Did Beavs unknowingly practice for a loss?

CORVALLIS – When it comes to the Beavs' loss to Eastern Washington, I'm not going to spit out stats or talk about what could have gone differently on this or that play. But I am going to tell you why the game looked the way it did, despite the weeks before it that suggested the result would be vastly different.

I refuse to point fingers solely at the coaching staff, because OSU's defensive players displayed both fundamental and physical shortcomings against Eastern Washington. At the same time, a little voice in my head is telling me never to write "practice makes perfect" in an article again.

Ponder this: Was the loss to the Eagles exactly what the Beavs practiced for?


Like everyone else, I had no idea what was happening to OSU's secondary during the game. It didn't make sense then, and it still doesn't. Not to the degree seen, anyway. But there was a reason for what we all witnessed.

The Beaver secondary is peopled with top-tier talent - they showed that in 2012. The front seven that took the field Saturday included two highly touted DE's and a stellar linebacker. And they were absolutely rolled by the opposition.

This loss indicates that a change of pace is necessary for the Beavers in practice. That's the biggest thing I came away with then and 48 hours later after examining it non-stop, I'm even more sure of it.

OSU HEAD MAN Mike Riley has never done a lot of hitting in fall camp -- as in the full contact, take-to-the-ground stuff. But this fall camp they did none, foregoing any scrimmages in the face of injuries.

And yet while Riley has certainly had some heady success for the Beavs, OSU has had slow starts before and maybe this is exactly why.

They need to hit more, tackle like they will in a game, devise a better practice plan. Now is the time to fix the problems and move on. Win games this season, and prove that a 2012 season -- a 9-win season that no one was expecting -- wasn't a fluke, but rather a call to greatness. Hitting in practice needs to be a part of that. Ah, but what about the injuries?

INJURY AND DEPTH concerns plagued OSU right around the time they were going to hold their first scrimmage. Riley had a tough call to make, where neither option was a good one. Hit and risk more injuries. Or, forego the process of live hitting and just enforce the fundamentals – angles, field awareness, blocking and avoiding blocks.

It's logical, the choice Riley made. Oregon State does not have the depth required to risk harm to the likes of Michael Doctor, Tyrequek Zimmerman, Brandin Cooks or Terron Ward – nor a lot of other guys. So they backed off in practice. He had veterans in the secondary, so it was logical to assume they would be able to handle the lack of hitting and step up when it mattered on Saturday.

A perfectly reasonable and valid point of view. The only problem was, it turned out to be wrong.

Tackling, wrapping up -- playing tight, physical man coverage were nowhere to be found on Saturday. With the exception of ‘accidental contact' and two scrimmages way back in the spring, Oregon State's defense hadn't routinely tackled or had to adjust to the game-time speed since the Alamo Bowl. And it showed time and time again against Eastern.

Sure, you can't go overboard on tackling in practice or you'll have too many injuries. But you can't all but ignore it completely for eight months either.

This past Saturday showed why. DT Mana Rosa was a participant in more tackles than d-ends Dylan Wynn and Scott Crichton on the day combined. Linemen and others moved swiftly into the EWU backfield, but shoddy tackling and poor pursuit angles spoiled many a potential sack for OSU.

Mark Banker and Rod Perry's nickel and dime packages were ripped to smithereens by Eagle receivers because the middle of the field was like a cut that no one bothered to toss some rubbing alcohol on and close. Eastern Washington's QB Vernon Adams found consistent success between the hashes, while OSU's defenders seemed dazed in half-man, half-zone coverage.

Because it was the way OSU practiced.

THE MIDDLE of the field is where the first and second team secondary and linebackers during EWU prep were encouraged to maybe get in the ballcarrier's way a little bit, but not take it overboard and get too physical. Get in position, but don't tackle him.

From this chair, that's why Ryan Murphy and Zimmerman looked like nothing like themselves on Saturday. They left massive chunks of space between them and their marks.

Steven Nelson and Sean Martin looked lost when defending in space, unable to decide whether to jump a route or just let the guy… finish his play.

It was brutally apparent on Saturday that practice, does not make perfect. At least not the way Oregon State is doing it.

Many, myself included, thought veterans Murphy, Zimmerman and Reynolds would put on a clinic, unleashing eight months' worth of pent up aggression upon a smaller but talented Eastern Washington offense. Martin and Nelson might come out a little less stout, I opined, but they would read and react well enough and get stronger and more confident as the game went along.

Guess not.

And on another front, for most of two weeks, the starting defense ran against a scout offense helping them prepare for a read-option offensive approach of EWU.

Well, kind of.

THE FIRST TEAM Beaver D was not practicing against a QB who ran the ball in a way even remotely close to what they saw on Saturday. They didn't practice for Vernon Adams. They practiced against the basic scheme and what they thought EWU would do, but not the plethora of options offered within that scheme. And that just exacerbated the lack of tackling in fall camp.

Oregon State's scout team QB is Kyle Kempt, a 6-4, 205 pocket passer, and he is not a scrambler. Adams is 6-0, 190, built very similar to Storm Woods, and maybe even a little bit faster than OSU's starting running back.

The difference in what was planned for and what arrived on the field sporting red and white were a mile wide. And they didn't adjust.


The angles preparation didn't work because as much as the Beavs practiced them, the angles change and alter when a play is live and tackling is involved. Also, the personnel shifts were minimal, and transitioning from pass to run defense was sloppy. No one did enough on Saturday.

But I didn't see it coming. No one did, except the guys in the visiting locker room.

THERE'S PLENTY OF blame to go around but at some point, you have to move on and focus on next week.

A good way to begin would be to alter, slightly, the typical practice regimen at Oregon State. The No. 1 defense needs to hit the scout team offense mimicking Hawaii this week. They need to take them to the ground.

So what will this practice look like for the Beavers this week? Maybe tackling will be on the menu. Maybe it won't. If starters or key players start showing up on the injured list because of full tackling in practice, other boo-birds will come out. As I said earlier, it's a tough situation Riley finds himself in, with either choice fraught with peril.

But after what I saw on Saturday, I have my opinion and I've chosen one over the other. And it's that these words have never been truer: No pain, no gain.

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