Boise State takes on Oregon State on Christmas Eve in the Hawaii Bowl and to get to know the Beavers a bit more we reached out to the staff at Building the Dam to answer some questions about the team leading up to the bowl game.
Some of the answers build off others as there are three responses to each question that was asked.
1. Oregon State has had two completely different halves to their season, so what has changed from the first half to the second half?
AndyPanda: A couple of things happened; most notably a massive increase in the level of competition. Stanford, USC, Arizona St., Washington, and Oregon was a pretty tough run of quality opponents, and well coached ones too.
But there were also some injury problems in the receiving corp; possession receiver Kevin Cummings broke his wrist against Stanford, TE Connor Hamlett struggled with a knee problem, and TE Caleb Smith had a back injury. That constrained Sean Mannion's options a lot.
RVM: Yes, the main thing was that the first half competition was not as high quality wise, but also the Beavs got Utah early enough (especially since it was at their place) to take advantage of the Utes struggling at the time to shore up their defense, and also got WSU in-between a couple nice Cougar runs.
I said this somewhere in that tough second half and it was too bad the Beavs did not get say Washington more mid-season or USC early season and say Colorado later. I agree also with Andy and the skill positions injuries in the passing game, which compounded with the all season issues with the run game, did help taking away from Mannion's stride. The back-and-forth with the offensive line was an issue and the patch-work approach became too exposed against better athletes on teams like those the Beavs played in the second half.
ConnorOSU: Well, the schedule for one. Stanford and a Lane Kiffin-less USC back to back are a lot tougher than facing Colorado and Washington State. Sean Mannion was rattled against the Cardinal and didn't bounce back until the Oregon game, and without Mannion, this offense simply doesn't run. As Andy said, the injuries to Connor Hamlett and and Kevin Cummings did not do us any favors either.
Hawaii Bowl coverage
2. Most people know quarterback Sean Mannion is very good at throwing the ball for Oregon State, but provide us an overview of what the Beavers offense is all about?
AndyPanda: Oregon St. (finally) got a running game going against Oregon, and if they can repeat that against Boise St., it will help a lot. Because the offense is built around Mannion distributing the ball to multiple receivers, WRs, TEs, and RBs, and both downfield and on short routes, forcing the opponent's defense to defend a lot of territory on every play.
The better the ball distribution, the greater the likelihood that Brandin Cooks can find an opening. When he does, Mannion will find him, and often.
RVM: OSU's offense is a more traditional "pro" set type of pocket passing and one back offense. In Riley's ideal scheme there is more balance here, and he actually likes more of a smash-mouth type approach then they has been able to run this season for sure. It is totally obvious I know, but so much of it revolves around the offensive line and since they had such issues with injuries that they had to move around to set up for the strength of the offense and that of course has been Mannion. As seen by what they were not able to do against Stanford, USC, and Washington this played against the offensive one-dimensionality. But as seen early on it did also create for some very dynamic passing schemes and performances. The Oregon deal was an interesting one and this seemed like a nice perfect storm of what the Riley offenses want to do and with the UO's struggles on defense against the run it became a golden opportunity. Will be interesting to see if it can continue for the Bowl game against Boise State.
ConnorOSU: Passing, passing, and more passing. Mike Riley finally chose to try a ground attack against Oregon and it worked well, so we'll see if he continues to try and pound it against Boise State. But let's make it clear, this is an air-based attack. Getting Cummings and Hamlett back for the bowl will open up Mannion's options, and as long as he gets a reasonable amount of time in the pocket, he should be able to pick apart the Bronco defense with a litany of targets.
3. What about their defense, who are the key players and strength in that unit?
AndyPanda: DEs Scott Crichton and Dylan Wynn, who also move around (Wynn has come from both DT spots in a 4-3, and Crichton has been at NG in a 3-4 as well), will try to bring pressure on whomever the opposing quarterback is from all angles. When they succeed, there isn't a lot of time to dissect Oregon St.'s nickel and dime packages. It can lead to interceptions when balls get hurried into coverage.
MWC bowl coverage
MWC bowl coverage
Senior captain CB Rashaad Reynolds is the most experienced member of the Oregon St. secondary, and made the All-Pac-12 Second Team. CB Steven Nelson is the fastest member of the Beaver defense, and rivals Cooks' speed. He can close ground faster than most, including quarterbacks, realize.
A problem will be the absence of LB D.J. Alexander, who had surgery this past week to take care of some bone spurs in his neck and shoulder that have caused him repeated problems with stingers, and will keep him out of the bowl game.
RVM: Don't have a lot more to add beyond Andy's analysis, but will add that the LBs are key here and unfortunately as Andy has pointed out they are once again in a flux situation. They just have not been able to keep a core group out there to find that consistent anchor to the Banker defense.
Crichton will be of note in this game and will he play for a possible jump to the next level audition? Defense overall though been a mixed-bag this year for sure. I personally think they have performed a bit better than many out there, but they have not had a truly breakout stellar game that is for sure. Would be nice to see them raise up against a team that may not be as prepped and used to as say Pac-12 teams are for the Banker schemes.
ConnorOSU: Dylan Wynn and Scott Crichton lead the defensive line, and have been successful at times in causing havoc. Steven Nelson and Rashaad Reynolds are who you need to watch out for in the secondary. Both have come up with huge interceptions at times.
4. How is Oregon State preparing for this game now that Boise State no longer has Chris Petersen, or is there any difference at all?
AndyPanda: Expecting that even without Peterson, the Broncos will run the same offense, and given that the acting coach is linebackers coach Bob Gregory, its unlikely the defense will change, Oregon St. really isn't doing anything differently in preparation, except for adjustments due to their own personnel changes.
