Saying goodbye to two highly respected and talented linemen is never easy. Throw in some bad injury news, two cases of cancer, trying personal struggles, and illness during fall camp — and the offensive line was a project from Day 1. The start of the season was rough, but just in time for conference play, senior and eventual 2nd Team All-Pac-12 lineman Sean Harlow returned to help solidify the line. While the the return of Harlow was a huge boost, it also enabled Dustin Stanton and Gavin Andrews to move to guard and center, respectively, giving the Beavers a better talent fit.
The result was a massive improvement to the line against the toughest competition on the Beavers’ schedule. It also meant redshirt freshman Blake Brandel and true freshman Gus Lavaka could start without the pressure of having to be stars from day one. For the Beavers, what started as a weakness, ended with their only All-Conference player (Harlow), as well as two key young linemen coming into their own in Brandel and Lavaka. Throw in experienced players like Fred Lauina, Brandon Kearsley, and Yanni Demogerontas, and the Beavers have a lot of options next year to fill the holes left by a very experienced and talented senior class.
While the return of Harlow was key, and the development of Lavaka and Brandel substantial, the Beavers never really were able to turn the corner up front until they played the weaker defenses in the conference. While they looked dominant in big wins over 3-win Arizona and 4-win Oregon, they struggled mightily against Stanford, Washington, UCLA, Utah, and Colorado. There was also a revolving door at center until the return of Harlow and outside of Lavaka and Brandel, many of the first year players struggled when given their shots to play.
The depth of this line is scary thin. While I fully expect a much more prepared Kearsley, Lavaka and Brandel, the men of Orange and Black also are going to have to hope for big leaps by Lauina, Hopkins, Moore, Demogerontas, and anyone else that is in the mix for playing time. The Beavers will have some quality starters and a lot more stability within their offensive options with a returning starter at QB, three returning running backs, and a healthy Noah Togiai at tight end, so the line will have some leeway. And they may need it with all of the youth that will be called into action and so many untested players to choose from.
Season grade: C-
I know, that seems rough, but while the Beavers made some solid strides, they also were a 4-win team, had huge issues on the offensive line early in the season, were not able to be effective against the better teams in the conference and really only pushed around the bad defensive lines from start to finish. They had some bright spots, and I don’t think teams liked playing Oregon State from a physical standpoint, but ‘coffee's for closers’ as they say and this line was better than the bad teams (opponents they beat were a combined 12-24) but ill-prepared for the better teams. With the three conference wins coming against teams with total defensive ratings of 118th, 125th and 126th, more will be required to take the next step in 2017!
How would you grade the Beavers’ OL this season?
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