COLUMN: Great win, but Beavs have work to do

IN THE END, the orange and black owned the fourth quarter, finishing out the 42-24 win at BYU by outscoring the opponent 21-3 down the stretch. There are things to celebrate for the Beavs, of this there is no doubt. However, this game should also serve as a warning, a sign of darkness on the horizon if…

…if the OSU defense, and particularly the front seven, can't solve a myriad of issues that reared their collective heads in Provo, Utah on Saturday afternoon.

Forgive me for throwing cold water on a win, and on an undefeated OSU team. But my expectations have been raised since the end of fall camp.

OSU went into the matchup Saturday looking to notch another road win and their first 5-0 start since 1939. It was a roller coaster type affair, characterized by an electric OSU passing attack featuring Cody Vaz (322 yards, 3TDs) Brandin Cooks (173 yards on eight receptions) and Markus Wheaton (66 yards two receiving TDs plus another rushing).

It was also characterized by something else. Mediocre defense, at best, by both teams.

And don't let the final score fool you, BYU put up a hell of a fight – this was no shellacking, at least not until the very end of the game.

HOW TO FIGURE out the Beavs? The general consensus for media and fans, including BF.C, was that this was going to be a highly defensive game for both squadrons. QBs Sean Mannion (expected to return in 3-4 weeks) and Taysom Hill out (season), a weakened Riley Nelson behind center sans running back Michael Alisa (5-7 weeks), a BYU o-line that had looked like a wet paper towel at times -- the list of troubles goes on.

Most eyes eagerly fell upon Cody Vaz, a junior second-string quarterback playing in his first college football game since 2010. And he didn't disappoint. But my eyes were glued upon the BYU defense, ranked No. 5 in the nation in total defense. Surely they were going to bring the heat, light up the scoreboard with defensive stats … they didn't. My eyes were peeled on the OSU stop corps. Surely they were going to harass and torture Nelson and a BYU offensive line that has at times looked like a wet paper towel… they didn't.

Instead, both BYU and OSU found success manipulating the defensive lines with screens, flips and sweeps. It felt like the defense had left it in the locker room on Saturday. There were gaping holes in the secondary nearly all game long, missed tackles, pass interference calls and poor red zone defense.

All signs pointed to an aggressive, defense-dominated tilt with hard hits, slim running lanes and ample penetration into the backfield by what were perceived to be two of the league's best defensive front sevens'. But if Saturday proved one thing, it was both teams linebacker and defensive lineman units may be Jekyll one Saturday, Hyde the next.

BYU failed to get much pressure on Vaz, whose finesse and downright accuracy helped the OSU receiving unit cut through the secondary like a scythe through a corn stalk. When Vaz was pressured, the results were mixed.

But BYU's linebackers (who have seen so much positive press) Kyle Van Noy, Brandon Ogletree and Ezekiel Ansah, struggled to get penetration.

The same can be said about the OSU defensive front seven. Precision and proper timing were absent for much of the first half. Missed assignments, poor pursuit and penalties did nothing to further the idea one of the nation's better defenses resides in Corvallis.

But hey, the defense did get it done late. The takeaways, the stops, they showed up. They just couldn't wipe out what had come before.

AND TIP YOUR cap to the OSU offensive line, they owned the day in Provo, and were solely responsible for ensuring that Vaz had ample time to make decisions on the field. Without their effort to stifle the blitzing from BYU, Vaz would have been best friends with the turf. Instead he averaged over 10 yards per completion and makes a Top 5 defense look sloppy. We didn't see that coming.

It was the old switcheroo. The backup junior QB who hadn't started in a football game since high school lit it up, confounding just about everyone. Vaz had a big test handed to him, and he passed with flying colors. And surprised the lot of us in the process.

Work remains. Vaz had some issues in the pocket – he took a long time to make some decisions, had three passes slapped away by BYU linemen, and threw some passes late back against the grain that he shouldn't have let loose.

But it's hard to nitpick Vaz (or a win) too much. Good thing he has Mike Riley calling the plays.

Speaking of which, my game ball goes to Riley. His play calling really set the Beavers up nicely on offense. He navigated the game according to Vaz's strengths, made quick adjustments and knew when to attack the Cougar secondary in order to achieve optimum efficiency. And the fourth quarter running play calls were prescient. Now we just need to see DC Mark Banker and the OSU stop corps do something similar next Saturday at home against Utah.

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