STRETCH RUN: Defensive line

AS THE SAYING goes, the offense gets the glory in scoring the points, but you win with defense. And the d-line unit will play a very big role in deciding whether OSU puts together yet another heady, finishing run and match that of the last two years. During this bye week and as the Beavs enter the final regular season stretch, a closer look at the stop corps -- starting with the defensive line.

Defensive Line

Depth chart*

LE: Victor Butler (Sr.), Kevin Frahm (RFr.), Carl Sommer (RFr.)
LT: Stephen Paea (So.), Brennan Olander (So.), Mitchel Hunt (So.)
RT: Pernnell Booth (Sr.), Sioeli Nau (Jr.), Latu Moala (Jr.)
RE: Slade Norris (Sr.), Ben Terry (Jr.), Evan Hull (So.), Tom Hansen (So.)
*Not an official depth chart but based on observation of games and practice.

A look back at the storyline this summer: Butler was named to the preseason Hendricks Award Watch List. Booth fully recovered from an ankle injury. Simi Kuli probably wouldn't make it until after the season began which meant he could possibly redshirt. Tonu Tuimalealiifano had surgery on his left knee in the summer and would miss the season.

A look back at the storyline coming into fall camp: Oregon State had proved they could be effective by using 8-10 players on the defensive line. Despite losing seven players, and nine overall from last year's rotation, the prospects were still bright to rotate and have quality play. But the game is not played on potential and the quest to solidify the two deeps began. By the end of fall camp, there was real concern on the defense. The Beaver offense was winning the battle from the second week on more often than not -- and more than made Oregon State fans feel comfortable.

A look back at the storyline after two games: Things looked shaky. Hendricks Award Watch List candidate Butler, who actually burst onto the watch midseason last year, was the line's most explosive playmaker -- and there was not much else to write home about. The defensive tackles were not consistently winning the battles and were, at times, non-factors. Norris had not yet broken out and found his groove. Kuli, who many were counting on to come in, contend immediately for a starting spot and be a difference maker his first year in the Pac-10, was now all but certain not to make it in time for '08.

The storyline headed into the final stretch run: What a difference six weeks can make. Oregon State now holds their own fate in their hands in the Pac-10 race -- they have one league loss and have yet to play all the other teams who have one loss. Paea and Booth have asserted themselves and are a big reason for that -- they're a combined 595 pounds of hard-to-move beef. Why the sudden effectiveness since Week 2? One reason is because they're now using proper pad level, and leverage, in concert with their strength.

Paea came to OSU raw and strong but he's proven to be a fast learner, and his speed for his size is rare. Oregon State was the only Pac-10 school to offer him and the Beavs have him for two more years after this one. Booth has raised the level of his game, and has become adept at clogging up the middle and allowing his defense mates to make the tackle.

Norris came into the season as a pass rushing specialist and his performance in that regard has only taken a sharp upturn since Week 3. But he has also, in posting a heady 8.5 tackles-for-loss, become quite an accomplished run stopper, something that was not foreseen by many in the Beaver Nation.

Butler has been a rock. Teams have focused more of their efforts on him since Week 2 so his stats have not been as eye popping as they would be but he's still putting up some impressive numbers (28 tackles, 7 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 FF) and when he doesn't get the tackle, he's still chasing down ballcarriers and disrupting the play to the point others do.

JUST AS BIG a story as the starters have been is the rotation and its effectiveness. It's allowed the front line starters a valuable recharge time and helped them to be fresher headed in the second half.

At d-tackle, sophomore Brennan Olander, and juniors Sioeli Nau and Latu Moala, have given OSU one of the deepest, positions on the team. They are still learning, and there will always be more flashes of inconsistency when that's the case, but they've been more effective than many expected them to be. The same holds true at d-end with with footed Ben Terry and home grown talent Kevin Frahm. Terry in recent weeks in particular looks like the light bulb is beginning to turn on.

Kuli's non-arrival was thought by some to be a big blow and especially after the first two games -- hasn't turned out that way. Oregon State has produced a formidable run stopping duo on the inside in Paea and Booth. Looking beyond that, Hunt, a sophomore who many feel might almost be ready to shine, and Olander, Nau and Moala, have impressed coaches with their gap plugging, strength and ability to pick up the game.

And one of the key points to the unit's success is that the Beavs have stayed healthy here. Oregon State is better equipped than most on the d-line if they were to withstand injuries -- but staying relatively healthy across the board is naturally better still, and it's a credit to the Beavs' summer conditioning program, and also lady luck.

WITH THE BEAVERS churning out some of the top defenses in the nation the last few seasons, the bar is set extremely high. This year was supposed the first true test of the OSU system on the defensive line. Would this be a rebuilding year or a reloading year on the line?

With five regular season games to go, the answer has been the latter, and by a wide margin.

NOTABLE NOTES:
Expected to redshirt: DE Taylor Henry (Fr., 6-1, 222), DT Castro Masaniai (Fr., 6-2, 298), DT Jesse Fifita (Fr., 6-1, 276)

Walk-ons who arrived this fall: DL Andrew Seumalo (6-3, 238), DE Curtis Dodson (RFr., 6-0, 238)


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