Five Things We Learned About The Oregon State Beavers
By John Baker
Oregon State got its 2014 season off to a good start on Saturday, battling a pesky Portland State squad into the fourth quarter before putting the Vikings away, 29-14. By that measure, both teams were able to walk away feeling good about their showings because the first game of any season is a time for learning and providing a foundation for teams to build upon moving forward.
The Beavers actually trailed, 14-13, at the half and struggled at times to move the ball in what could be described as an up-and-down performance. Given that, let's look at five things we learned about Oregon State in its opener.
Offensive line questions
There were plenty of questions in the spring when injuries to two starters left the Beavers with five new offensive linemen looking for reps. With starting center Isaac Seumalo still absent while he recovers from a broken foot, it was apparent that the offensive line struggled to find cohesion for most of the game. Portland State harried Beavers quarterback Sean Mannion all afternoon, and Portland State's defensive line won way too many battles for a FBS school going against a BCS team.
The Vikings were able to stop the Beavers' running game between the tackles far too often and created stalemates against OSU's offensive line. Mannion wasn't as sharp as expected, and one of the reasons was his offensive line was getting beat far too often. Oregon State needs to get its offensive line solidified in order to keep Mannion upright and comfortable. It also needs to get some push up front to help a running game that is vital to Oregon State's offense. Despite the win on Saturday, that wasn't happening as often as it should have for the Beavers.
Lot to like with Bolden
Coming into the season, the question was who would replace All-American receiver Brandin Cooks? Victor Bolden may not be a replacement for Cooks, but he just might be the second coming of former receiver James Rodgers. The Beavers threw and handed the ball to Bolden a total of 11 times for 93 yards. Bolden, who has tremendous speed, was a constant threat on the "fly sweep," a play that Rodgers ran so well for Coach Mike Riley just a few years ago. The play had kind of faded away after Rodgers graduated, but Bolden proved to be a threat on numerous sweeps with his speed getting him to the edge quickly. Bolden didn't have a monster game, but demonstrated that he is capable of making plays in both phases of the offense. He certainly looks like a key player for the Beavers moving forward.
Receivers need to be better
Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion was 26-of-45 for 328 yards and a touchdown, but that doesn't tell the full story. Mannion had at least six passes that either missed or were broken up by tight coverage. Oregon State's receivers need to do a much better job of getting separation from defensive backs. Again, you're talking BCS-quality receivers against FBS-level defensive backs and, even on several completions, the Vikings' defensive backs were in position to make plays, but simply didn't. While Bolden emerged as a potential weapon, the rest of the receiving corps struggled to get open. Richard Mullaney had five catches, but the majority went to tight ends or running backs. That's not going to work long-term for Oregon State.
The Doctor is back
The return of fifth-year senior Michael Doctor at linebacker after missing all of last season with an ankle injury is a boon to Oregon State, which traditionally plays tough defense, particularly against the run. That wasn't necessarily the case last year and, despite the return of last season's linebacking corps, you could see that Doctor's presence adds a dimension to the unit. Doctor was in on five tackles and had a tackle for loss, but more importantly, he was also a leader that the Beavers' defense can rally around. He looked like he hadn't lost a step from his all-conference form of two seasons ago.
A secondary playmaker?
Starting safety Tyrequek Zimmerman made quite the impression Saturday, recording five tackles and two passes defensed with a pair of interceptions. Zimmerman, who had no picks in 2013, played with far more confidence in the season opener, making plays all over the field and breaking on the ball with authority. Oregon State's defense is at its most effective when there's a playmaking safety roaming its secondary. Zimmerman had the look of a playmaker, something that he didn't have a season ago, and that really stood out as a key ingredient in Oregon State's defensive scheme.