WSU will take on Oregon State in a homecoming matchup that will serve as a significant measuring stick for the Cougars coming off back-to-back strong road performances, including last week's win over Oregon.
However, this is also an important matchup for the Beavers, who have faced a trio of difficult FBS opponents in the last four weeks (at Michigan, vs. Stanford and at Arizona). The Wildcats would roundly be considered the weakest of those three at this point, yet they put the worst hurt on OSU with a 37-point margin.
Put frankly, OSU is likely looking at WSU as its best shot at a win since facing San Jose State a few weeks ago. Let's learn more about the Beavers in this Q&A with Building The Dam's AndyPanda and RVM.
CougCenter: What has the transition from Mike Riley to Gary Andersen been like?
Andy: Massive. Its been not just a change in staff, and a change in schemes (which were extreme changes), its been a change of philosophy and culture. Everything from how practices are run, how the staff interacts with the media and the customer base, the day to day schedule, and how the program interacts with the rest of campus and the community are different.
The fact that Riley was here for so long, and with the same athletic director, who is also gone, that it made the total upheaval all the more jolting, as everyone, for better or worse, was pretty settled into things.
Every day is still a new experience in one way or another, and I'd expect that to continue for quite a while.
RVM (Robert): I agree and I also want to really emphasize the aspect of it is going to be a new experience for us to all settle into. Riley was here for a long time, and yes for better and for worse we came to expect a certain system. I think that it all fell into place for sure, this change and the timing was good. It is going to be a tricky balance of being patient about the change but at the same time not always thinking okay it is different so things will get better soon and not see any positive signs moving forward.
Hope that makes some sense, for I do think there will be lots of adjustment, but we’ll also expect for things to change for the better sooner than later if we don’t see some movement forward.
CougCenter: OSU is running the ball a pretty extreme amount -- nearly 60 percent of the time. Is that out of necessity, or does this reflect the style Andersen wants to play?
Andy: Both. The Beavers have a quarterback who is a weapon running the ball for the first time in nearly 20 years, and at this point, still a better runner than he is a passer. But Andersen also wants to ultimately run the ball a lot, both by the quarterback, and also by running backs. You have only to look back at his 2 years at Wisconsin to see that.
A third factor is a defense that's thin as much or more than it is young or inexperienced (and they are both of those as well). Running the ball, if successful (which it hasn't always been), keeps the defense from having to be on the field all game long.
RVM: Funny in how that looks on paper for to me personally I wish there was a bit more running by the backs. Granted the Beavs got down quickly and big to Arizona, but at the same time the establishing the run game has been weak this season. I think the numbers are skewed because of the running of QB Seth Collins.
So I guess in the end I am with Andy here, I just don’t know if the on-paper numbers reflect a good execution of the rush game, but that was not necessarily the question was it. Yes it does reflect the new view on getting more out of the QB in terms of rushing ability and they were able to bring in someone like Collins.
CougCenter: Collins, a freshman, is the focal point of the offense, leading the team in both passing and rushing. Please give us a scouting report.
Andy: He's a rail-thin 18 year old who is capable of being a highlight reel, but is also still learning the finer points of being a big-time quarterback (as you might expect). He is a fast and nimble runner, and his leaping ability is well documented, but one of the things the coaches have been working with him on is knowing when to run, and when not to, and trust his protection instead of breaking for the edge at the first sign of pressure. That said, there are times when he is Oregon State's best option.
As a passer, he does have the arm to make all the throws, and has hooked up especially with Jordan Villamin deep multiple times. But his accuracy is still a work in progress, and the short passing game that is the backbone of Andersen's offense is at once his greatest strength, as he has the zip to make the passes, and his greatest challenge, as that's where accuracy and timing issues are hardest for receivers to adjust to.
He's still learning to make multiple, advanced reads, and while he's gotten better at knowing when to throw the ball away, he's also led his receivers into massive collisions. Villamin nearly got killed on one crossing route last week at Arizona where the lead led him into a triple team.
One of the biggest issues with inexperienced quarterbacks is often that they don't get through their progressions to find tight ends, who often are down the progression, and also in heavy traffic. Coach Riley's pro-style quarterbacks like Sean Mannion have long made a lot of big plays on passes to tight ends, and a glance at the season stats will show you that the tight ends are almost absent from the receiving statistics this season. Caleb Smith is out for the season, but there are others who need to be a bigger piece of the Oregon State offense, and so far, that's too often eluded Collins.
