On defense, Erickson hands off to a whiz
Coordinator Craig Bray's next task is hemming in the Huskies' passing
CORVALLIS Ñ It is Dennis Erickson's Oregon State team that faces Washington on Saturday at Husky Stadium. But it is Craig Bray's defense.
Bray, the OSU defensive coordinator, has plenty to be proud of as the Beavers attempt to win in Seattle for the first time since 1985. OSU ranks among the national leaders in scoring defense (10th, 15.9 points), rushing defense (10th, 92.6 yards) and total defense (13th, 291.1 yards).
As head coach, Erickson oversees the program and has a major say in the offense, but he gives Bray the autonomy to run the defense.
'Craig and the other defensive coaches make the game plan,' Erickson says. 'I listen to what they are doing occasionally, and sometimes I make (game) decisions on down and distance, but they run the whole show on defense.'
OSU's defense has been from sterling to stifling in eight of its nine games. Bray is quick to fret about the ninth Ñ a 43-35 loss to UCLA.
'I don't know what caused that,' Bray says, shaking his head. 'We can't win games if we can't stop people from scoring.'
Even though the OSU defense is playing at a high level, Bray is finding it hard to stay loose.
'This time of year, because of the stress level and the long work hours, it's hard to say you're having fun,' Bray says. 'I'm trying to. I go home at nights sometimes and say, 'Gee, I'm not having fun.' And my wife will say, 'Well, make it fun.' With my son (Trent, a freshman linebacker) playing here, I should enjoy it. But it's the nature of that time of year.'
This week, Bray must find a way to harness the Pacific-10 Conference's No. 1 offense and junior quarterback Cody Pickett, who leads the Pac-10 in passing (360 yards per game) by a large margin. Don't expect any exotic defenses. The Beavers will mix it up a little but basically do what they do Ñ play an aggressive 4-3, single-cover the wideouts with their cornerbacks, try to stuff the run and bring as much heat as possible on Pickett.
'Pickett is a good quarterback, and their wide receiver corps is probably as good as we have seen this season,' says Bray, who also coaches the OSU secondary. 'It will put pressure on everybody to do their job in coverage.
'But we are not going to scheme anything. We are going to say, 'Here is our package; here is what we do Ñ let's get to it.' That is how we always approach it.'
Bray, 51, spent five seasons on Erickson staffs at Idaho, Wyoming and Washington State before moving to Miami with him in 1989. Bray lasted only a spring with the Hurricanes before returning to the Northwest because he preferred to have his family in this part of the country. But he learned a lifetime of lessons in those three months.
'We had a lot of talent, but I couldn't believe the lack of defenses we ran,' Bray says. 'I was used to all different kinds of defenses and pressures and adjustments. Shoot, we ran one thing basically and let guys go.'
Bray formed his philosophy that spring and has stuck with it, from his years at Idaho (1989-93), Washington State (1994-99) and at Oregon State.
'Everything we do on defense is based on simplicity,' Bray says. 'If the players know what their jobs are and they are good players and they execute, we will be sound and pretty good. Every week (coaches) come up with new ideas; we very rarely use them for the simple reason that we don't want any thought process. We don't want to confuse the players on game day. We want them to know exactly what their jobs are.
'Sometimes we put a little more pressure on a certain position because of that. Our corners are in a pressure situation because we put them in bump-and-run man a lot, and sometimes we give them no help. We need good corners to run the package we have.'
Bray is tough enough on his players to get their full attention, but they're appreciative of the guidance he provides.
'He does a tremendous job,' senior safety-cornerback Calvin Carlyle says. 'He brings a lot of things to the table that other coaches don't. He has taught me a lot about my positions in particular and football in general. I have grown and matured a lot as a player under him. We all feel pretty confident that he is going to put us in position to make the plays to win the game.'
After he decided to leave Miami, Bray thought he also might leave the coaching business. He enrolled in a master's degree program (education administration) at Washington State, figuring he eventually could get back into coaching if he chose to. But almost immediately, Idaho coach John L. Smith enlisted his services as a volunteer coach. The next winter, he was hired full time, and he was back at it again.
Erickson lured Bray to OSU in 2000, and he was the man in charge of the defense that harassed opponents on the way to an 11-1 record and a Fiesta Bowl rout of Notre Dame that season.
'I've been fortunate to have some great defensive coordinators Ñ Craig McMackin, Willie Robinson, Sonny Lubick Ñ and Craig ranks right up there with any of them,' Erickson says.
Bray is a Northwest guy, having coached in the region for nearly 20 years. And he's a small-town kind of guy who has enjoyed living in Corvallis. His reputation as a coach has grown, but he says he no longer aches to be a head coach.
'Years ago, the aspirations were there, but at this point in my life, it's not a priority,' he says. 'I want to be comfortable, to make enough money for my family to live well, and to maintain employment. If the right situation came up and something was thrown at me, maybe. But I don't think I will ever go out and actively pursue a head job.'