Cal vs. Oregon State Football Game Preview


Oct 12, 2013; Pullman, WA, USA; Oregon State Beavers wide receiver Brandin Cooks (7) makes a touchdown catch against the Washington State Cougars during the first half at Martin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

As you’ve noticed, I have not been able to feed you with much information about this weekend’s match up with the Oregon State Beavers. So, I’ve decided to give you the longest game preview I’ve done this season; chalk full of all the information you need to know when it comes to the Beavers:

When people think about the Pac-12 North Division, people think of classic powers such as the Oregon Ducks and Washington Huskies, and new one like the Stanford Cardinals. What people seem to forget though is that the one of the most consistently talented teams in the Pac-12 over the last decade and change is the Oregon State Beavers. The Oregon State football team has been to ten bowl games since 1999, winning seven of those games. They are looking like a lock to win play in their 11th bowl game in 15 seasons. Most of the consistency has to do with head coach Mike Riley.

Riley, who played as a defensive back at Alabama from 1971-74 (where he won a four SEC Championships and the 1973 National Championships), began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Cal in 1975. Through his travels, he’s coached in various places, including in the Canadian Football League, the World League of American Football, and a multitude of other programs in the Pac-10 before landing as the head coach in Corvallis. However, he left the Oregon State football program after two seasons to coach the San Diego Chargers. When he failed there, he coached the defensive backs in New Orleans before heading back to Corvallis.

Since then, Riley has led the Oregon State football program into seven bowl games, going 5-2. In that time, he has brought his vast coaching experience at nearly every level, and mashed it together to put out some of the best offensive units in college history. Pac-12 history at least. His teams are well oiled and are usually centered around great quarterback play.

This year, Oregon State football sits at 5-1 (their only loss coming at the hands of FCS playoff staple Eastern Washington, 49-46) and 3-0 in the Pac-12. They have one of the best offenses in the nation (ranked 15th in total offense, 1st in passing offense and 10th in scoring offense) and the best quarterback no one talks about in Sean Mannion (2,511 passing yards, 67.1 completion percentage, 25 touchdowns and 3 interceptions), as per Riley’s modus operandi. Mannion works by carving up defenses with his high football IQ and his ability to find his players in tight spots. He is a local product who has been dominating the Pac-12 defenses since stepping onto the field for the first time. In fact, he kind of reminds me of Jared Goff. He started as a thrower who had a cannon arm, and has blossomed into a tough, accurate, smart quarterback who really plays like – dare I say – Aaron Rodgers.

This team also features wide receiver Brandin Cooks, a short but fast receiver who very much works in the mold of the Oregon State football legend James Rodgers. He can run, catch and get by defenders without even spilling one droplet of sweat. He will beat anyone who steps up and defends him. He has rushed for 106 yards on 16 rushes with a score, plus has caught 63 passes for 944 yards and 11 touchdowns. He is versatile and will torch whoever Andy Buh puts on him this weekend.

The most underrated man in the receiving corps is sophomore Richard Mullaney. Mullaney is the kind of player who has hands, speed and agility. A total package player. He also is keen for getting open at the most important times. He is probably the best receiver going forward for this Oregon State football team, but he is also someone who is probably going to be able to out class the defense because of his size (6’3, 194 pounds). He currently has 30 receptions for 521 yards and two touchdowns.

What Oregon State is without is a good rushing attack. Currently, they sit 124th out of 125 teams in FBS play in rushing offense. Their best rusher (other than Cooks, who is statistically the best in terms of yards per carry) is Storm Woods. The inconsistent sophomore has rushed for 170 yards on 57 carries with 4 touchdowns. For you math-heads, that’s only three more touchdowns and 64 yards and 41 more carries than Cooks has. And he’s not even the worst of it. Junior Terron Ward has looked horrible, rushing for 151 yards on 51 carries with only two scores. Not to mention, they’ve already lost three fumbles this year. The problem isn’t the rush blocking or even the play calling, but just the underachievement of the runners (both of whom had breakout seasons last year). They both remind me of the Brendan Bigelow/Daniel Lasco rushing attack. Where Ward is effective is in the passing game, where he has been the primary pass catcher on screen plays (154 yards on 15 catches and 2 touchdowns).

Defensively, the team is weird. They aren’t great (71st in total defense, 99th in passing defense and 94th in scoring defense). Where Oregon State football has an advantage is that they are decent against the run. They rank 41st in rushing defense and 46th in sacks. They also have show the ability to make big plays. They are 9th in turnover margin (+8, with 12 interceptions and 3 fumble recoveries). In other words, they are good enough to make teams pay for stupid mistakes, and Cal (as we all know) has shown an ability to make stupid mistakes.

The main guy to watch on the Oregon State secondary is Steven Nelson. Quietly, Nelson has become the nation’s leader in interceptions with five. He is opportunistic and loves to make big plays. He is someone who plays a lot bigger than he is (5’11, 192 pounds) and can make plays with his very sure hands. He has 29 tackles (23 solo) and a scoring touchdown. Rashaad Reynolds has an additional 3 interceptions and 21 tackles. This tandem is likely to make Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper have to work really hard to get into open space.

The final guy I want to touch on is safety Tyrequek Zimmerman. The reason I want to mention him is because he is a dual-threat kind of player. He can play the pass very well (he has two pass deflections) and can defend the run very well (1 sack). He leads the team in tackles (47) and is someone who can find himself in nearly every section of the field. He is someone who will give Cal lots of fits.

When it comes down to it, this game is about Cal’s ability to stop the pass, something they haven’t done yet. They didn’t do it when they needed to against UCLA, Oregon or Washington State. They are in limbo. They know the season is probably over, and while playing spoiler is something they can do, it seems so unlikely that they’ll be able to do it during this game because Oregon State features the exact team that gives Cal problems. Great receivers, an amazing quarter back, a defense that is good against the pass when it needs to be, great against the run and smart.

Oregon State football is looking towards another bowl game. A win here cements that they’ll be playing for one this year. They want this game so bad, and they know they can out gun Cal fairly easily.

In order for Cal to have a shot, they’d need to play defense (which is a no-go at this point), they’d need to run the ball well (also a no-go) and they’d have to be perfect passing the ball (also doubtful). Ergo, this game seems like it’ll be less pretty than the UCLA game or even the Ohio State game.

Personally, I’d argue that Mannion is the best quarterback that the Oregon State football program has had in a long time (possibly ever). He’s only 23 touchdowns behind the great Derek Anderson (who through 79 for his career) and he’s made a career of destroying ravaged defensive units (like Cal has). I think that we’re going to see the kind of game where both he and Goff (who, for my money, is still the best freshman quarterback in the nation) shine, but the better defense shows up. Cal’s defense is bad, and while Oregon State’s isn’t great, it’s still relatively healthy and more talented than the one featured in Berkeley.

Look for a game that looks a lot like the Washington State game, and look for the Oregon State football team to make a run for that second place spot in the Pac-12 North Division race.