OSU run game? It's right there, if you look..

THE IMPORTANCE OF BALANCE. Mike Riley talks about it virtually non-stop. The No. 1 topic this offseason was "Who the heck is going to be our QB?" but No. 2 with a bullet was, "Are we going to be better at running the football?" After all, conventional wisdom is that without balance, you are destined for failure. And Oregon State is one-dimensional, without any semblance of a running game. Right?

Wrong. The Beavers ARE balanced and have a credible ground game to keep the defense honest.

No, seriously. Stop laughing.

I started worrying about Sean Mannion early on Saturday night against Cal -- particularly the second time he had a defender bury the crown of his helmet into Mannion's sternum in an attempt to get him rattled. This is not new - back in 2002 when Derek Anderson took over the reins, the Moose from Scappoose threw for 3,313 yards and 25 yards against 13 touchdowns. The first 4 games were jaw-dropping but then USC absolutely shelled Anderson. It was the first of a three-game skid against USC, UCLA, and ASU.

Keep in mind Steven Jackson was the running back, but OSU had trouble running the ball because of the offensive line struggles that season. But OSU in 2013 has added their own version of the run game. And I'm going to subtitle this column right here: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Screen Game.

Normally the bubble screens, tight end screens, traditional (running back) screens, traps, draws and play action passes are used as "constraint plays". The concept is simple: You punish defenders who cheat to stuff the running game. If the defensive end is playing straight up, your tackle can handle him. If he is coming hard upfield pass rushing, you trap or draw to make him pay for being out of position, then mix in the screen to make sure he plays it honest. If the outside linebacker is cheating in to help stuff the run, then you hit him with a bubble screen to pay him for leaving his assignment.

The counters, draws, bootleg/rollouts, and jet sweeps attack defenses that cheat by formation or by post-snap action – it's akin to what Air Raid offenses try to do to punish teams who cheat for the pass. The only way to combat this is to be good enough to play "honest" defense. And so far, Oregon State opponents have not found a lot of success stopping the Beaver aerial assault by playing honest defense.

What Riley and Co. are doing is using constraint plays to make defenses pay for cheating to stop the pass – but less in a traditional punch-counterpunch scenario and more purposefully, as an extension of the run game. Typically you see screen plays getting called against the blitz, but what the Beavers are doing is calling it just as frequently against base defenses.

The offense is dangerous vertically with Sean Mannion at the controls – the tight ends are vicious in the seam and there isn't a corner in the country who can cover Brandin Cooks on a go-route if he rolls up in press man. So defenses go to Quarters (4 deep zone) or a Cover 2, 7-Man box, and Riley calls a jet sweep or a tunnel screen to Cooks. It brings the appearance of balance, but without the blood and sweat required to actually run the football.

Ultimately the goal of having offensive balance and a 50/50 run pass ratio is to force the defense to commit men to stop the run game rather than just playing the deep ball. Teams are having tons of success defeating the Oregon State zone run game because the blueprint for stopping the OSU passing attack over the years has been just to rattle the QB – and coincidentally, the best way to blow up a zone scheme is with penetration.

Overload blitzes are hampering the OSU run game as much as the injuries to the Offensive Line are through seven games. Interestingly, OSU's response has simply been to abandon the traditional running game – but make no mistake, they are not abandoning the concept of balance.

It helps that Oregon State employs a running back like Storm Woods. He's not the traditional between-the-tackles bruiser that Chris Brown is, he's almost built more like a wide receiver than a running back. He has great hands and an outstanding burst so getting him the ball in space is the best way to utilize him – and the screen game plays right into that strength.

At Cal, OSU absolutely shredded Cal's blitzing defense with the screen – so the Bears were forced to quit blitzing and then a funny thing happened: The "traditional" running game magically appeared for a few plays and Woods, Terron Ward and Brown all found some room to run.

But don't be fooled, the Beavers were running the football all game long… regardless of what the stat sheet says. When you're watching Oregon State vs. Cal, keep a mental tally on how many camouflaged run plays there are, and how successful they are.

Comments? Corrections? Disagreement? Kudos (a man can hope for miracles can't he!)? orangeattack@beaverfootball.com


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