RVM: Oh, not sure there is a lot to add here! I’d say also that there is a weird good-bad-ugly deal with how Collins plays. When he finds a lane to run and the defense is on their heels for the call it is a thing of beauty, or at times he has thrown some strikes where he looks like a veteran. At other times he looks out of his depth and either looks behind a step in finding guys in stride in their routes, or over works the rushing too much and tries to run through guys he probably should not be trying to run through! Lots of potential and lots of rawness with Collins.
CougCenter: If another offensive player is going to haunt our dreams, who is it going to be?
Andy: Storm Woods is quietly putting together a good season to cap a good career. He recently became only the second Beaver to have over 2,000 rushing yards and over 1,000 receiving yards, joining Jacquizz Rodgers. He past the 2,500 yard rushing mark in Tucson, and if he has only an average day running the ball against Washington State, he will move to #5 on the all-time rushing list at Oregon State.
And Andersen and Offensive Coordinator Dave Baldwin will try to establish the run to try to keep Luke Falk and the Coug offense on the sideline as long as possible, where they can't do any damage from.
RVM: Darn, I also like Barrs-Woods here too! But let’s add another one for the sake of mixing things up a bit too! I’ll go with Victor Bolden, for he has had an off season so far for sure. He was coming into this season with expectations for much better and dynamic play. So let’s say Bolden finds his game, recaptures his potential coming into this season, and has a breakout game!
CougCenter: OSU has faced three Power 5 schools, and all three have been run-heavy teams. WSU obviously is not that. Any guesses as to how the Beavers will hold up against a team that’s going to throw it 50 or 60 times?
Andy: Based on what happened against Arizona, where Anu Solomon threw for 276 yards on 17 completions (out of only 30 throws), probably not as well as hoped. The thought was that a spread offense, even a run based one, would be a better matchup for the Oregon State defense than power rushing teams like Michigan and Stanford. Instead, the Beavers had their worst defensive outing of the season, as the combination of speed and playing the whole field exposed a number of problems with reads and coverage responsibilities that didn't come up in previous games.
The defensive coordinator talked a lot about being in the right place this week, and he has plenty of game video to illustrate his points with.
Still, the Oregon State defense leads the Pac-12 in passing yards allowed, and overall, the defense has played above expectations. I expect some improvement this week, but it might not show against the "Air Raid" unless the defensive front can get some pressure on Falk. They were largely ineffective in doing so to Solomon, and that in turn exposed the secondary. That is probably harder to fix than coverage mis-reads. I'd expect a variety of blitzes to address that.
RVM: This comes down to putting pressure on Falk, for the secondary has shown some pretty big holes in downfield coverage and the across the middle coverage has lost receivers, too. If Falk has time to find the open guys, and it is fast and good bunch of receivers, it will wear down the defense with those type of attempt numbers. The linebacker rush will be important too, and I will be curious to see if there will be more blitzes going on.
I’ll say also that the defense needs to play tight in a smart manner, and allow no big runs because they are so keyed on trying to keep Falk under pressure and the passing offense off-balance. So even though all facets will be important (as already highlighted the front line and secondary will have to up their games), I think the key on defense could well fall to the linebackers for they will be the ones under the most pressure to keep both the WSU passing and rushing under control.
CougCenter: If Oregon State is going to leave Pullman with a victory, it’s going to happen like this ...
Andy: Collins take another step forward against a secondary that isn't the toughest one he will encounter, and find a tight end on a few occasions. Woods will get to the second level with some regularity, and Villamin will have caught a deep ball touchdown.
The Beavers will also get to Falk with blitzes a few times, and get a couple of turnovers along the way as well.
RVM: WSU comes out a bit flat or bit too tight (letdown or too nervous for homecoming), makes some miscues and creates a bit of an opening for the Beavs to find some confidence. Oregon State then is able to score on a couple solid drives and Collins shows both his rushing and passing ability keeping the Cougs off balance. And yes Woods then is able to get solid touches and is able to help Oregon State’s offense control clock.
This then allows for the defense to play while ahead of things and find a solid bend-but-don’t-break rhythm to the game. Also I think even with that scenario that the Beavs will need to dig deep and play at full speed for the full game. I doubt even if WSU is off they will take their foot off the offensive pedal, so the Beavs will need to score over 30, maybe over 40 points to be in this one.