Friday, July 2, 2010

Opponent Preview: OREGON STATE

Gary Patterson has already begun to raise expectations for Oregon State, reminding audiences that the Beavers were a drive away from the Rose Bowl, and return 21 starters.  While the Wimple hopes CGP's coaching is better than his math, El Bulldog is on to something: Oregon State is the toughest opener the Frogs have lined up since OU in 2005. 
Offense: Oregon State had a pass-heavy attack (65-35 pass-run) last season, with senior Sean Canfield mostly flinging the pigskin to the Rodgers brothers (who, with TE Joe Halahuni accounted for 64% of receptions and 58% of receiving yards), and handing it off to... the Rodgers brothers. Jaquizz and James (right) tallied 75% of carries, and 96% of rush yards in 2009. Those folks all are back this year, except Canfield, who graduated.

Receivers James and JaQuizz Rodgers, Halahuni, and three who had strong springs (Jordan Bishop, Markus Wheaton, and Aaron Nichols) will try to make life as easy as they can for the new quarterback. Passing percentage jumped from 60.3 in '08 to over 66% in '09; expect a return to 60%, although 6 of top 7 receivers return.

Backup runningbacks Ryan McCants (injured most of '09) and Jovan Stevenson will spell Jaquizz; McCants had a very good spring, focusing on downhill running, to complement Jaquizz's lateral moves. He wants to be the thunder to Rodgers's lightning, and appeared to be just that this spring. Oregon State hasn't averaged under 4.1 ypc for three years, and with 'Quizz back and McCants healthy will again be very productive on the ground in 2010. Countering that prediction is the very likely evening-out (at least) of the Beavers' pass-run ratio. QB Katz is not only a very inexperienced player, but he has a tendency to run it himself, which his coaches will try and pound out of him before the Frogs line up against him. (Canfield was about as mobile as a bowling pin, netting negative 160 rush yards for the Beavers last year.)

The skill players will work behind a strong line. All the beef up front is back, including backups, except for the star guard, Gregg Peat, a first-team all-Pac 10 selection in '09. Together the returners bring 74 starts to the mix, 30th best in nation. Burke Ellis and Michael Lamb are competing to replace Peat, and won't be bad replacements as their inexperience wears off. Between them they have zero starts, and snaps in only 14 games.

Of the four returners, the star this year will be sophomore Michael Philipp (right), if he recovers fully from arthroscopic surgery that kept him off the field all spring. Philipp was a freshman All-American last year; senior C Alex Linnenkohl was an honorable mention all-Pac10 in '09. Last year the group allowed only 29 sacks in '09, second lowest in 7 years (21 in '08). Given the strength returning this year up front, and the team's focus on running, expect that number to drop in '10. The biggest question facing the front five is where Philipp will play: at LT, where he played last season, or at LG? Senior Wilder McAndrews stepped up in Philipp's absence at LT this spring, and the coaches' need to have the five best players atop the depth chart may mean guards Burke Ellis and Michael Lamb have to wait another year for an opening on the first team.

So who's new in this crew? Ryan Katz (right), the starter at QB. His main competition in the spring, transfer Peter Lalich, quit the team in May. Katz was last seen being hounded in the garbage minutes of the Las Vegas Bowl by BYU's defense, which simply played faster than Oregon State all that windy night. He has a very strong arm and can scramble. Look for him to challenge the Pac-10 (or 12, or whatever)'s reigning QB leaders, but not in time to send shivers up TCU's spine: he'll be playing in only his fifth game, and making his first start, at JerryWorld on September 4.

Defense: This group returns 77.3% of its tackles from 2009, 10th best in the nation. (72.2%, or 34th best, without Pankey, who is questionable for the opener, so far.) They didn't excell at getting to the quarterback last season, tallying their lowest sack total in seven years (17).

Line: very good; DE Miller, DT Paea, DT Olander are all returning seniors; Paea was 2All-P10 last year, and is inhumanly strong. DT Castro Masaniai appears poised to thrive in the interior of the line, especially with Paea drawing so much attention. DE Taylor Henry looked very good with the first team in the spring; Henry tallied four sacks an seven tackles in the spring game.

Two of the three starting linebackers are untested, and must replace two of the Pac 10's best, Kristic and Pa'aluhi. Senior Pankey (HM all-P10) was out with ACL injury all spring; it's not clear he'll return in time to face TCU. Sophomore Unga and true frosh Akuna vie to replace him. Returning senior Dwight Roberson is the group's leader, well solidified in the spring. Also young is Robinson/Wilson at other spot. The coaches are not using a strong/weak scheme, like they have in the past. Rather, they're staying on one side of the field or the other, hoping to mask blitzes better.

Secondary: 3 of 5 are returning starters, none were all-P10. Corners Hardin and Dockery are the starters, Dockery a returning starter, Hardin new in the role (he started a few games last season). Hardin (right) is big and quick and has good hips. Hardin and Dockery both showed vulnerability in man coverage in the spring. Safety Lance Mitchell is the team interception leader (3 in '09) and the easy-call return starter. Cameron Collins (230 lbs!) is the talented upstart who hasn't yet shown every-play consistency, but is too talented to keep off the field. Collins is competing with Suiesi Tuimaunei for the second first-team spot in the secondary. A wildcard in the secondary is OU-transfer Dax Dilbeck, who has moved from QB to safety, and is playing as well, or better, than everybody else.

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