Experience, focus got Beavers off to strong start

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Linebacker D.J. Welch (4) leads the charge in upending Wisconsin's Montee Ball as the Beavers defeat the Badgers 10-7.CORVALLIS — Bouquets are always more welcome than poison darts, so reaction to Oregon State’s defensive performance in its 10-7 upset of 13th-ranked Wisconsin last Saturday was a welcome result for Mark Banker.

A defensive coordinator is never satisfied short of a shutout, though, so the Badgers’ TD in the final two minutes left Banker with a sour taste on an otherwise saucy afternoon.

“I’m glad everybody thought it was a great performance,” says Banker, in his 10th season as Mike Riley’s D-coordinator for the Beavers. “I thought it was an exciting performance, but I was disappointed with how we finished.

“We had a lot of miscues and misalignments on their touchdown drive. There was confusion on our part. We’ll continue to work on that.”

It was a promising beginning, however, for an Oregon State defense maligned for its play in 2011, when it ranked 102nd among the nation’s 120 Football Championship Subdivision schools in rush defense.

The Beavers stuffed Heisman Trophy candidate Montee Ball and held the Badgers to 35 total yards rushing — and 87 yards total offense through three quarters — in one of the top defensive showings during the Riley era.

Banker was the subject of much criticism on the message boards and at water coolers throughout Beaver Nation last season, but there was no feeling of vindication from the man in charge of the OSU defense.

“I’m my own worst critic,” Banker says. “I don’t need to have someone else tell me I’m (expletive). The motivation in getting these guys squared away is internal. But it’s not about me. It’s everybody expecting everyone to give their best effort, and that goes for the coaches — making sure we do everything we can to get our players prepared.”

One of the factors in Oregon State’s defensive improvement is the experience of its starters. Six of the front seven — ends Dylan Wynn and Scott Crichton, tackles Castro Masaniai and Andrew Seumalo and linebackers Feti Taumopeau and Michael Doctor — are in their second year as starters.

“We had eight guys on the field Saturday who played significant minutes a year ago” in Oregon State’s 35-0 loss at Wisconsin, Banker says. “That is a big part of it. And we don’t have a bunch of injuries going into this season like we did a year ago. The guys played together last season and got a lot of practice reps together in the spring and during (training) camp.

“They’ve grown as a unit. Our guys are really focused. The important thing is we remain consistent and grow from there.”

Oregon State also added some things schematically during the offseason, including a “dime” package that utilizes six defensive backs with a three-man front in pass situations. The Beavers came with the blitz from linebacker with D.J. Welch — named as the Pac-12’s defensive player of the week — and cornerback Jordan Poyer, who sacked Danny O’Brien and caused the Wisconsin QB to fumble.

“You have to have the right personnel — guys who can pressure,” Banker says. “We brought the corner when we had Brandon Hardin, but he was hurt all last season. The last great pressure linebacker we had was Keith Ellison, though Derrick Doggett was pretty good his senior year. We’ll be able to do it with D.J. and with Michael Doctor this season.”

When Oregon State was among the nation’s top run defenses in the late 2000s, line coach Joe Seumalo was shuttling in nine or 10 players in his front-four rotation. He used 10 players Saturday with great success.

Then there is the defensive coaching staff, wearing a new look this season with the addition of Rod Perry (cornerbacks) and Trent Bray (linebackers) to Banker and Seumalo. Bray and grad assistants Alan Darlin (line) and Mitch Meeuwsen (safeties) all played for Banker at OSU, so there is plenty of familiarity.

“It’s a really good group of coaches, and you can sense they really work together as a group,” Riley says.

In his 12 years at Oregon State, when has Riley had a defensive staff like this?

“I don’t think ever,” he says, “and we’ve had some good ones.”

Perry, 58, hadn’t coached at the college level since he left Fresno State in 1988 to begin a 23-year NFL coaching career that took him through six organizations. Perry was a two-time Pro Bowl selection during his nine years as an NFL cornerback.

“To use the word ‘veteran’ for Rod is an understatement,” Banker says. “The guy has been in so many systems and played so many different schemes himself. The biggest challenge he has is making sure he’s playing the scheme we’re running and not the Houston Oilers or Carolina Panthers or San Diego Chargers. He is an outstanding coach.”

Perry’s experience was felt immediately, cornerback Jordan Poyer says.

“What a great addition to our coaching staff,” Poyer says. “He has been in the game a long time. He has forgotten more about football than I know. He breaks down (video) better than any coach I’ve worked with.

“The first couple of days we were watching (video), I could tell he knew an awful lot about the game. I respect him.”

Perry says he has enjoyed dipping back into the college waters.

“Coaching at this level is motivating, concentrating on coaching technique and fundamentals and making sure there is communication in the secondary,” he says. “The kids in college are interested in what you have to say. They listen hard to every word. They do things to try to please you. You get a chance to try to be sound and raise them as men as well.”

The Beavers lucked out when they landed Bray — a former all-Pac-10 middle linebacker during his OSU days — as a graduate assistant. Bray, with experience coaching in the United Football League, lost his job after two years as a full-time assistant at Arizona State when Dennis Erickson was fired.

“Trent has added his slant to what we’ve done in the past,” Banker says. “We’ve changed some verbiage and taken some ideas from his time at Arizona State and implemented them.”

Riley and Banker first coached together on John Robinson’s Southern Cal staff in 1996. Banker was serving as a defensive grad assistant after losing his job following one year at Hawaii when head coach Bob Wagner was fired.

When Riley was hired at Oregon State in 1997, he brought Banker along as secondary coach. Banker followed Riley to the San Diego Chargers for three seasons from 1999-2001, then coached at year at Stanford after Riley was fired and served as assistant head coach with the New Orleans Saints for a season. When Riley returned to OSU in 2003, he hired Banker as his D-coordinator.

“Stanford tried hard to keep him, and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to get him back to Oregon State,” Riley says. “It’s been a long run together, and I have a ton of trust in him. He’s one of the most loyal people I’ve been around in my life, a meticulous, detailed worker. He’s a coach I never have to worry about.”

Poyer is in his fourth season playing under Banker.

“I’m sure he took a lot of criticism last year because we didn’t step up, but I wouldn’t trade him for any defensive coordinator in the world,” says Poyer, all-Pac-12 second team as a junior last season. “He knows his stuff, he knows this defense inside and out, he knows what to expect from (the opposing offense). He does a great job putting his players in position to make plays.”

Banker won’t rest off first-game laurels. The next opponent is UCLA Sept. 22 at the Rose Bowl, and the 2-0 Bruins, ranked 22nd after their 36-30 upset of Nebraska, have a suddenly high-powered offensive unit. Redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley is a dual threat, and tailback Johnathan Franklin has gained 431 yards and averaged 10.5 yards per carry in the first two games.

“The next time we take the field, it’s against a better team” than Wisconsin, Banker says. “UCLA is using Arizona State’s scheme with (former Sun Devil offensive coordinator) Noel Mazzone. He is doing it with a better offensive line, a quarterback who can actually run, some good skill people and a giant at tight end (6-7, 255-pound senior Joseph Fauria) who they use in various ways.

“That’s going to be a bigger challenge for our defense. It’s a team playing with a lot of confidence in a scheme that has been very efficient. They really unloaded on Nebraska. We’ll see.”

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