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Oregon State vs. San Diego State: Getting to know the Aztecs

Time to get to know Oregon State from those who know the team best at Building the Dam.

Craig Mitchelldyer

San Diego State is 0-2 and struggling quite a bit and their game against Oregon State could be very difficult for the Aztecs. Before we breakdown the game we brought in some experts over at Building the Dam to help us get to know the Beavers better. Also, check out their site for my answers to their questions about San Diego State.

Oregon State is coming off a big Pac-12 opening win by defeating Utah 51-48 in overtime, and were led by quarterback Sean Mannion who completed 27 of 45 for 443 yards and five touchdowns.

The guys from Building the Dam decided to have two of their writers participate with and AndyPanda, and here are their answers.

1. Has Oregon State righted the ship after getting past Utah in overtime last week?

: The problems with the Beavers is their defense and run game. The defense didn't really perform any better, despite improved cornerback play which led to the 3 INTs. When Utah QB Travis Wilson ran, he dismantled the Oregon State defense. When they used the option, they moved the ball at will.

And the Beavers still couldn't run the ball, even before Storm Woods got a concussion. Luckily, Oregon State improved at the one aspect they are good at; passing. Essentially, 75% of the ship is sinking, but that last quarter is a state of the art yacht.

AndyPanda: There was some progress with the rushing game in Utah, but it wasn't sustained. Of course, as in the other games, when Sean Mannion is throwing as well as he has been, despite Coach Mike Riley (who also calls the plays) having every desire to run the ball, it doesn't make sense to go away from what's working. Still, there is a lot of work to do to run the ball better, and Woods' absence only compounds the problem. I expect to see a good bit of Saturday evening to be devoted to working on it.

The defense is still working on playing as a unit, aware of where each other are, and what they are doing, as opposed to 11 guys all individually trying to make plays. Against an inexperienced quarterback, I expect the Beaver D will look better, but it could be reminiscent of the Hawaii game, where they looked better, but in part because they weren't tested as severely.

2. Who is going to replace Storm Woods at running back since he is out against San Diego State due to the concussion he suffered last week?

Junior Terron Ward will start, and redshirt freshman Chris Brown will back him up. Ward is what you call "diminutive," listed at 5'7", but he's a powerful, explosive runner. He's gotten plenty of snaps over his career in addition to returning kicks. With Storm healthy, Ward still sees time as a 3rd-down, short yardage back; he rushed for over 400 yards and 6 TDs last year. There isn't much of a talent difference between Woods and Ward, but there's certainly a style difference. I'd be worried about the Beavers run game if Woods was healthy, Ward doesn't change things much.

AndyPanda: Ward has had a 100 yard game in his career, so he's capable of a big game. He's a 1 read, 1 cut runner, the kind that can be especially effective behind good blocking.

Brown is a similar style of runner, though I think a tad faster, who has never been in a game, despite having a lot of practice reps, last year and this. He suffered a foot injury the last week of pre-season, but appears back to normal now, which could be just in time.

3. Sean Mannion is having a great season so far averaging over 400 yards per game, so how has he performed so well and can he keep that up against a suspect San Diego State secondary?

Simply put, Mannion has made good decisions and been extremely accurate, which is everything you can ask of a pocket passer QB like him. And although the O-Line has struggled in run blocking, they've given Mannion time in the pocket to make his passes.

Of course, he also has some great targets to throw to. It seems like Brandin Cooks is always open, Richard Mullaney catches anything even near him, and the Beavs use 3 tight ends who are 6'5" or taller.

The only reason he can't keep it up against the Aztecs is the potential of the run game picking up, and the Beavs offense becoming more balanced. The matchup of a very poor SDSU pass defense and what looks like a premier OSU pass offense could easily result in 400 more yards for Mannion.

AndyPanda: Mannion has had a big arm since the first day he set foot on campus. But early in his career, he was a turnover machine, with sacks the only thing being more common. To his credit, he worked on improving that, and last year, in road wins at UCLA and Arizona, we were beginning to see what prompted Riley to go with him as a freshman. Then he got his knee hurt against Washington St., and though he came back, he was never right.

I don't know how much was actual physical pain, and how much was mental, or if he was even aware of it, vs. it being subconscious. But it's become obvious that he really seriously focused on his shortcoming in the off-season. He hit the weights as well as working on his mechanics, and the country is seeing the results. Interestingly, he's really transformed as a person, a team leader, and an interview as well; I attribute it to him really growing up, as you would hope he would about now.

