some of those 2- and 3-star athletes are playing lights out – Scott Crichton is an example. Others are well capable of playing lights out but haven't yet – redshirt freshman safety Ryan Murphy is an example. Some of the biggest things in college football are attitude, enthusiasm and a mental toughness to overcome adversity and OSU has been lacking in those areas from the start – OSU players started hanging their heads in the first quarter of the Sac State game when a play didn't go well. The players, with help from the coaches, need to recapture that fire and soon or it's going to become a self fulfilling prophecy week in and week out until Oregon State pulls off an upset or two.
There is enough talent on Oregon State's 2011 squad to play better and to be 2-1 at this point, but it hasn't happened. Sure, recruiting has played a part in that, but player attitude, enthusiasm and the ability to overcome adversity have played a bigger role.
Fill in the blank: If ASU does (blank) they will win the game. If Oregon State does (blank) they will win the game.
If ASU plays with fire and keeps OSU away from putting heat on the QB, it's hard to see them doing anything but winning comfortably. If Oregon State finds their running game, and can bend but not break, come up with a turnover or two that frustrates ASU in coming out of long drive with nothing, they can win this game. The bottom line, however, is that several things need to break just right for the Beavs, while the Sun Devils have a much shorter list of what they need to do in order to come out with a W.