Examining up close the Beaver DL success

CORVALLIS – On paper, OSU's defensive line on Saturday will combat a floundering offensive line headed by a frustrated quarterback. But Washington still poses a real threat to No. 7 Oregon State's plans to remain unbeaten. The question – how will Beavs' d-line perform against QB Keith Price, RB Bishop Sankey and a rocky UW o-line come Saturday? And how did OSU's d-line get on this roll?

Let's take a look.

Part of it is coaching. All evidence points to the brainchild of d-line coach Joe Seumalo and defensive coordinator Mark Banker manifesting itself far more than it did last season. Complementing that, the player's growth from one year to the next.

But at the heart if it all, the game plan is quite simple for the front four – speed, speed, speed. And from every angle and nonstop rotation on and off the field for a squad headlined by d-ends Dylan Wynn and Scott Crichton.

INDIVIDUALLY, CRICHTON IS capable of demanding two sets of hands on most downs. His midseason numbers are impressive -- 25 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks. He's effectively combined for more than half of the defensive line's total sacks and TFL - his spot on the watch list for the Bednarik Award is well deserved.

In the eyes of many, Crichton is one of the champions of this OSU defense. But stats only tell half of the story.

Crichton would not be so successful without his counterpart on the weak end, Wynn.

The sophomore has been eating up opposing offenses through six games – he leads the OSU corps of D-linemen with 27 tackles and is almost always the first or second guy into an opponent's backfield.

Wynn may not be the one getting the lion's share of sacks – but he is one step ahead, and Wynn is the guy making the sacks possible. Wynn's ability to shed a blocker and slip through offensive lines is the driving force behind Crichton's attractive stat sheet – Wynn disrupts early, forcing quarterbacks to move out of the pocket, where they are met by a swift brick wall in Crichton.

THE SECRET LIES in Wynn's technique, distinctive in nature and a product of his height. Oregon State lists him at 6-2, which seems to be generous. He looks closer to 6-0. Either way, he appears physically smaller than the average defensive lineman, and much shorter than the average tackle sitting across from him. And yet he continues to excel.

I put Wynn in the same vein of discussion as Joe Lopez in my fall camp coverage on BF.C – short is good, at least in their case. Taller players like Castro Masaniai (6-3), Andrew Seumalo (6-4) and Crichton (6-3) are forced to apply their hands to a blockers upper body and shoulders as a result of their height. Wynn has a lower center of gravity for his initial burst off the line – he can get under a guy's elbows, into his chest and apply his technique to an opponent's midsection as opposed to his shoulders.

Offensive linemen tend to be more comfortable playing guys at shoulder pad height – the lower they go, the more likely they are to be out of position for linebacker blitz packages. Wynn takes blockers out of their comfort zone, and by the time they adjust, he is in the backfield making blockers look bad.

NOW TURN YOUR attention toward the unsung on this OSU defensive line – Seumalo and Masaniai. They have mostly traversed offensive lines with ease, even though the combined two sacks and 4.5 TFL don't indicate that – d-tackles don't get the stats.

One sees a lot of unique rotations on the d-line when watching a Beaver game, but the two senior defensive tackles are practically a permanent fixture in the fray until a change of possession. They are the war horses with Wynn/Crichton the spear wielding centurions.

With the exception of John White (Utah) and Ka'Deem Carey (‘Zona), the duo has put a stopper on the flow of opposing run games. And perhaps the most valuable asset Seumalo and Masaniai bring to the table is speed. Even Masaniai, standing at 6-3, 354, is relatively light on his feet.

INDEED, SPEED HAS been the key to success for this defensive attack all year long. Banker and Seumalo both said that speed was going to be the "it" factor for Beaver defenders coming out of fall camp. And speed was all they had really, because they don't have much size. But they've still be proven right.

Back in August, I was skeptical that the speed over size approach would actually work to the degree it has. But Rudolf Fifita and Rusty Fernando have both made an already agile Beaver front four that much more effective, especially Fifita. It's the speed, combined with a player rotating in or out on on seemingly every drive that keeps this defensive line successful -- and offensive lines guessing all game long.

On balance, OSU has played "young" offensive lines, staffed with more freshman and sophomores than juniors and seniors.

And they will face a young line across from them on Saturday – a line that has let by 21 sacks.

They will also be facing a talented, yet confused and possibly disgruntled quarterback in Price. Offensive woes for UW may bode well for an OSU front four that prides itself on making mediocre offensive lines look Pop-Warner caliber. It's been coined a Jekyll and Hyde offense at the UW in 2012. So who will be showing up – Jekyll, or Hyde?

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