Over the next couple of weeks, GopherDigest will take an early look at the Minnesota Gophers football team’s opponents throughout the 2016 regular season. Today, we start with the Oregon State Beavers.
Oregon State Beavers vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers
TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minn.
Sept. 1, 2016, time TBA
Oregon State head coach: Gary Andersen (2nd season)
Coordinators: Kevin McGiven (Co-offensive coordinator; 1st season), T.J. Woods (Co-Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line/Tight Ends; 3rd season), Kevin Clune (defensive coordinator; 1st season)
Oregon State 2015 record – 2-10 (0-9 Pac-12): The Beavers started off the 2015 campaign strong, winning two of their first three games (beating Weber State 26-7 in their season opener, losing to Michigan in Ann Arbor 35-7 and then defeating San Jose State at home 35-21). However, the Beavers would go on to lose their next nine contests and miss out on being bowl eligible.
2015 offensive stats: 110th nationally in total offense (336.4 YPG), 115th in scoring offense (19.0 PPG), 115th in passing offense (159.1 YPG), 60th in rushing offense (177.3 YPG)
2015 defensive stats: 115th nationally in total defense (481.5 YPG), 113th in scoring defense (37.0 PPG), 98th in passing defense (256.0 YPG), 114th in rushing defense (225.5 YPG)
Returning leading passer – QB Marcus McMaryion (403 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT on 27-of- 67 passing): With last year's starter Seth Collins moving to wide receiver, sophomore Marcus McMaryion is the leader passer from last year's squad. He won't be the starter though as Utah State transfer Darrek Garretson is going to be the guy.
Returning leading rusher – RB Ryan Nall (455 yards, 3 TD on 73 carries): The Beavers lose their leading non-QB rusher from last season in Storm Woods to graduation, so Nall looks to be the guy in line for a bigger workload this fall.
Returning leading receiver – WR Victor Bolden (461 yards, 3 TD on 46 catches): Oregon State is deep at wide receiver, with their top three wide receivers returning from last year in Bolden, Jordan Villamin and former Minnesota target Hunter Jarmon.
Returning leading tackler – LB Caleb Saulo (69 tackles): The Beavers lose their leading tackler from last season in Rommel Mageo, but returned Saulo (second leading tackler), plus two more of their top five in Jonathan Willis and Treston Decoud.
Returning leader in interceptions – Six different players tied (one pick): Oregon State only had eight interceptions last fall and they're leader with two graduated in Rommel Mageo. This is a pass defense that was 98th in the nation in 2015, so there's a lot of room for improvement.
FIVE QUESTIONS ANSWERED BY JOSH WORDEN OF THE DAILY BAROMETER
What was the biggest thing about this Oregon State team that you drew from watching spring practices and its spring game?
JW: The biggest thing from spring practice was Oregon State's quarterback play. Last year, the Beavers didn't have a 1,000-yard passer. This spring, OSU likely found its new starting signal caller in Darell Garretson, a transfer from Utah State who will be eligible to play for OSU for the first time this upcoming season. Garretson tossed three touchdowns in the Spring Game with no interceptions and 263 yards. If he can keep the offense consistent this year, the Beavers could actually be competitive throughout the entire year. Garretson has some talented wide receivers to work with, including returning starters Jordan Villamin and Victor Bolden. Both had relatively mediocre seasons last year but have definitely shown capabilities of highlighting a good receiving corps for OSU.
What are the three biggest story lines to follow this season?
JW: How will Gary Andersen fare in his second year as head coach? Last season, Andersen came from a talented Wisconsin program to take over an OSU squad that ended up 2-10. Beaver fans obviously weren't happy about going winless in the Pac-12, but it wasn't like expectations were too high, either. In his second year, though, Andersen is expected to add a couple wins to that total.
Will the defense be as porous as last year? OSU ranked near the bottom of the conference in many defensive categories last season. Even worse, several of the team's best defensive players left the team due to graduation or transferring. Still, there are some talented underclassmen who could step up, and senior cornerback Treston Decoud's performance will be vital in the defensive backfield.
Running backs galore: OSU found a solid ball carrier last year in Ryan Nall, who was practicing as a tight end until fall camp. At his tight end weight of 250 pounds, Nall was plenty physical as a freshman running back in the Pac-12. He'll be joined by some other capable backs like Paul Lucas, Tim Cook, Damien Haskins, Kyle White and more.
What are Oregon State’s greatest strengths for the 2016 season?
JW: OSU's strengths don't lie in any star-studded position group or Heisman contender. There's no one player clearly better than all the rest. Ryan Nall has a lot of hype based on a couple solid games from last season, so he could be one of the biggest impact players on either side. OSU also has three seniors on the offensive line. Even though quarterback Darell Garretson hasn't taken a snap in an OSU uniform, his time at Utah State and in the Spring Game suggests OSU could be in good hands offensively under his direction. The Beavers should also have decent depth on the defensive side of the ball even if there aren't a lot of proven playmakers, especially at linebacker. Caleb Saulo should rack up tackles like nobody's business, especially with starting linebacker Rommel Mageo transferring to Ole Miss this offseason.
What are the Beavers' greatest weaknesses?
JW: The greatest weaknesses for OSU mainly center around inexperience, especially on the defensive end. A lot of the expected contributors are underclassmen who just haven't spent much time on the field yet. For example, Dwayne Williams should take over a starting cornerback spot this season and while Williams certainly has the playmaking skills — he had a pick-six in the Spring Game — the 5-foot-9 sophomore hasn't spent a whole season locking down opposing wideouts. He and other young players will need to grow up quick for OSU to improve from last season.
What is your outlook for the 2016 season for Oregon State?
JW: Overall OSU is just looking to build the program step by step. There have been plenty of setbacks even after last season's 2-10 mark, like offensive lineman Isaac Seumalo declaring for the NFL Draft after his junior season or a couple of players transferring in the offseason. But, the Beavers have plenty of young players and nothing to lose in Gary Andersen's second year as head coach. Do they have what it takes to make a bowl game? Possibly, but squeaking out 6 wins will be a tough task for an OSU team that got throttled in the conference schedule last season. Nonetheless, OSU fans are mostly hopeful for what Andersen has to offer and what the next few years will look like.
You can follow Josh Worden on Twitter @BrightTies.
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Sept. 10 vs. Indiana State
Sept. 24 vs. Colorado State
Oct. 1 at Penn State
Oct. 8 vs. Iowa
Oct. 15 at Maryland
Oct. 22 vs. Rutgers (Homecoming)
Oct. 29 at Illinois
Nov. 5 vs. Purdue
Nov. 12 at Nebraska
Nov. 19 vs. Northwestern
Nov. 26 at Wisconsin