COMMENTARY: Defense needs to flip the switch

BOISE -- If Saturday night's loss to No. 3 Boise State proved anything, it was how much work the Oregon State defense needs if they're to make an impact this season. All week, media outlets and fans thought Boise State was going to take care of the Beavers handily. After Saturday's 37-24 loss, I now understand why.

The Beaver Defense.

Oregon State gave up 469 yards and 37 points of offense to BSU. Right from the get go, Boise State QB Kellen Moore and Co. came out firing on all cylinders, starting the game with a seven play, 44 yard drive capped off by a touchdown. That can't happen.

The conventional thinking is that it's the offense that's the biggest question mark for the Beavers. I disagree. I think the defense should be raising the most eyebrows.

The OSU defensive line had some decent success early on, but for the most part was shut down. They never got a sack.

The secondary did not fair much better, in fact, it was worse. From the first drive, it was evident the Broncos were going to have their way with the Beavers through the air.

In the early part of the game, BSU's air attack focused on senior CB Brandon Hardin, who has struggled at times this season. And it worked to perfection.

It felt like Moore was capable of gaining a first down on every throw, and every time, it seemed like Hardin was the one giving it up. It wasn't that he was "beat" badly, it's that running stride for stride with talented receivers isn't enough most of the time. There has to be a bat down, and more, in there somewhere.

THE BEAVS HAVE historically lived and died by their defense. It's the thing Mike Riley is known most for -- but this season, to date, it seems like the defense is only killing the Beavers more and more every game.

Sure, BSU has a high-powered offense, they're ranked No. 3 in the nation and the game was in Boise, but at what point do adjustments or substitutions come into play? It didn't feel like OSU made one effective adjustment to answer the conundrum that was Chris Petersen's offense.

You never got a sense OSU could make a stop when it needed to, and you know what? They didn't. One stop came after Moore short armed a wide-open receiver but that's not an OSU stop, that's Boise State stopping themselves. If that throw was on target, it's another 12-yard gain and first down.

IT SEEMED A cruel pattern on Saturday night. Offense cuts it to 7. Defense allows it back to 14. OSU back to 7 again, followed quickly by the deficit quickly growing larger again.

A group of young men who couldn't quite grab that cohesiveness. Multiple mental mistakes also hurt the Beavers, specifically when CB Brandon Hardin pushed his man out of bounds but thought the play was over.

"Brandon, I think, just lost his focus, maybe thought the play was over," said Mike Riley after the game.

The quote could just as well apply to the defense as a whole, and for four straight quarters. It was like watching a slow motion train wreck.

STILL, AS MUCH as OSU's defense allowed, they did show glimpses of what they were capable of -- it just was never at the critical moments.

DT Stephen Paea continues to prove he is a dominant force that needs to be double-teamed every play. When Boise doubled Paea, it freed up Brennan Olander, who in the early part of the game provided some decent pressure on Moore from the interior.

And this Beavers' team heart and effort are not in question. Even though they were dominated defensively and struggled offensively, the Beavers were still in it until the Broncos finally put the final nail in the coffin late in the game.

"That's what good teams do," said James Dockery, "top three teams, top five teams. That's just the difference right now between us being a top 25 on the back end, or in the top 15 on the front end of that."

DISAPPOINTMENT WAS EVIDENT on all the players' faces post game, and in their subdued comments.

I asked Dockery where Moore ranks among the QB's he's faced in his career.

"He's an extremely intelligent quarterback, he makes the right decisions and he's definitely not going to put his team in a bad position," he said.

All things the Beavs need to do more of on defense.

Most will point to the offense for the 1-2 start but it feels more like the defense is the main culprit from this chair.

Sure, this 2010 squad will keep fighting, but if you can't stop anybody you'll never win the crucial games that define a season. And with the Pac-10 being so wide open, one win or loss could make all the difference.

Everybody wants this Beaver team to step up their play and finally smell the roses. Well, it's hard to do that when you can't force a punt, get a sack and impose some of your will at times on the other guy.

OSU has made pulled off some stunning flip-the-switch moments the past few years, usually after the fifth game. Let's hope OSU can clean it up a little sooner than that in 2010.


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