The first half stars on the offensive side of the ball are easy - quarterback Matt Moore and wide receiver Mike Hass. Yeah, Moore had some Pac-10 experience under his belt after playing at UCLA. Sure, he said the right things and looked comfortable at practice. But, could he put it all together and succeed at Oregon State? Absolutely. In just five games Moore has shown a good decision making process, agile feet and the ability to make the difficult throw. Case and point came against Boise State and Washington State as he made several key throws helping bring his team back from deficits to win.
Everyone expected Hass to have another outstanding year, but without Joe Newton and Marcel Love and a new quarterback tossing him the pigskin few would have guessed Hass would be leading the nation in receiving. Remove Hass from the team and the Beavers have just one win this year. In both come from behind victories Hass was an integral part of the team's winning drives. The value of Hass can be easily seen with this statistic - the Beavers have gone to him 33-percent of the time for first downs. You've read all the statistics and streaks that Hass has, so I will put it simply - you are watching the best receiver in Oregon State history. Enjoy it while it lasts.
On the defensive side of the ball it has been bumpy to say the least. We all know the difficulties the ends have had pressuring the quarterback and/or the cornerbacks defending the pass. And while each defensive position has had its share of struggles the most consistent play has come from the tackles. Sir Henry Anderson and Alvin Smith don't pile up the stats, but they do take up a lot of room allowing linebackers Trent Bray and Keith Ellison to reach double figures in tackles almost every game.
A large part of the second half success against Washington State had to do with blitzing, but another large part had to do with the play of Anderson and Smith, along with the other tackles, who helped shut down the Cougar rushing attack. Smith received twice the attention for much of the game which, as stated above, allowed the linebackers to shoot through the gaps and make a play on the ball.
The stars of special teams most assuredly are punter Sam Paulescu and Alexis Serna. Paulescu definitely helped the Beavers win some games last year and this year he is doing the same with his accurate and timely kicks. Serna is another well publicized story and is one of the more dependable kickers in the nation. For his career he has hit 28 of 32 (.875) field goals and 48 of 51 (.941) PATs. Serna will most likely end his career at OSU as the school's field goal record holder as he needs to make just nine field goals to overtake Kirk Yilinimi (37 of 43 (.860) | 96 of 98 (.979)).
The offense misses Joe Newton.
When Riley found that Joe Newton was out for the season he realized that his team's identity would change. Newton accounted for 56 catches, 687 yards and seven touchdowns. The Roseburg native by himself was 20-percent of the offense. This year the tight ends have combined for just 16 catches 137 yards and zero touchdowns, not good. The new identity is to throw more Hass' way as there is not enough depth or talent to fill the void left by Newton.
Although Newton has said he would like to return later this year don't count on it. Riley will only let him play if he is at 100% not eighty or even ninety.
The defense misses Bill Swancutt.
Riley was adamant that no one would replace Swancutt, but he stayed optimistic saying overall they would be better. Tough to agree with Riley on this one as the ends have been downright horrible. The ends have just two sacks and a bit over thirty tackles for the season. Swancutt was a wreaking ball in the second half of the 2004 season and this year's ends will need to step up if the Beavers hope to turn in a winning record.
Running back by committee, a fullback - neither.
With the loss of Newton and the depletion of the tight end position the coaches quickly tried to institute a fullback. They also said it would be a running back by committee. Neither technique has been used much as Bernard is the best fullback and running back which puts the coaches in a tough situation. Bernard is already carrying a tremendous amount of the offensive load as the team's leading rusher second leading receiver. Playing him at fullback is asking too much and he is the best all around back.
Bernard has clearly distanced himself from the rest of the group that includes Jimtavis Walker, Patrick Fuller and Nate Wright. The three behind Bernard have combined for just 30 carries for 97 yards and one touchdown. Despite their lack of production carrying the ball, Fuller and Wright are important parts of the special teams as Fuller serves as a gunner and Wright blocks on punt returns.
Special teams...sometimes good, sometimes bad.
While Paulescu and Serna have been outstanding the return and coverage team's have been flaky. They have yet to give up a touchdown but big gains against the unit on kickoffs have become the norm. OSU ranks ninth in the conference in kickoff coverage with a 39.2 net average. But, the kickoff return team is improving as Lamar Herron and Rickey Herod have returned several kicks over thirty yards.
The punt coverage is better and the punt return team is improving as Sammie Stroughter is just a few steps away from taking one in for six.
The cornerback position is still developing.
Everyone knew that the cornerbacks would be tested early and often and that surely has been the case. Gerard Lawson and Keenan Lewis, along with their counterparts, have given up many long plays. The good news is the players are improving, especially Lewis, and the coaches are mixing up the defensive packages to help the corners more. Lawson has also been replaced by Brandon Hughes in the line up.
Lawson, to say the least, is not happy about losing his starting spot and is working extra hard to put the pressure on Hughes. Right now though, it is Hughes' to lose and he will be put to the test at Cal in a week. Should be a fun and nerve racking position to watch.
From the start Riley has always liked his team's attitude.
"There has never been a complaint about the amount of work that we have done," Riley said after the conclusion of fall drills. "We are aiming in the right direction."
And the team didn't complain or play the blame game publicly after the humiliating loss in Louisville and the defeat at home versus Arizona State. They just kept their noses to the ground and continued to work. Last year's turnaround started with a victory over a Washington school and hinged on the stellar play of the defense. Let's hope this year's trend continues the same way. If the trend does continue and the Beavers do manage to win their next five of six contests it would be OSU's...
- fourth consecutive winning season
- sixth bowl game (fourth consecutive bowl game) in seven years
- second highest conference win total behind the seven conference wins in 2000
THE SURPRISES, good and bad
Al Afalava - With two solid performances under his belt, the true freshman will certainly see his time on the field increase. Riley always has said that he likes playmakers and Afalava is just that. When he is on the field good things happen.
Yvenson Bernard - Spoiled. Yep, that is what Beaver Nation was when they witnessed Ken Simonton and Steven Jackson back to back. The good news is that Bernard is no slouch. He doesn't have the array of spin moves like Simonton or the hammering stiff arm of Jackson but he probably has better hands than both. He is increasingly getting more comfortable between the tackles as he is making more confident moves and angling his body to pick up a few more precious yards. Plus, Bernard's value catching the ball and blocking are often overlooked.
The defensive ends - I think it is a sickness at OSU. When a good, perhaps great, defensive lineman leaves, the fans almost always overlook their impact to the previous year's team. It happened in 2001 when DeLawrence Grant and LaDairius Jackson left, it happened in 2004 when Dwan Edwards graduated and it happened in 2005 when Bill Swancutt was drafted. Beaver Nation knew in each of those years that a very productive player was absent but was confident a younger player would step up. Just like in 2001 and 2003, the coaches, fans and players are still waiting for a younger player to step up. It may be awhile, but let's hope not.
The tight ends - Believe it or not, the tight end position used to be one of the deepest spots on the team. Without Newton in the lineup the production from the group has been down right scary, and not in a good way.