The question in the middle

IT TOOK AWHILE. Oregon State didn't begin to find their stride on the interior of the defensive line until the second half of the season. But once Brennan Olander emerged, that in turn freed up Stephen Paea, and it's been a tackle-for-loss, pocket-crunching d-line of disruption ever since. Yet just as Olander was becoming a real force, he was dinged last week. What does it mean for the Civil War?

Brennan Olander sprained his ACL in the first quarter in the win over WSU. Although he didn't return, he was jogging on the sideline during the game.

The first word on Olander came right after the WSU game --Mike Riley was worried, saying the knee injury could be serious. But a day later, Riley said indications were much more positive, saying he thought Olander would play in Thursday's upcoming Civil War and that he was "above the doubtful stage."

As with most sprain injuries, it'll probably be wait and see between now and Thursday on if Olander will start/play and if so, will he be less than 100 percent?

LAST YEAR, IT was Stephen Paea who was injured coming into the Civil War. He played hurt from Week 9 on, with a sprained MCL plus a bursa sac injury. And it showed -- he went from dominating to merely solid.

OSU defensive coordinator Mark Banker rotates up front -- a lot. Will Banker rotate even more given Olander's injury?

Whether Olander is ready to go or not, it just became hugely important for seniors Latu Moala and Sioeli Nau and junior Mitchel Hunt to have good practice weeks.

Moala won the starting job coming out of fall camp and started three games earlier this season, (he effectively had four but OSU started in a three-man front against UNLV according to the official stats) before being replace by Olander.

Despite his 285-pounds, Moala is so athletic and runs so well that he's not only on OSU's kickoff team, he's been a playmaker for the Beavs there. Hunt and Nau in rotation have played well in spots this season, but don't have many tackles to show for it and along with Moala they haven't, naturally, been the disruptive force Olander and Paea have been as the starters.

WITH DEFENSIVE PENETRATION and strong play in the middle such a big key against Oregon's read-option offense, Olander's readiness will be a hot topic this week.

If Oregon State is to go to the Rose Bowl, they'll need strong play from both d-tackle spots. Paea can be virtually unblockable when he's one-on-one. But if he's double teamed, it gets a lot harder for the Beavs.

That's a large part of what made Olander special these last few games, he forced opposing offenses to account for him and they couldn't double Paea nearly as often. Olander was such an early force against Washington, there were times they were assigning two men to block him.

Six more days. And Beaver fans will have their answers to the question in the middle.

BF.C Correspondent Chad Luther contributed to this article.

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