Putting lack of OSU scrimmages into context

CORVALLIS – It sounded like a really interesting assignment. See how many other teams in recent years didn't hold an official scrimmage in fall camp, like the Beavs are doing this August, and see how they did that season and what, if any, conclusions and correlations might be drawn. So I Googled. I Binged. I wore out the letters on my keyboard with various search terms. And what I found was…

Oregon State appears to be in some mostly uncharted waters here.

I couldn't find a whole lot, other than Florida Atlantic is also not running any official scrimmages this year. Auburn in 2008 went away from full contact but still held at least one official scrimmage in fall camp. The closest parallel I could find was USC the last two years.

Due to sanctions, with less bodies to work with, USC in 2011 significantly restricted live contact. They restricted full contact even more in last year's fall camp. But even then, USC scrimmaged. They only held two scrimmages each year, the NCAA allows three, but that's still two more than Oregon State will hold this year.

This spring, Lane Kiffin lamented their lack of physicality in 2012 and they went back to more live contact. And the injuries piled up.

So it's a rock and a hard place. You can get a bunch of hitting in, but you may lose guys – exactly what you're trying to avoid. Or you can lessen the contact, keep guys at less risk, but will they be game-ready once the season starts - and will injuries pile up when Saturday afternoons roll around because they're not used to hitting?

Mike Riley made the choice not to hold an official scrimmage this camp, with injuries havig left some positions very thin. The primary concern will be the defense -- if it will translate to more missed tackles when the games count for real.

Riley is an eternal optimist, and so in that regard, we'll pose another question – could it also end up the Beavs are a little fresher in the early part of the schedule, less "beat up" than some of their opponents? Another view could be these guys can't wait to hit someone, and will come out the first few games with more physicality they would have otherwise. You can make those arguments based on the start to the 2012 season.

Or, a glass half-empty view might be that the Beavs have had some tough starts in recent seasons because of the lack of live hitting in fall camp or the spring -- the Beavs don't really do full contact apart from scrimmages even when there aren't injury concerns. But last year's 6-0 start, after all those 2-3 beginnings in prior years, throws some cold water on that theory.

And perhaps that's the most important thing to take out of this scrimmage-less fall camp at Oregon State – that Riley doesn't do a lot of full contact, taking players to the ground, regardless. And the Beavs have won between 8-10 games five of the last seven years.

The only take-to-the-ground tackling this fall camp has been from the youth who couldn't help themselves. It's almost always been followed by Riley giving them an ear full.

MOST OTHER TEAMS HAVE run 2-3 scrimmages by now – it's a good way to analyze a player and to get him ready, as much as one can, for game action. It's a great way to judge who fits where, how a play works against a certain defensive package. It gets players in the rhythm of hitting and using proper technique, and so on and so forth.

You can also argue that Riley would have benefited from seeing Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz participate in more low-stakes live scenarios. Richard Mullaney or Obum Gwacham could have leapt off the page and snagged the starting split-end gig with a strong scrimmage.

But given the volume of injuries that the Beavers have accrued over just three short weeks of minimal contact drills and no live tackling, it's more than understandable. It's smart. Riley is preserving the talent available to him.

And his staff has been together forever. They're very familiar with all the players save for the rookies. They know their offensive and defensive systems like few others in the Pac-12 simply because of the years they've been together.

By one count, OSU will return nine starters on offense, eight on defense. Riley has made it plain that he has full confidence in his first team guys to excel without a scrimmage (or two or three) under their belts, and with the injured/resting list at a fall camp-high 17 players on Saturday, 10 of whom are in the starting rotation – the risk-reward of a scrimmage just wasn't worth it.

That being said, should we expect the Eastern Washington tilt to essentially equate to OSU's unofficially-official scrimmage of the fall?

Yes. Only this one will have a win or loss attached to it.

There is an inherent element of luxury associated with facing an FCS school at the start of the season – it can be a glorified scrimmage. But Sac State in 2011 turned that one on its head for OSU.

If OSU struggles and things don't go according to plan in the opener, the lack of fall scrimmage time will be opined as one of the primary causes.

And it sure will make for an interesting discussion. Although an even better one for Beav fans would be the lack of scrimmaging in the context of a five-touchdown win in the season opener.

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