Putting OSU-PSU matchup under the microscope

CORVALLIS -- Portland State will return just four starters to its defense when the season kicks off on Saturday against Oregon State. Among them is defensive tackle Joe Lewis, who was a walk-on at Oregon State from 2010 to 2012. Lewis played over 300 snaps for the Beavers, and is coming off a season where he had 5.5 tackles for loss for the Vikings.

Also returning are linebackers Corey Crowder (59 tackles, 6.5 TFLs) and Brandon Brody-Heim (46 tackles, 4 TFLs). The Vikings also welcome back cornerback Aaron Sibley.

The other seven defensive positions will feature seven new starters for Portland State.

However, the Beavers have had a tumultuous history against Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) teams. In 2011, the Beavs lost their season opener to Sacramento State 29-28 in overtime, and last year we all remember (or maybe we purposely forgot) that the Beavers lost to Eastern Washington 49-46.

With that loss still fresh in most every player’s mind, they’re well aware that they can’t overlook anyone.

When FCS teams get a chance to play against Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams, they tend to show up.

Even so, last year’s Eastern Washington was likely a more talented team than this year’s Portland State squad. When the Beavers played Eastern Washington, they were ranked as the No. 4 FCS team, whereas this year’s PSU team is unranked.

One of the biggest reasons why EWU was able to put up so many points against OSU is that the Beavs had no answer for quarterback Vernon Adams, who racked up 518 yards of offense, including 107 rushing yards.

Mobile quarterbacks proved to be a weakness for the Beavers last year, as Utah quarterback Travis Wilson gashed the Beavers for 142 yards on 13 carries and took Oregon State to overtime, while Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota ran for 53 yards on seven carries in their win against OSU.

Portland State’s starting quarterback will probably be Kieran McDonagh, who is a capable runner as well. Over the past two years, he’s compiled 775 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on 156 carries, averaging five yards per carry.

Regardless, there’s no reason not to be optimistic about Oregon State’s chances come Saturday.

After the Beavers completed their 18 days of training camp, and with two days left to go before their first game of the season, things have gone pretty smoothly so far.

No player suffered any serious injury during camp, although several players have suffered various bumps and bruises. We knew Isaac Seumalo’s recovery from a broken foot would take some time, but other than that this team is pretty healthy.

The Beavers’ defense has more experience than in years past, where nine of eleven starters are seniors. The two exceptions are defensive end Jaswha James and cornerback Larry Scott, both juniors.

That defensive experience has served them well in camp. In the team’s one and only live scrimmage, it was the defense that turned in most of the highlights. They forced three turnovers within the first 11 plays, and they’ve caused problems for the offense when the Beavers have gone live in their full team drills.

The offense has a little more work to do. Brandin Cooks is gone, and no one player can replace him.

However, Sean Mannion is one of the most prolific passers in Oregon State history, and he still has plenty of weapons to work with in ‘14.

Junior receiver Richard Mullaney returns for his junior season, Victor Bolden has had a few days in camp where he’s looked brilliant (and others where he’s been pretty quiet).

Malik Gilmore stands 6-foot-3 and is a big target out of the slot, and then there are a host of other receivers who have a chance to make names for themselves.

True freshman Xavier Hawkins, redshirt freshmen Jordan Villamin and Hunter Jarmon, as well as Rahmel Dockery should all see the field this year.

The Beavers also have a bevy of big, pass-catching tight ends in Caleb Smith, Connor Hamlett and Kellen Clute, who have drawn praise from Mannion, Mike Riley, and even Rick Neuheisel.

Out of the backfield, Storm Woods and Terron Ward combined for 81 receptions last year, and they’ll be back again splitting the workload at running back.

Up front may be the team’s biggest question mark, as the Beavers prepare for life without several linemen who had anchored the line for years. Michael Philipp had 48 career starts (third most in OSU history), Josh Andrews had 32 starts, and Grant Enger had 31. All of those guys are gone.

Gavin Andrews, Garrett Weinreich, Josh Mitchell, Grant Bays, and Sean Harlow comprise this year’s front line in Week 1.

Among those five players, they have a total of 15 starts.

But they don’t have to be world beaters, they just need to be credible. if they can give Mannion enough time to find his receivers, and/or if they open enough holes for the running game, this offense should be fine.

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