4. Assuming the reports are true that running back Adam Muema is 100 percent this week, how does Oregon State's rush defense expect to slow down San Diego State's running game?

The Beavers will rely on the DB's to recognize the run and use their speed to contain Muema. They did a great job of this in 2012, when CB Rashaad Reynolds had 75 tackles, and LB DJ Alexander flew to the ball.

But it's tough to say exactly what will happen against the Aztecs. The Beavs have proven that looking at 2012 is not an indication of what to expect this year, and Muema is the best RB they've faced in 2013. The Beavers have surrendered a ton of rushing yards to mobile QB's, but that happens every year, even when they can stop a traditional run game.

AndyPanda: Oregon St. started using a lot more nickel defense, and added a fair amount of the dime, last year when Rod Perry arrived as secondary coach, and the idea was to put more speed on the field, and as James noted, fly to the ball. It worked almost surprisingly well, and Perry has continued the same philosophy.

A couple of additional twists this season, partially out of necessity due to a shortage of DTs after some JC transfers couldn't make admission standards, are an occasional 3 man front, a first for a Mark Banker defense, and more notably, moving DE Dylan Wynn inside to DT, which results in 3 or 4 DEs on the line at once. Again, its an attempt to bring speed to bear.

The problems have been losing containment and making good reads, not just of what the offense is doing, but where the rest of the defense is. Last year, All-American Jordan Poyer was the traffic cop that took care of a lot of these assignment issues. He's in the NFL now, and no one else has gotten a handle on making sure people are in the right places. Speed is great, but it only goes so far if its coming from the wrong place.

5. Oregon State's secondary has four interceptions on the year, and San Diego State starting a JUCO transfer Quinn Kaehler at quarterback. So, will the Oregon State defense do anything in particular to disrupt Kaehler's comfort level under center?

I doubt the Beavs do anything out of the ordinary. Kaehler will see lots of nickel packages, but the Beaver defense this year hasn't disrupted any opponent's comfort level. The pass rush has been improving, and if the Aztecs don't contain DE Scott Crichton, Kaehler will have a really bad day against the Beavs.

AndyPanda: Crichton is the one Beaver on the line that can really jar a qb, both physically and mentally, and I'd expect to see Oregon St. try to make that happen early.

I suspect we may see more plays for JC transfer CB Steven Nelson, who is the fastest member of the Oregon St. secondary, and had 2 picks last week of Travis Wilson that literally, no one else in the stadium had any chance to make. He's that fast.

What has limited his time is he is still learning the game at this level, and the tradeoff for his speed are some coverage mistakes. In part because San Diego St. isn't perceived as one of the more threatening offenses out there, I expect to see Banker and Perry use this game as an opportunity to get Nelson some more seasoning.

6. How can Oregon State win and conversely lose this game?

If Sean Mannion continues to be accurate, it's really tough to imagine the Beavers losing this game, no matter how bad the defense is. If he doesn't, the Beavers will have a major problem.

If Oregon State lets Muema run all over them, the Aztecs should be able to use the play-action to really dominate Oregon State, and the Beavs could end up in another unpredictable shootout, which they might not fare as well in as the Utah game.

AndyPanda: If the Beavers can get a lead and then get the run game going, shortening the window for a comeback as Quinn Kaehler gets comfortable, then Muema shouldn't be as much of a factor either. But even if they don't, exclusive of Mannion getting hurt, and no offense to Kaehler, I don't see him fairing well in a shootout with Sean.

If turnovers suddenly become a problem (probably fumbles, with the exception of one ball that slipped early in the Hawaii game for a pick-6, even Mannion's throw aways have generally been accurate, "good" passes), or Mannion were to get hurt, absolutely everything will change in an instant.

An injury anywhere on the offensive line could be a catastrophe. Isaac Seumalo, who is supposed to be the center, is starting at right guard again, but is also the backup at all 4 other positions on the line. And neither of the 2 should be starters who are out will even make the trip. The Beavers really are that thin. If anyone else gets hurt, there not only won't be running lanes, protection for Mannion, who isn't mobile, and needs a solid pocket to throw from, could vaporize as well.