Beavers bring a 6-0 record into game against Huskies, featuring a roster with several Washington players — just not the highly recruited ones.
Oregon State comes to CenturyLink Field on Saturday night to play Washington, and I’d submit this is the worst kind of team for the beleaguered Huskies to be playing.
Forget the fact OSU is unbeaten in six games, ranked seventh and having a season that seems to have been scripted at Universal Studios. That’s challenge enough. If the Huskies have to play a top-10 team right now, they need some mercurial, flighty outfit looking ahead to the Civil War game or beyond.
That’s not the Beavers.
“They know who they are,” says Mark Speckman, who knows them pretty well himself. He’s the first-year coach at Menlo College in the Bay Area, and was at Willamette University a few years ago when OSU coach Mike Riley picked his brain about installing the fly sweep into the offense.
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“They’re looking for a certain type of kid,” Speckman says. “He doesn’t have to the biggest or fastest, perhaps, but they’ll put him in a scheme where he can be successful, love ‘em up so he’ll run through walls for them. They’ll pass on the glitzy, highly ranked recruit to get the right guy.”
Speckman was a bit taken aback when OSU leaned on him for the nuances of the fly sweep.
“I give ‘em credit,” he says. “A lot of guys, if it’s not coming from the NFL or a big-time program, they tend not to want to try it.”
But that’s how they do things at OSU. While some fans obsess over the “stars” assigned to recruits, hardly anybody gets excited about Oregon State’s list — until three years later.
In particular, OSU has been regularly plucking players out of Washington — 13 on the roster, nine on the two-deep. Was there a Washington fan who got as worked up when Scott Crichton of Tacoma chose OSU — he might be the Pac-12 defensive player of the year — as they did when primo offensive linemen Zach Banner and Josh Garnett left the state last winter?
Ask Andy Griffith, uh, Riley, what he told his team to flush away last year’s 3-9 season, and he says, “I don’t remember me giving any dramatic talk.” Instead, he mentions several team leaders “who didn’t really like being 3-9,” one of them cornerback Jordan Poyer, whom the Beavers spirited out of that football hotbed/fishing village, Astoria, Ore.
“They suffered with a couple of not-very-good recruiting years,” says Steve Coury, a standout receiver there three decades ago and a longtime coach at Lake Oswego High who does some TV analysis of the Beavers. “I think they realized that. They got some really good young players last year, bit the bullet, played them and they stepped over guys that were in the program and just couldn’t do it.”
Coury also points to some subtle staff changes. Longtime Riley assistant Mark Banker has been freed of position duties to spend all his time coordinating the defense. The Beavers have become more multiple on that side and, says Riley, are “playing more nickel and dime defense than ever in our history.”
Meanwhile, Riley took over play-calling duties, and, says Coury, “That’s made a big difference. He’s got a great knack for it.”
When Coury hangs around the program, he says he can feel the down-home core of it.
“It feels like it’s still a game and it’s still fun,” he says. “It reminds me of high school. It sure has a feeling of: This is a great place to be.”
That’s how the top 10 is supposed to feel, even if the road traveled isn’t so conventional.
And what’s more …
• Here’s what a night defending the Oregon offense can do to your statistical profile: A week ago, Arizona State was allowing 128.5 yards a game rushing, and 3.2 yards per play. Some 406 Ducks rushing yards later, the Sun Devils’ numbers are now 168.1 and 3.9.
• In the same number of games, Arizona has 99 more first downs than Utah.
• California has allowed more tackles for loss (67) than any team in the country. That’s one per eight plays.
• Todd Graham‘s embargo on penalties at Arizona State has had astounding results. The Sun Devils have committed 28 — 14 fewer than the next-least penalized Pac-12 team — for an average 28 yards a game. That used to be Vontaze Burfict‘s ration pretty much all by himself.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org