The Insight Bowl gave fans a glimpse of Mike Riley's system beginning to work with his recruits. It also showed the benefits of extra practice sessions due to back-to-back bowl games.
The Punt Return
All year long true freshman Sammie Stroughter looked poised to break a big one. He was patient settling for two, three and five yard gains. He fair caught when he had to and returned the punts when he had to. The California native didn't force anything.
His patience paid off Tuesday when he broke a 52-yard punt return that setup the Beavers first touchdown of the game. Stroughter showed good vision and almost took the punt to the endzone. It was a exciting punt return, but it is even better that Stroughter will be around for three more years.
The Blocked Punt
Linebacker Derrick Doggett has been within inches of blocking punts several times this year. He has long arms which allow him to reach over a defender and create havoc in the kicking game.
The coaches have tabbed him as the next big time linebacker at Oregon State and he has seen his time increase with the defense, but his presence was felt on special teams Tuesday.
Doggett pushed his defender back far enough and reached out his long right arm and blocked a punt setting up Oregon State's second touchdown of the day. The redshirt freshman almost took it to the house before being tripped up at the 10-yard line.
The Big Hit(s)
The outcome of the game was already determined, but Gerard Lawson and Andy Darkins continued to play at a high level.
On the last punt of the game Stroughter tried his best to do his Reggie Bush versus OSU impression as he fielded the punt on the OSU sideline before running across the field to the ND sideline.
Stroughter ended up netting -7 yards on the punt, but Lawson laid a nasty, legal blindside hit on a Notre Dame player pursuing Stroughter. The Notre Dame player was knocked on his back as the ohhs and ahhs of the crowd trickled onto the field.
Just before Lawson's big hit, linebacker Andy Darkins delivered a bone-shattering strike to an Irish receiver coming across the middle. The redshirt freshman's big hit was replayed on the JumboTron to the hoots and hollers of the crowd.
Defensive tackle Curtis Coker saw his playing time increase throughout the season. The redshirt freshman had just two tackles going into the Insight Bowl but he doubled his season total as he finished with three tackles versus the Irish.
Defensive end Jeff Van Orsow also saw his playing time increase game after game. Similar to Swancutt, the redshirt freshman has a motor that doesn't stop and while he does not have the array of moves Swancutt possesses, he will only get better with time. Van Orsow was constantly in the backfield as he finished with two tackles.
Defensive back Charles Burnley has played three different positions since arriving in Corvallis. The coaches moved the true freshman from tailback to receiver to defensive back. Even though he is still learning the cornerback position, he made an impact on special teams. Burnley and Lawson were the gunners during the season and played extremely well in their roles. A good performer on special teams usually translates into a good performer on defense.
Safety Lamar Herron took over kickoff duties midway through the season and while he has not excelled at the position, he has been solid. With a respectable 16.5 yards per return average, fans received a glimpse of the true freshman's athleticism that will help him in his potentially starting safety role next year.
Running back Yvenson Bernard had a rough time fielding punts. He also had a tough time fielding kickoffs. The coaches and fans could see the talent he possesses, but cringed every time he fielded a kick or punt. Bernard kept his head up and continued to practice hard. He caught his first pass as Beaver against Notre Dame as he swiftly navigated his way to a first down.