Struggling Beavers search for lost offense
'It's the worst I have ever been around in my career,' OSU coach Dennis Erickson says
Oregon State isn't a lot of fun to watch right now, and coach Dennis Erickson is the first to say so.
After a promising 4-0 nonconference start, Oregon State is 0-3 in Pacific-10 Conference play after Saturday's 13-9 loss at Arizona State. And the Beavers are in danger of going bowl-less for a second straight season.
Erickson, never one to wear a happy face while losing, is pulling on clumps of white hair trying to figure how to jump-start his offense.
'It's the worst I have ever been around in my career,' he says of the offensive woes. 'I mean, I have been through this kind of thing a lot of times, but É we are so incompetent on offense right now as far as any consistency is concerned. It's hard to get anything going. We have to do whatever we can to move the ball. I'm not sure what that is. God, I wish I knew.'
Everything seems tied to the offensive line, which has lost a pair of tackles, Brian Kilkenny and Lee Davis, to injury the past few weeks. Early in the season, the line protected and opened holes beautifully, and quarterback Derek Anderson threw for more than 1,200 yards and 15 touchdowns the first four games. Joined by a speedy, veteran defense, this seemed to be a team that could challenge for the Pac-10 title.
But the offense's weaknesses were exposed in a 22-0 loss at Southern California on Sept. 28. Under extreme pressure by the Trojans, Anderson was sacked five times, knocked down countless
others and completed only 8 of 30 passes for 80 yards, with two interceptions.
After a 43-35 loss to UCLA, in which the defense produced two of the five TDs, offensive coordinator Tim Lappano trimmed the playbook and scrapped the four- and five-receiver sets to make things easier for Anderson. It didn't work against an Arizona State team that had given up 38 points in a home loss to mediocre North Carolina the week before. The Sun Devils blitzed Anderson all night, sacking him seven times while stuffing tailback Steven Jackson.
Experience will tell Anderson when to throw the ball away against pressure and when to eat it. At least twice at ASU, he took sacks when he probably should have heaved it.
'But nobody can do anything when they get hit in the damn mouth,' says Erickson, a quarterback during his playing days at Montana State. 'It has happened to Derek time after time the last three weeks.'
With the next game Oct. 26 at home against California, the coaches and players have plenty of time to regroup.
'It's an excellent time for the bye week,' Jackson says. 'We can heal up some bumps and bruises, lean on each other and grow up together as a team. É We are going to get better.'
NOTES: The defense that had given up 625 yards to UCLA redeemed itself against ASU. 'That's what we are on defense,' Erickson says. 'It was good to see.' É The Beavers brought to earth Arizona State's ballyhooed sophomore QB, Andrew Walter, both figuratively and literally. He was sacked twice and on his back almost as much as Anderson. 'We felt he hadn't been pressured very much,' OSU defensive coordinator Craig Bray says. 'So we thought if we came at him a variety of ways, maybe we could screw him up a little bit, and I think we did. The kids played their guts out.' É The OSU special teams were superb, too. Kirk Yliniemi firmed up his job as place-kicker by hitting all three of his field-goal attempts, including a career-best 47-yarder. Bill Swancutt blocked a field-goal try. And the Beavers covered their four kickoffs so well that the Sun Devils started from the 15-, 12-, 16- and 19-yard lines.
OSU used a couple of new plays in the fourth quarter Ñ a reverse to James Newson that went for 22 yards and a fake outside screen and dump over the middle to Jackson, who picked up 26. Might the Beavers get more creative? 'You're exactly right,' Erickson says. 'We're going to try a lot of things.' É Erickson is hopeful that Kilkenny (broken bone in leg) can return for the Cal game. Safety Mitch Meeuwsen (knee) has an outside shot but is more likely to be back Nov. 2 against Arizona. Davis (knee) is feared lost for the year. É The Beavers want to get receivers Jayson Boyd, returning to form after a couple of injuries, and Cole Clasen more involved in the offense.