As mentioned, the defense is adjusting to the absence of Alexander, but the good news is Cummings has been cleared to play again, so he's been getting back into the swing of the offense, and Hamlett's knee is apparently better with some rest. The offense should be in its best shape of the season, and better than its been since it was clicking well mid-season in road romps over Washington St. and California.
RVM: Yep, one has to imagine it won't make any difference for the team's preparation. Boise State has to be going with what they know and have done all season, even without Peterson. Will be interesting to see if Riley and Co. pull out anything new to mix things up in the last game of the season (previews of some new something for next season maybe?), and also I would imagine they should be high on the run game success they had against Oregon and will be trying to establish that more than maybe expected.
ConnorOSU: I don't see coach Mike Riley changing anything up in regards to the gameplan. As Robert said, though, I think he tries to jump on the new leadership and throw some wrinkles into the offense. Flea flickers galore.
5. With Oregon State losing their last five games, what is the teams vibe heading into a bowl game; is it a chance to save the season by ending on a high note if they can get the win?
AndyPanda: After the disaster against Washington, there was concern that the season would collapse. But there is some good characters and leadership in this group, and they weren't happy with themselves after that. The near win over Oregon in Autzen and the prospect of a second chance to end the season with a good effort seems to have them on an uptick. A win over a quality opponent that's also something of a regional rival and a brand name would make winter term and off-season workouts go by a lot quicker.
RVM: I would say I'm glass half full/glass half empty about this. Coming out of that game in Eugene this team will be tested a bit for their character and leadership, I personally think. That was there for the taking and they lost it in a pretty heartbreaking fashion, so how will they respond? It could either way, it could be a deflating deal like 2009 when they lost another close one at Autzen and tanked in the Bowl game against BYU, or what seems more likely because this year's Civil War game stakes were not as high as '09 is that this team got another taste of the feeling they can compete with anyone (remember they played Stanford down to the last seconds too) and should be fired up to make this season a "winning" one. 7 and 6 will look and feel A LOT better than 6 and 7.
ConnorOSU: After the Washington game there were some rumblings of the locker room falling apart, but some strong leadership at the top got the team together to nearly pull the shocker at Oregon. With the way they competed against a great team like the Ducks, and the fact they're going to Honolulu instead of Shreveport or Albuquerque, spirits should be high and I expect the team to come out and get the win.
6. Who are some under the radar, or lesser known, players that everyone should know about?
AndyPanda: Watch for Victor Bolden on kick returns and the fly sweep. He's the heir-apparent to Cooks, whether its next year or the year after, and he's road-runner quick. Also, Smith has had some big moments, and Coach Mike Riley is perfectly willing to use multiple TEs.
Defensively, LB Jabral Johnson, who was thrown into the fire early in the season when injuries began to mount, has made steady progress over the course of the season. Especially with Alexander out, if you watch Johnson, you will probably quickly get a key read, for better or worse, on how the day will go for Oregon St.
RVM: I like Bolden in this one too, he has made some strides and looked good versus Washington (though that would be not hard to do in that game) and very good against Oregon. He is getting some confidence. Look out for Terron Ward too for he is coming off a wonderful game against Oregon and should have some swagger coming into this one. And since Andy is calling for a close one let's throw in the kicker and Trevor Romaine! He gets some press for his shirtless warm-ups and tackling ability on kick-offs, but he is a good kicker but not has not been really tested in a pressure type of situation, he could be key.
ConnorOSU: Nothing to add on top of Victor Bolden and Trevor Romaine. Bolden has really emerged the past two games on kickoff returns and fly sweeps, while Romaine answered his critics with a great game (and acting job) in Eugene.
7. Give us a prediction in this game?
AndyPanda: With his receivers healthy again, and hopefully some continued ground support, Mannion should be back toward mid-season form, and a shoot-out is more likely than not. Probably not a 51-48 overtime game like happened against Utah, but probably a 36-35 game like against Oregon. Last team to turn the ball over loses, when the opposing quarterback takes his team on a game winning drive.
And its worth noting that if Mannion gets protection, he throws far more touchdowns, and far fewer interceptions.
RVM: It looks like possibly a really even type of match up for this game and I have above placed Romaine as a possible key to the game! But I do hope the Beavs find some big time spark and play with more at stake, and that Boise State does play a bit with a less at stake attitude/spark. Meaning that the Beavs can run the ball like they did against Oregon and this opens up the passing game even more than that last game, and also that the defense can keep things off-balance enough that OSU can control most of the game.
But hey that is every fan's dream I know for any team! So in my roundabout way I once again am not committing to predicting this one for with the Beavs this season it has been a crapshoot in trying to figure out which type of OSU team will show up. One thing I will add though is I am very happy to see the Beavs matched up against an opponent like Boise State, OSU lost some ugly games and it has been a tough season, but I just personally feel they are more deserving of this type of match-up than some of the other projected ones we saw coming across for a Bowl game. Here's to that deserving OSU team showing up for this one!
ConnorOSU: This game sets up much like the Utah one in terms of flow. Oregon State plays solid defense early on but can't get into the endzone. It's 6-0 at the end of the first quarter, and that's when the fireworks begin. Both teams trade a couple of touchdowns in the next 15 minutes, with Brandin Cooks making a SportsCenter Top Ten catch in the corner of the endzone to cap the half, making it 20-14 Oregon State.
The second half is much like the first, filled with fireworks. The Beavs make a two-point conversion somewhere along the line to get the margin to seven, and all they need is a stop to get out of the Islands with a winning season. But Joe Southwick leads a beautiful, 90 second drive 70 yards down the field to tie the game at 35 with 1:10 remaining. That's more than enough time for Mannion and company who get down to the 30 with five seconds left. Romaine drills a 47 yarder into the Hawaiian night, and rips off his jersey to reveal his god-awful chest air in celebration.