What's next, and now, for Beaver stop corps

THERE'S STILL A bowl game to go before the book closes on 2008. And a convincing win over a strong opponent, say, No. 23 Pitt, would help salve at least some of the sting from a Civil War loss. But it's also never too early to look ahead and one of the questions surrounding next season; whither the '09 Beaver stop corps? Also, a look at a rather amusing misconception making the rounds these days.

Oregon State's defense wasn't supposed to be much good this year. After all, defensive coordinator Mark Banker was replacing his entire starting front seven. And it sure seemed like coachspeak when OSU defensive line coach Joe Seumalo boldly said this past February that OSU would be faster up front, and better, than the vaunted '07 crew.

Until the Civil War, however, the Beavs were surrendering less than 300 yards per game to their opponents and had -- in some ways -- made a prophet out of Seumalo.

OSU was ranked No. 2 in the Pac-10 in total defense -- and No. 13 in the nation -- after 11 games. Alas, it was a 12-game season.

ALLOWING NEARLY 700 yards to Oregon dropped Oregon State to No. 33 in the nation and No. 3 in the Pac-10 in total defense.

A precipitous decline, to be sure. But No. 3 in the Pac-10 and still among the nation's better teams. And a defense that will finish even higher with a strong outing in their bowl game. And did we mention they had seven new starters on the defensive live and in the linebacking corps.

The Beavs next season, barring something unforeseen, will face just as big a challenge -- eight players listed on the depth chart as defensive starters against Oregon are all graduating.

But there are reasons to believe Oregon State will, once again, reload.

AND THEY DID reload this year -- despite the clamor over the loss to the Ducks. Yes, it was a very big loss. And no question, it was the way they lost that was such a blow.

But there always exists an overreaction (positive or negative) to the most recent game played, and some of what's out there post Civil War, such as the view that the Beavs did it with smoke and mirrors all year and were finally exposed in the final game, is downright comical.

Oregon State played awful on defense the last Saturday in November. Bad angles, poor tackling, an inability to shed blocks, you name it. But does that now overshadow all else that came before it? Does one game render the preceding 11 meaningless?

Not a chance. And anyone who takes that position doesn't know much about, and probably shouldn't write about, the game of football -- unless they really enjoy being wrong.

The loss does hurt more than most, and it counts for more than most. It was the Beavs' rivalry game, it was for a Rose Bowl berth and the yards surrendered by a previously stingy D were shocking. It would be inaccurate to go so far as to call it an aberration. But it's not an absolute unto itself, either.

THE BIGGEST NEEDS for next season look to be on the defensive line and in the secondary. At d-tackle, the Beavs lose Pernnell Booth but they return Stephen Paea, who turned into an unstoppable force in the Hawaii game until a balky bursa sac slowed him down over the final stretch.

Just as importantly, and in a mirror image of the '07 season, Banker got the d-line depth a very large amount of meaningful reps and minutes this year. DTs Brennan Olander, Sioeli Nau, Latu Moala and Mitchel Hunt made good use of that, and all showed why the Beavs might be formidable in the middle in '09.

Out on the edge is not as clear cut. Replacing Victor Butler and Slade Norris will likely fall first to Ben Terry and Kevin Frahm. Each had their moments but a good amount of more work remains to be accomplished in winter workouts and the spring session, and the likely too the summer workouts and in fall camp before d-end feels as potential-filled as does the interior.

At linebacker, the Beavs will lose Bryant Cornell, who played the best football of his career in the latter half of '08. But David Pa'aluhi III this year showed he could end up being something special. And the emergence of Dwight Roberson, with returning starters Keaton Kristick and Keith Pankey, make for what could be a very solid group. There will be losses in the depth, in reserves Isaiah Cook, Dennis Christopher and Casey Noack. The Beavs will need a few guys who plied their wares on the scout team this season to emerge as solid reserves who can play meaningful minutes.

One big hit will be at corner with the graduation on Brandon Hughes and Keenan Lewis. Corners get blasted by fans because they're mostly noticeable when they're getting beat. But while television doesn't show all the times they shut someone down make no mistake, OSU will miss those two guys a ton. They were a huge part of why the Beaver D played as well as it did overall this season. Tim Clark got tons of reps this year and now must take the next step and elevate his game even further. And Brandon Hardin, Patrick Henderson and others must also have that light bulb go on.

At safety, the Beavs lose two excellent run stoppers in Al Afalava and Greg Laybourn. While the OSU safeties were criticized by fans for their pass defense, particularly Laybourn, they played the pass better in the latter half and they deserve more credit overall than they probably got from the fan base at times. Bottom line? Lance Mitchell, Suaesi Tuimaunei and Cameron Collins all have their work cut out for them.

ULTIMATELY, IN LOOKING forward, it bears repeating that very few thought the Beavs would be anything close to No. 33 and No. 3 in the Pac-10 in total defense at the end of the 2008 regular season -- and very few thought the Beavs would rotate as much as they did this season.

And while you're thinking about that, think about this. When you're solid at defensive tackle, oh how a whole bunch of other things open up from there. And all of them are good.

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