What's up w/ Beav O and how can it be fixed?

CORVALLIS – In looking ahead to the UW matchup, you first have to look back at what happened on Saturday. There's been a lot said about the Beaver offense in the wake of the ASU loss, plus the two defeats that immediately preceded it. But there's one thing I keep coming back to, just can't escape it, the final piece of evidence that turned believers into doubters and doubters into profits…

Oregon State did not find the end zone until 02:17 remained in the third quarter.

Ponder that, and really let it sink in. Because the Beaver offense this season has gone from break-neck to broken, and it cannot be ignored headed into the final two games of the season.

The root of the problem, I believe, can be found in Oregon State's practice week. Indeed, where the Beavers need to improve the most with Week 11 looming is right there. The ASU game, on top of the USC and Stanford losses, brought that point home to me.

Why are there so many third-and-long scenarios? Why is the run game practically nonexistent? Why has Sean Mannion suddenly started throwing gobs and gobs of interceptions? Why does Mike Riley always have to burn a timeout on offense in this first quarter? Well, I'll give you my take.

When Oregon State's offense practices each week, they focus predominantly on two things. One, they throw to certain areas. Two, they throw it to Brandin Cooks. A lot.

Oregon State wants to find Cooks in space and let him fly – and for good reason. Not trying to make Cooks your offensive centerpiece would be madness. But I would argue it's to such a degree that if a defense can take Cooks out of the equation, either through coverage or by putting heat on Mannion, the Beavs are left without much else. All the remains is nuanced spectacle, window dressing if you will.

In practice, the plays to Cooks and others always work because scout team defensive backs hold back off their man, exercise minimal contact and never tackle. I took a dim view of this same issue on the defensive side of things -- a lack of contact and real-speed practice – as being the catalyst for the season opening loss against Easter Washington when the Beavs looked slow and out of sorts. And I think it's still rearing its ugly head.

Mannion has not been exposed to legitimate pressure in practice all season long. And I think it's really showing now. Will Sutton, Trent Murphy, Devon Kennard and Carl Bradford on Saturday also brought that point home.

Now, I'm not saying OSU should be going full contact all the time in practice. I'm not advocating Mannion should ever get hit in practice, not even once. I know that football coaches much smarter than me insist you have to decrease the amount of physical work as the season goes on, and for good reason.

But I firmly believe, after watching spring ball, fall camp and a whole lot of in-season practices this year, and then of course every game, that the Beavs have taken the three-quarters speed, scout-team on a governor, no full-contact concept to the extreme, and that it's been to their detriment on Saturdays in facing top competition.

Often in 2013, the Beavers start off a game offensively putting feelers out there -- seeing what works and by the second quarter they usually start to assert themselves. Against ASU, it took until well into the second half before OSU began to combat a vicious pass rush and sharp man coverage by focusing on short passes and the ground game. And it was too late.

The Beavs can't do that against Washington and hope to win. Oregon State this season has really struggled when they have to play hard-nosed offensive football. The dual running back system OSU is using is great if you have a running back more suited to being a receiving threat (Storm Woods), but rather awful if you ever want to establish yourself on the ground. Odd really, that a dual-back system should detract from the run game rather than add to it.

And they then end up relying on Mannion to stretch the field. And he doesn't have the time. As BF.C's Chad Luther pointed out yesterday, Oregon State's o-line failed to give hold an adequate pocket big-time against ASU. But I'll also add this: Mannion is pressing and with ever-increasing regularity of late – he's reacted to a pass rush far too early and bears little resemblance to the guy who was the No. 1 ranked passer in the nation about a month ago, (now No. 20).

And since the run game doesn't work and the o-line isn't consistently keeping the heat off, the pressure that would be otherwise allocated to a sweep or a run up the middle gets placed on Mannion and, well, we've all seen the results. Most of his interceptions, a whopping seven in the last two games, have been downright cringe-worthy.

It also doesn't help that Mannion is looking so often to connect with Cooks, who has been taken out of the equation compared to earlier, when ridiculous receiving yards and a touchdown in but two quarters was commonplace.

This all leads to another key point -- the Beavs have become too predictable. You have a star receiver and a guy whose best attribute is to throw it deep. Well, defensive coordinators tend to catch on to that. And as the Beavs have played better competition, the results have become more and more damning.

Against Washington, I believe the Beavs would be well served to change things up. Go to a hurry-up offense on the second possession. Throw some things at the Huskies you haven't shown in games yet. At the same time, get Connor Hamlett, Caleb Smith and Richard Mullaney more involved in the mid-range game. Run some plays where Malik Gilmore is the primary. Do the unexpected. Even if you're only partially successful, that will open things up for Cooks and force a defense into more zone, which should give OSU their best opportunities.

The pass blocking could be the biggest problem to solve – the UW is ranked No. 20 nationally with 2.8 per game. But keep UW guessing, keep them on their heels, force them to react to things they haven't prepared for this week in practice, and things up front can change significantly. Force the UW pass rush to react to what OSU is doing, rather than vice-versa, and you've won a big part of the battle.

Oregon State is not a bad football team, but they aren't good enough on either side of the ball to suddenly flip a switch in the latter stages and win. They were earlier this season, when they were playing against lesser competition, but they aren't now, not against Washington or Oregon in these last two games.

Unless the Beaver offense shakes things up, Beaver fans might have to prepare for a stormy end to the 2013 regular season. That said, a golden opportunity exists this week against UW. Both teams come in struggling. The team that comes out with a win Saturday might just be the one who surprises the other the most.

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