A case of lost & found for OSU in Berkeley?

BERKELEY - Could Saturday's game against California be a case of lost and found for the Beavs? Tight end Connor Hamlett is out with a leg injury -- but could the junior's absence be just what Oregon State needs to develop some underutilized talent and reacquaint themselves with a missing component to their offense?

That missing component, naturally, is the run game.

Wait, what? Oregon State loses their premier tight end, and that means "run the ball?" Seems a little backwards doesn't it?

Maybe so. Roll with me here, Beaver fans.

Hamlett, a 6-7, 263-pound H-back, poses an athletic threat both in the pattern and blocking on the line on scrimmage. Yes, his 25 catches and four scores are noteworthy but what really sets him apart is his solid blocking ability in concert with that. He's the dual threat TE defenses hate. But he's out, and so OSU is expected to rely even more on Sean Mannion, who in turn is expected to rely even more on Brandin Cooks, Richard Mullaney and Kevin Cummings.

Notice how running backs Storm Woods and Terron Ward are not mentioned above.

THE 2013 BEAVER OFFENSE has been built on four key elements in my mind – great pass blocking, one or two standout receivers, versatile tight ends and ultra-consistent quarterback play predicated on run-action fakes. It's a very concise system, one that is hard to screw up. But a vital fifth element has been missing -- the run game.

Oregon State has heretofore sacrificed yards on the ground to get easier yards through the air with tight ends and wideouts. But the line is as healthy as it has been and the running back cupboard is pretty well stocked with Woods, Ward, freshman tailback Chris Brown and the occasional shaker full of fullback Tyler Anderson. Assuming Cal has been prepping their defense primarily to combat the nation's No.1 passing attack, now seems to be an opportune time to throw a monkey wrench at both the Cal defense, and the Beaver offense.

Spice things up. And run the ball.

There has been a timidity about the Beaver run game, and in all facets of said, that comes from lack of implementation. Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf have not tried to run the ball much and when they have run it, it hasn't really worked. Consequently, they get stuck in the vacuum of Mannion's arm being the only viable weapon in moving the chains.

That needs to change, and soon. I just don't believe Oregon State can keep winning this way, although I don't think they are in much danger this week against Cal. But OSU can use this Cal game to fix their running game and the best way to fix it is through the tight ends, even without Hamlett.

And that's why…
For Oregon State, the Cal game could be a gift, win or lose.

It's more than just four quarters, more than just hashing out something that resembles a respectable ground game. Saturday night against Cal will provide valuable playing time for two young tight ends to reinforce an integral aspect of the position -- blocking for the run.

Sophomore tight ends Caleb Smith and Kellen Clute are serviceable blockers right now. Smith is skilled when blocking in open space where speed can help more than size, but he is not as impressive lining up and playing smash mouth. It's due to a lack of size but even more so, to the dearth of experience. Let's face it – nothing compares to playing on Saturdays. Smith and Clute need to grit their teeth and dig into the trenches, they need to feel the adrenaline that comes with purely out-muscling an opponent in an attempt to pull out a win. And Hamlett being inactive for Saturday's game at Cal gives them the chance to do just that.

THE BEARS OFFER a relatively porous D-line and a secondary that has struggled with wrapping up tough running backs. Opportunity is calling, begging the Beavs to find their stride as they begin the second half of the season. And it only happens if Smith and Clute can step into their blocking shoes.

For the record, I'm not saying Cal will be a pushover, nor do I believe that the Beavs practiced under the delusion that that would be the case. What I am saying is this matchup feels like the perfect opportunity for Riley to take a calculated risk in a game where he is already in good position to win. In other words, run the ball until every run in the playbook has been tapped at least once. In addition to the long-term benefits, there's a short one – I highly doubt Cal will be expecting it. Cal should be reading pass all the way. OSU has given them no reason to think differently.

And Riley could yank the training wheels off of both Clute and Smith, not just on a floundering ground game. Let them learn how to block according to the pace of the game and the defense across from them. It will pay dividends down the road.

SURE, OSU IS a pass-first team now. But even the slim threat of a run can only help that passing game. In my book, the success of any offense is based upon the symbiotic nature of a good run game opening up things for the pass, and vice versa. Given the lopsided nature of OSU's run-pass ratio, it's more than likely some of their opponents are going to adjust.

Oregon State, as good as they've been on offense, could have easily lost the SDSU and Utah games. The Beavs may have already used up their margin for error. So no, OSU should not discount the Golden Bears, especially not on their home turf in Berkeley. And no matter what, the top priority is to win and if that means chuck it, then chuck it. But the coaching staff can still look ahead by focusing in on Cal and attempting to develop a run game.

And by getting the ground game going with a lot of help from tight ends, I believe you tip the balances back in the Beavs' favor for the second half of '13. And that applies both to Cal…and to Stanford.

BeaverBlitz Top Stories