With the offseason departure of running back Jacquizz Rodgers, the Beavers entered 2011 with virtually no true offensive identity, especially with the limited availability of Rodgers' brother James in the early season.
Despite being the starter all season long in 2010, quarterback Ryan Katz was benched in the opener and last week lost his starting job to redshirt freshman Sean Mannion. Mannion is a strong-armed passer, but tremendously unseasoned and faces a stiff test in the Sun Devil defense.
Because of the team's tremendously heavy reliance on Jacquizz Rodgers over the past three years, OSU started the season with a tremendous deficiency in terms of proven runners. If the season opener is any indication, the Beavers may have found their new star rusher in freshman Malcolm Agnew, who posted 223 yards on the ground in his debut but missed the following three weeks due to injury. Alas, Agnew tweaked his hamstring in Thursday's practice so the carries are expected to be split by Tucson native Jovan Stevenson and Jordan Jenkins.
In James Rodgers' absence both last year and early this year, Chandler native Markus Wheaton has emerged into a legitimate target for the Beavers, while Jordan Bishop did not disappoint when in the starting lineup. OSU's top receiver reserves are predominately underclassmen, in true freshman Brandin Cooks, redshirt freshman Obum Gwacham and sophomore Kevin Cummings.
Along the offensive line, left tackle Mike Remmers and center Grant Johnson, both seniors, are the steadiest pieces, with sophomore left guard Grant Enger, senior right guard Burke Ellis and junior right tackle Colin Kelly rounding out the starting line. Enger is also listed as a reserve left tackle, while Michael Lamb, Geoff Garner, Michael Beaton and Derek Nielsen complete the left-to-right list of backups.
Oregon State Offense in a Nutshell
Without Agnew in the lineup, and with inexperienced players to back him up, OSU well may be a one-dimensional squad on offense.
Mannion has a few targets to work with in the pass game, primarily Rodgers, Wheaton and Halahuni, but if the Sun Devil defense can attack him in the pocket, the first-year player may get rattled.
Just as the offense lost its heart and soul with the early departure of Jacquizz Rodgers, the loss of last year's Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year, Stephen Paea, is a sure setback for the Beaver defense.
In all, the vast majority of OSU's defensive starters are no longer with the program, creating a laundry list of openings at different depth chart spots.
Up front, Kevin Frahm is one of the more experienced defenders and now a starting tackle, as is junior Castro Masaniai. Behind that pair stands junior Andrew Seumalo and Ben Motter, but in all, the tackle position includes very little game experience.
At defensive end, redshirt freshman Scott Crichton has a high upside as a pass rusher and is the team leader in sacks, while Taylor Henry is poised to start on the left side. Much like other positions on the roster, the majority of OSU's defensive end reserves are first-year Beavers, including true freshman Dylan Wynn and junior college transfers Rusty Fernando and Rudolf Fifita.
Middle linebacker Feti ‘Unga, a relative of former Sun Devil Paul ‘Unga, leads OSU in tackles and is flanked by Cameron Collins and either Rueben Robinson or Michael Doctor in the starting linebacker. Junior Tony Wilson is the primary reserve at middle linebacker, with junior Shiloah Te'o as a key reserve outside ‘backer. Freshmen Jabral Johnson, D.J. Welch and Josh Williams are listed as possible contingents at linebacker as well.
With veteran cornerback Brandon Hardin out due to injury, junior Jordan Poyer and sophomore Rashaad Reynolds are pegged as the starters, with Ryan Handford, Keynan Parker, Sean Martin and Brian Watkins as backups.
OSU's two starting safeties may be some of the team's more dependable starters, in senior Lance Mitchell and junior Anthony Watkins. Redshirt freshman Ryan Murphy and true freshman Tyrequek Zimmerman, two rookies with tremendous upside, back up the starters.
Oregon State Defense in a Nutshell
With Cameron Marshall coming off a career game against USC, the window of opportunity appears open for him to push through the Beaver defense. Also, it is doubtful that Noel Mazzone and Brock Osweiler will be afraid to pass on the OSU secondary, so ASU undoubtedly will take the fight to the Beavers.
Kicker Trevor Romaine has only missed one kick, but it was a substantial one, as he blew a game-winning opportunity against Sacramento State in the opener.
Punter Johnny Hekker is one of the league's most veteran players at the position and averages 41.5 yards on 13 punts.
Jordan Poyer, last week's Pac-12 Conference Special Teams Player of the Week, took a punt 85 yards for a score against UCLA, while running back Malcolm Marable and Poyer are the top options on kickoff returns.
Though Oregon State brings a three-game win streak into Sun Devil Stadium, it would be a significant surprise for Saturday to mark OSU's fourth consecutive victory over the Devils. Similar to what ASU has seen in recent years past, OSU's depth consists largely of inexperienced players, a matchup that is a stark contrast to ASU's veteran offense and defense.
In this exchange, odds are on ASU's quarterback being able to efficiently figure out the Oregon State defense much more so than his counterpart for the Beavers. In the past, the Beavers have been an upset waiting to happen, but a major lack of proven depth makes them tough to believe in on the road.