Know Your Foe: Oregon State

Oregon State is by far the biggest surprise in the Pac-12 as they were in the ranks of the unbeaten up until last week. What has contributed to their success and how do they match up with ASU? Publisher Barry Bolton answers questions from Sparky's Huddle members on the Sun Devils' next opponent.

Obviously there is disappointment over the first loss of the season last weekend, but overall probably even the most optimistic Beavers fan couldn't have envisioned a 6-1 record going into the first week of November. What is the general mood of the fans these days?

Bolton: About what you'd expect. The loss stings because Oregon State had numerous chances but didn't capitalize. Combine that with two controversial non-calls (on the helmet-to-helmet hit that knocked Markus Wheaton out of the game and on the final play of the game where the normally even-keel Mike Riley vehemently protested the lack of a pass interference call) and it's a tough loss to swallow. But the bottom line is OSU didn't take care of business. And the vast majority of OSU fans are still thrilled to be in the position they find themselves this season – ranked in the top 15 and in control of their own destiny in the Pac-12. What do you think have been the keys for this current 6-1 record? What team aspects or players have surprised even those familiar with team?

Bolton: On offense, it's been the offensive line's protection first and foremost. Isaac Seumalo is a true freshman starting at center and he's played like a seasoned veteran. Wheaton and Brandin Cooks have really emerged this year as receiving threats – it's very tough to take both of them away consistently. On defense, the d-line has been very solid until this last game. Scott Crichton is a third year sophomore who is one of the top defensive ends not only in the conference but in all of college football. The OSU secondary does not have the stats to show it but they're a good unit that will both hit you and take the ball away. Corner Jordan Poyer gets the lion's share of the press but Rashaad Reynolds is as good as anyone. Safety Ryan Murphy is one to watch going ahead. Cody Vaz will get the nod at quarterback this weekend instead of Sean Mannion who has been the starting signal caller for most of the season. How much will that affect the offense and how is Vaz different than Mannion in terms of skill set?

Bolton: According to Riley, nothing will change, the offense and game plan remains the same. Vaz has more ability to move but he's not a running quarterback by any means. What Vaz does exceptionally well is the touch he puts on the ball. Both Vaz and Mannion are smart players with Mannion tending to gamble a little more and try to force some throws into tight windows. For years Mike Riley has been one of the most respected coaches in the conference. What do think are some of Riley's traits that have made his so successful over the years?

Bolton: Riley never gets too high or too low, and he doesn't let outside criticisms influence what he does and how he runs the day-to-day. He also has a very good staff. In particular, defensive coordinator in Mark Banker who is aggressive and rotates liberally when he has the talent to do so and this is one of those years. His o-line coach Mike Cavanaugh is like Riley in the sense that he was seen as a miracle worker for a string of several years, and then the last two years the background grumbling about their coaching was pronounced. Both Banker and Cavanaugh are again being seen as among the top assistants in the Pac-12 this season, and deservedly so.

Coming off of consecutive losing seasons, did you feel that a losing season in 2012 would put his job in jeopardy?

Bolton: A few fans did, and the media wondered about it loud and often since the middle of last season but we saw no chance that would happen – Riley has one of the biggest buyouts around with the long-term contract and Oregon State would have to shell out a lot of coin to make a change and the athletic department was already in need of revenue.

Everyone knows Mike Riley's name, but who are a couple of unsung hero assistant coaches that are key to Oregon State consistently out performing their recruiting ratings and experts' expectations? How has Trent Bray done in his graduate assistant role?

Bolton: Already mentioned Banker and Cavanaugh but d-line coach Joe Seumalo has done a very good job this season with a multi-man rotation that has been very effective for the most part, especially against the run. Bray is doing a good job with a young group -- undersized but speedy. Until this past week, the linebackers, led by D.J. Welch, had performed mostly above expectations. But they had a poor game against UW and will need to turn things around this week.

Can you talk about some of the stars on offense and how they have contributed so far this season?

Bolton: Already talked about Wheaton, Cooks, Mannion, Vaz and the o-line so it would make sense here to talk about a couple other guys here. Running back Storm Woods has been effective – not great, but effective. The o-line is better at pass blocking than run blocking but Woods has done some good things on his own out in space. He's been dinged up, however, and it's uncertain if he'll be 100 percent. The other guys to talk about here are the tight end/h-backs – Colby Prince and Connor Hamlett. Both have mostly made their contributions in pass and run blocking but each has also had a handful of big grabs in key spots this season. Don't be surprised if one of them makes a late fourth quarter grab.

What are the strengths and weaknesses on defense, and who are some of the players ASU fans should be aware of?

Bolton: The strength is their run defense, despite the results of last week. OSU's pass defense has been mixed – sometimes they look lights out and others there have been marked lapses. In addition to the other names already mentioned, DE Dylan Wynn is a relentless type who has enabled a number of other Beaver defensemen to scoop up the tackles. NT Casto Masaniai is even more of a player who plugs the gaps and is responsible for others having ball carriers funneled their way. Rudolf Fifita is a big d-end who has been the most productive among the rotating players up front – his potential is sky high.

Whether it's recruiting or local media attention, how frustrating has it been going against such a dominant team in Oregon, who's also an archrival located just 47 miles up the road?

Bolton: I think most Beaver fans tip their cap to the Ducks for what they've been able to accomplish. They have an excellent offensive system for the college game and the talent to run it. And I don't know if it's as frustrating as what they're doing on the field for Beaver fans as it has been about the unresolved NCAA issues. That it's been this long and there's still been no resolution has a lot of people questioning what the NCAA is doing and why the delays. I think most Beaver fans would just like it settled one way or the other.

Do you feel that the first loss of the season has taken a burden off the Beavers' shoulders or do you feel that they may have a hard time rebounding from this defeat?

Bolton: My guess is they're going to come out with their hair on fire. But you never can tell in a situation like this, where a team is undefeated and with no limits on the possibilities. And then, a loss, and all of that comes crashing down. Some teams in that situation, following their first loss after a run of wins, can come out flat. My take is that Riley and Co. will have them ready to play, but that first 5-10 minutes will tell us a lot about the Beavs' resiliency.

What are your keys to the game for both teams?

Bolton: OSU doesn't need to have a lights out running attack, but it does need to be credible enough to make Vaz' play action effective. On defense, Oregon State needs to get back to their run-stopping and pass-pressuring ways and what needs to improve most across the board from last week to this week is wrapping up and limiting yards after contact. Vaz needs time and if Wheaton isn't 100 percent, someone like Richard Mullaney, Kevin Cummings or Obum Gwacham is going to have to step it up so teams can't hammer in Brandin Cooks. OSU has also had a tendency to outplay teams but the scoreboard doesn't necessarily reflect the disparity. OSU needs to do a better job in the first half against ASU of putting touchdowns on the board when opportunities are present.

Sun Devil Source Top Stories