Time for OSU change, but not what you think

I WAS AT a loss when I started to write this column, starting and re-starting at least nine times as I ruminated on Saturday's calamity in Corvallis. All I could think was.. "That. Was. An. Abomination." It was the type of loss that costs college football coaches their jobs. And then it hit me – the same thing happened to UW's Steve Sarkisian in 2011, and he had a hard choice before him.

In Year 3 of the Sarkisian era at the UW, Nick Holt's defense wasn't just bad – it was atrocious. The Huskies were allowing a program worst-in-history 453 yards per game and capped the season with a 67-56 loss to Baylor in the Alamo Bowl. Holt was portrayed as a cornerstone piece in Sarkisian's dream team, was one of the highest paid defensive coordinators in the country and his reputation was sterling after a stint as Pete Carroll's right hand man running the Trojan defense, (though the reality was Carroll was the DC on game day.)

But there was no such distinction at the UW and moreover, Holt was Sarkisian's friend. Sarkisian half-heartedly defended his defensive coordinator with a shrug after Baylor laid 777 yards on the Husky defense, offering many of the same platitudes you hear Mike Riley making in the wake of a fourth straight shellacking for the limping, injured, beleaguered Beavers.

"Numbers are numbers, records are records, all that kind of stuff." Sarkisian said after the drubbing by Baylor. "That doesn't change your perception or view of things. There's a style of play in which I think we need to pride ourselves on playing, and that didn't happen tonight. That part is the frustrating part."

That sounds curiously Riley-like.

Sarkisian did make the difficult choice. He fired Hott and cleaned house on D, bringing in new blood. He raided the Oregon State staff for defensive backs coach (and former Oregon State playing great) Keith Heyward and went after one of those tabbed ‘nation's best recruiter' in Cal defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi. He also went after one of the country's hottest young defensive coordinators at that time in Justin Wilcox. The Husky defense didn't turn things around overnight in 2012 – but there was a new energy and an improvement that has steadily been building ever since.

At this point, you may be thinking that the rest of the article is going to be me advocating the replacement of Oregon State defensive coordinator Mark Banker.

And you would be absolutely wrong.

ON SATURDAY, THE Oregon State offense put on the kind of offensive clunker that deserves to be considered in the same light as Washington's 777-yard meltdown in the Alamo Bowl. And just like the situation in Seattle two years ago, it is time for new blood on the staff.

The Oregon State offense has become increasingly one-dimensional – even with a future NFL running back who could make chicken soup out of chicken…er, nuggets. Even with Quizz Rodgers, the Beavers struggled running the ball in his final season in Corvallis. Indeed, it's been a consistent theme now for four years in a row – the Beavers just can't run the ball.

This would not be the first time the Beavers have had to retool the offense to suit their strengths – in Derek Anderson's senior season (2004) the Beavers had a fantastic receiving corps featuring a silky smooth 6-7 tight end and they ran the ball just enough to keep the defense honest. But that was a one-year stumble, not the fourth year of a drought.

There is a problem with the OSU offense. I don't think it's just going to go away. And I don't think it's the kind of problem you can solve by putting Dylan Wynn in at fullback.

THE DIFFERENCE WITH the UW's situation compared to the Beavs -- Holt was the architect of the Husky defense, so the change could be of the wholesale variety by inserting a revised staff with new philosophies and a fresh outlook. But how do you solve that issue when the head man is the architect of the unit that you want to retool?

Riley took back playcalling duties in 2012 and last season the Beavers enjoyed a resurgence on the offensive side of the ball. But it turned out to a house of cards.

College football these days has evolved into the head coach watching over the program -- a CEO-type of perspective. They have to trust their coordinators to run their units. And it's clear to me, given all the data points the last few years, that Riley trusts Banker to run the defense, but he doesn't trust Danny Langsdorf to run the offense.

If you ask my opinion, it's time for a staff change there. As fun as the high-flying aerial assault is against overmatched defenses, as seen in the first half of this season, against the better defenses in the Pac-12 is has the flavor of Dennis Erickson's one-back vertical spread offense. After its heyday, that offense quickly devolved into a model of inconsistency. Sound familiar?

From an identity perspective, the Beavers these days are stuck in a schematic No-Mans-Land, running a high-powered aerial assault out of traditional power running sets. Defenses flat out do not have to respect the run game of Oregon State, and it's been a killer the last four games in a row.

OREGON STATE HAS this season a spectacular sophomore center and not one, not two, but THREE senior offensive linemen. Granted, there have been injuries on the offensive line, but there just is no excuse for the total absence of a running game at any point this season, healthy or no.

And while it makes sense to blame injuries and/or personnel issues for a year, maybe two, these four years now point to an unmistakable trend -- the Beavers as a program are not placing an emphasis on running the football. As such, they have gotten away from the offensive identity that made Oregon State into a force to be reckoned with in the Pac-10/12.

The Beavers were known for a physical, buckle-your-chinstrap-tight because it's going to be a streetfight type of football game when you face the Beavs. "Lunchpail U" was coined to describe Oregon State's smash-mouth brand of football. But it's been replaced by a worn-out brown plastic bag. And inside that bag, rather than a double-decker meat sandwich the size of a manhole cover, it's a bag of pop rocks and a Diet Jolt Cola.

Stanford has the market cornered on smashmouth football these days. It's time for Oregon State to get some new blood in on the offensive staff, resurrect the running game and take the crown back.

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