Editor's Note: Drew Wilson-McGrath saw virtually every spring and fall camp practice this offseason and has watched both games in '12, from the press box and on the tube. We asked him to peer into his crystal ball for how Saturday will play out for the Beaver D and why...
Oregon State will head into Tucson this weekend to take on Arizona in a Pac-12 matchup that has talking heads, well, talking. Saturday's game marks the second in-conference matchup for both squads, and carries with it the weight of potentially legitimizing the Beavers as a budding (and unexpected) powerhouse in both the conference and in the NCAA.
On the flipside – Rich Rodriguez and the Wildcats have a chip on their shoulders – Chip Kelly that is. The Wildcats will enter Saturday's game looking to prove their worth after a trouncing in Eugene.
The least that can be said about the Oregon State defense thus far is "dam". That distinction has two meanings in this case – one being that they have effectively put up a defensive "dam" against opposing rushing attacks, and will be looking to do more of the same against Arizona. Secondly… it just means damn. Where on earth did these guys come from?
The OSU defense has shut down the likes of Johnathan Franklin and Montee Ball, both of whom were being talked about in Heisman circles before playing OSU. The Beavs holding them to just above a combined 100 yards rushing. Moreover, Oregon State took a high octane UCLA Bruins offense and managed to slow them to a snail pace at times – so can they do the same against Arizona?
ARIZONA HAS AN offense filled with weapons – Matt Scott (QB), Ka'Deem Carey(TB), Dan Buckner (WR), Austin Hill (WR) just to name a few. The test for the OSU defense will be their ability (or lack thereof) to stop, or marginally disrupt a spread offense that has guys making big plays at just about every position. Rodriguez keeps up a recurrent rotation of solid players in nearly every slot on the offense – if Carey isn't on the field for a few downs, look for Daniel Jenkins to carry the load.
Tyler Slavin and Johnny Jackson (receivers) are just as capable of making big plays as their predecessors on the depth chart. In short, OSU will not be looking at the same offense all game long - they will have to be on their toes.
And therein lays the key difference in this Arizona offense compared to the previous two that the Beavers have faced - true diversity in terms of offensive playmakers.
WITH Wisconsin AND UCLA, the Beavers faced teams who did little to disguise who their primary targets would be – Jordan Poyer and Tyrequek Zimmerman knew early on they would need to stick it to Steven Manfro and Joseph Fauria against the Bruins. And Rashaad Reynolds knew he needed to keep a lock on Jared Abbrederis when facing Whisky.
Arizona will not be so simple. Scott is not afraid to use his legs to extend plays, and he has three wideouts in Buckner, Hill and Richard Morrison who are more than capable of opening up big plays through the air. The above trio alone have accounted for more than three-fourths of Scott's 1,205 yards through the air.
Carey is guaranteed to be a factor in both the rush and pass attacks. The sophomore tailback has speed, agility, strong hands – the whole nine yards. Arizona enjoys incorporating Carey into a variety of screen and intricate sweep plays, and Rodriguez is likely to implement that facet of his offense early on in the contest to fatigue playmakers like Scott Crichton and Michael Doctor, opening up more looks in the short passing game.
So… will the OSU defense come out on top in Tucson on Saturday? We say yes, and below is our analysis of why…
Defend This – A healthy and frequent rotation of athletic players on the defensive line kept UCLA and Wisconsin guessing like John Madden on a math test. D-line coach Joe Seumalo and defensive coordinator Mark Banker has nearly left some people throwing out the challenge flags claiming the Beavs had eight starters on their defensive front four.
Water cooler discussion prior to the start of the 2012 regular season emulated the fact that the hope for a top-notch Beaver defense was scattered at best amongst the football pundits. Fall camp did little to prove otherwise - straight up and down, the OSU defense did not put on the same kind of show during fall camp that they have put on over the course of their first two victories. Many, including this reporter, have been smacked in the face with the results thus far.
OSU's front four has been a huge part of the success of the defense as a whole. Combined, Dylan Wynn, Scott Crichton and Rudolf Fifita have posted seven of the teams' 13 tackles for loss, and four of five sacks. Joe Lopez, Castro Masaniai and Andrew Seumalo have all come up big when shutting/slowing down runs through the belly of the defense.
On balance, the unit has individual strength, as well as strength in numbers. They have also shown a lot of speed, and speed is a good thing to have against any team, especially Arizona.
But Arizona has shown an aptitude for drawing defenders into the backfield and making them pay for their aggressiveness by tossing a screen or letting Scott use his legs to move around the outside edge of his blocks and scramble for yardage.
Only if OSU's defensive linemen are as quick in pursuit as they are at getting to the QB will they be successful this weekend. We think they will.
Oh, and those other guys – Take a look at some of the stat sheets for other Pac-12 teams and you will see guys like Jake Fischer with 40 tackles (3.5 tackles for loss of 13 yards) or Anthony Barr with 19 tackles and five sacks ( seven tackles for a loss of 46 yards). Now the stats may not be there yet for Doctor or D.J. Welch (the pair have combined for 24 tackles and 3.5 tackles for a loss of 11 yards) or for MIK Feti Unga (Taumoepeau) (fifth on the team in tackles with 10 stops) because their numbers are only through two games – games in which OSU's offense controlled the clock for the bulk of the contest.
What those statistics won't show you is how well Doctor and Welch have done at getting into the backfield with ease and disrupting plays before they can develop. They won't show you how Unga has started to make the middle his own personal toll booth, one that is closed to the general public. Their efforts are responsible in large part for Wisconsin and UCLA banging their helmets against a wall when it came to converting on third downs – teams have only been able to convert at a rate of 14 percent against the orange and black this season.
No, Reynolds and Poyer don't have the four interceptions and seven tackles that Sheldon Price boasts. The secondary has yet to shut down a team through the air the way U of O did last weekend with Arizona.
But what they have done is stick to what they know how to do in order to win games – and we don't hear anyone complaining. And hello – have people forgotten that Rod Perry is the secondary coach? Implication: NFL caliber secondary coordinator + solid corners = great secondary.
But we aren't getting carried away here - this will be another tough match up for OSU. Rodriguez and Co. will likely switch up the offensive rotation just as a much as Banker will play around with his defensive front seven. Our crystal ball shows a close contest on into the fourth quarter, with OSU edging past Arizona late. And with the defense figuring to play a central role.
OSU 24 Arizona 21.
What will happen when Arizona O meets Beav D?
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