San Diego State travels to Oregon State to take on the 16th ranked Beavers. Lacking an offense and with questions on defense, does this look like a walkover for OSU? The Beavers look even more formidable than UCLA. Lacking a team that looks to be a contender, is Coach Hokes’ job security under serious scrutiny?
The Aztecs appear to be a team hoping to find who they are. They’ve lost their identity as a strong running team on offense. They have lost their reputation as a dominating team on defense. In the past, their defensive unit would usually carry the day despite a history of lethargic offenses. How long will this Jekyll and Hyde persona persist? Answers may be in short supply this Saturday as the Aztecs travel to Corvallis to take on the Oregon State Beavers.
The Aztecs are in a dilemma that teams hope and pray will not exist. The Beavers are stout in the pass defense department, with young corners playing well beyond their years. With pressure from the defensive front, Mayden will be forced to either tuck and run or hurry his throws. Last week he had three interceptions. If there is any chance for an upset this week, those will have to be zero. He ran nine times for 18 yards against UCLA. The Bruins had him penned in well so that he could not escape like he had done the previous week against Idaho State. The bigger question is if the Aztecs will continue running the ball despite zero success. That is their game plan, it is what they practice for and does it make sense to deviate from that plan after last week's blowout? One slight change seen this season is more runs outside of the tackle boxes. Mayden has also been involved in developing the run-pass option, or RPO. With an offense centered around the run, a smart QB such as Mayden can read certain keys pull the ball from the running back, and swing a pass to a receiver who may have gotten open. This is hinged upon good run blocking by the line and the quarterback's ability to make quick decisions. The big play is absent so far this season. Mayden’s 56-yard run against Idaho State is the only large scoring play of the season. The team will need to find others who can break tackles or get open deep to help keep the defense honest. Mekhi Shaw is awaiting a breakout offensive performance. If the Aztecs are to win, they will need to expand beyond their basic single back-off tackle run and execute a few effective pass plays.
The Beavers are showing they are a team in strong contention for the PAC conference title. A strong, all-around team that might give USC, Washington, and Oregon a run. They avoid playing USC but face both the Huskies and Ducks in back-to-back games to end the season. What are the Aztecs to do on defense? Well for starters, turnovers. They did force two fumbles last week but were shut out on the interceptions. They will need to find a way to counter the ‘Beavers' balanced attack. They should consider blitzing and trying things to upend OSU. There are risks involved of course, but being a big underdog, they really have nothing to lose. Gain momentum by seizing opportunities. Put the Beavers into third and long situations and force a punt. There should be nothing traditional about the ‘Aztecs' defensive plan.
Fans getting steamed about poor performances. How long will Coach Hoke last?
Anytime a team starts losing, the coach and staff are usually called to atone. The Aztecs have a long history of running and pounding the ball, lacking the offensive excitement of an aerial bombardment. Aztec teams from the past lived and thrived on the passing game under coaches Tommy Prothro and Don Coryell. Today’s team is really three yards and a mouthful of synthetic turf. Coach Hoke is under contract until 2027, having received $1.2 million in compensation last year. He holds a 103 - 85 record as a head coach. Reality shows it would be expensive to buy him out at this point in time. Better to put pressure on improvement and accountability for at least another season and avoid a large buyout.
Who are the Beavers?
The Beavers are led by Clemson sophomore transfer DJ Uiagalelei. He has been a methodical leader of the offense. In two games he is 28/38 passing for 346 yards. On the ground, Oregon State is led by all-league running back sophomore Damien Martinez who has 259 yards on 25 carries. Their go-to receiver so far is Silas Bolden with 10 catches for 118 yards. Other playmakers will certainly arise as the season takes shape, but so far, these three have carried the team. As a team, they have accounted for 923 yards of offense with over half those yards on the ground. They have a 55% success rate on third down, having scored 9/9 times in the red zone (8/9 touchdowns). They have allowed opponents only 4 red zone trips (4/4, 3 of 4 TDs). This indicates the strong defense keeping opponents away from typical scoring situations. They have also nearly doubled their competition in first downs, meaning ball control and clock management. This is a well-coached and talented team.
San Diego State (2-1) vs. Oregon State Beavers (2-0)
Location: Reser Stadium, Corvallis, OR. (Capacity 43,363)
Date/Time: Saturday, September 16 at 2:30 PM PST
Betting Line: Oregon State is a 24.5 point favorite. The over/under is 48.5 points according to Draft Kings. The score has a projection of 37-12 OSU. There is a straight-up 96.2% chance of a Beaver victory.
RADIO: San Diego Sports 760
History: This is the 6th meeting between the Aztecs and Beavers. Oregon State holds a 3-2 winning margin including three in a row and a 24-7 win in their last matchup on 9/29/2014. The Aztecs two victories came during the 1970’s when the Beavers were mere rodents of their current iteration. OSU has averaged 33 points a game during those victories. With the current realignment discussions, a possibility exists that OSU could be a regular scheduled team if there is a MWC/PAC merger. They look to be deep for the foreseeable future.
Keys to the Game
- Can the offense sustain drives and score points? This question has changed from what does the offense needs to do to can the offense do anything? Sustainability, big plays, and capitalizing on opportunities should be a team mantra. Last week two opportunities literally slipped through their hands as a missed catch led to an interception and a dropped touchdown were the two that standout. With those two plays, the Aztecs are close to UCLA going into intermission. Go-to players Josh Nicholson and Mekhi Shaw need to make plays that are both drive sustainers and scoring plays. Punter Jack Browning continues his strong play with consistent long punts putting opponents in less than enviable starting positions.
- Can the defense stop OSU drives? Oregon State will try to pound the ball with Damien Martinez leading the charge. Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei is such a dynamic player that he manages the offense with extreme efficiency. He has all day to sit in the pocket and pick apart defenses. The Aztecs will need to put some pressure on him perhaps with delayed blitzes and some risk-reward plays. Just sitting back and waiting will result in being surgically skewered by Uiagalelei and his Beaver cohorts.
Analysis/Prediction: To begin the season, I had expected this to be an Oregon State win, 32-17. At this time, the game is a guaranteed win by OSU. My Great Carnac revised prediction will be a 42-13 win by the home team. Until an offense can be found, Coach Hoke will continue to be on the hot seat. I’m not sure that there is enough talent for the Aztecs to defeat many similar or better teams. With the one dimension not working, expect perhaps a defense or special teams score. Reser Stadium, with its new addition, expect to see about 40,000 fans donned in their typical pre-Halloween orange and black. Beavers generally block slow-moving streams. This Beavers team is no different. They will block any Aztec attempt to control the game.