Getting a handle on the 2011 Beavs

IN FALL camp and early in the season, college coaches are famous for saying they don't know who their teams are yet – that the identity is still being formed. At the halfway point, that's no longer the case with Oregon State.

As much as OSU would like to be balanced on offense, they're not. As much as Mike Riley talks about it every week, it isn't happening.

The first six games have, if nothing else, borne that out.

The Beavs are a pass-first offense, as hard as that is to swallow. The return of Malcolm Agnew could lessen that somewhat, and Riley has all but sworn on a stack of bibles that the Beavs will run much more against WSU.

But concerns about Agnew's hamstrings are going to persist the rest of the season with him missing four full games over five weeks. Terron Ward has run hard but he's also had problems holding onto the ball. And if he loses the purchase on Saturday, it won't be a surprise to see the Beavers shift over to the airwaves. Jovan Stevenson is ailing and Jordan Jenkins has played sparingly. Add it all up and OSU has thrown it (269) far more than they've run it (168).

Oregon State's Sean Mannion looks like he could develop into a big-time quarterback in the Pac-12. But in the here and now, he's learning on the fly, he's brilliant on one play and not so much on the next and this year is likely to contain more growing pains.

It's strange in a sense, that OSU is putting it all on the arm of a redshirt freshman. Then again, no other running back has shown the Beaver coaches enough to where they want to hand it off to him 25 times a game, let alone 20, or even 15.

ON DEFENSE, the secondary has been among the biggest disappointments. Said to be the strength of the Beavs coming out of spring ball and fall camp, they've struggled. But like most things in football, it's not all on them.

Injuries have been legion, losing Brandon Hardin at one corner has particularly hurt. Meanwhile, others like Lance Mitchell have been playing through injuries. Beyond that, the pass rush has not shortened the time in the pocket for opposing quarterbacks and no matter if you have four All-Americans back there, given enough time even an average receiver will work his way open.

LB Cameron Collins was a star in the spring, he looked for all the world like a Pac-12 first-teamer. But he has yet to bounce back to form following surgery at the start of fall camp. That has hurt the Beavs in a number of ways. Collins is healthy enough to play, and he's done everything he can. But he hasn't been healthy enough to star, not yet.

AS FAR AS the intangibles go, the Beavs are young and a bit banged up. There is also a large mental aspect to the game of college football and the Beavs are still maturing in that area just as surely as they are in the physical maturity aspect for the younger players. Watching the OSU players hang their heads as early as they did in the Sac State game was telling.

Call it swagger or whatever you want, the mental aspect was again on display this past week. Beaver fans were thinking this group might well have turned a corner after the Arizona win. OSU fans saw some wins coming together. And then BYU came out and outplayed the Beavs in a physically bruising battle.

That slobberknocker may affect the outcome on Saturday. RB Jovan Stevenson (knee) is doubtful, Feti Unga (knee) and Cameron Collins (groin) haven't practiced yet this week, with Unga the more likely of the two to be ready by Saturday. A whole bunch of other Beavs are playing with dings.

In the end, it's hard to see how more tough games don't appear ahead for the 1-5 Beavs. But they're capable of winning, including the one on Saturday against WSU. Utah and Cal are also certainly winnable games. Save for the Wisconsin game, they haven't been blown out, they've been competitive and the argument can be made that several losses could have gone either way with a play here, a play there. Other games on the schedule aren't as favorable but OSU has had a bevy of upsets over the past few seasons. Who knows what could happen if they get on a roll.

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