KERRY SAYS: Go with Gophers
It's early to say Oregon State football is at a crossroads, but in a way, it is.
The Beavers, 1-1 after a blowout loss at Colorado State and a more-difficult-than-expected 35-32 win over FCS opponent Portland State, need to beat Minnesota on Saturday night at Reser Stadium.
The Gophers began the P.J. Fleck coaching era in similar fashion to the Beavers' win over the Vikings, beating Buffalo 17-7 at home last Thursday. The Bulls of the Mid-American Conference were 2-10 a year ago.
After Minnesota, Oregon State begins Pac-12 play with a murderer's row of opponents. In succession, the Beavers play at Washington State, at home against Washington, at Southern Cal and at home against Colorado and Stanford. Those five teams combined for a 50-17 record a year ago. Four of them won at least 10 games; all five made bowl games.
You catch my drift, Beaver Nation. Lose to Minnesota and run the very real risk of starting the season 1-7.
The Gophers came from behind, outscoring Oregon State 13-0 in the fourth quarter, to pull out a 30-23 win to open last season at Minneapolis. Quarterback Mitch Leidner is gone, but star running back Rodney Smith — who rushed 25 times for 125 yards and two touchdowns against OSU in that game — returns.
Smith, a 5-11, 210-pound junior, carried 23 times for 76 yards, and Shannon Brooks, a 6-foot, 215-pound junior, added 69 yards and a TD on 18 runs in the win over Buffalo.
Much like Oregon State with Jake Luton and Darell Garretson, Minnesota is using a two-quarterback system. Conor Rhoda, a 6-3, 225-pound senior and mostly a passer, completed 12 of 21 attempts for 176 yards and a TD with one interception against the Bulls. Backup Demry Croft, a 6-5, 205-pound sophomore who is more a runner, hit on 7 of 11 passes for 53 yards and gained 32 yards on six carries.
The Minnesota QBs have an able target in 6-2, 190-pound sophomore Tyler Johnson, who had six catches of 141 yards and a TD — all in first half — in the Buffalo game.
The Gophers have a sturdy defense that held the Bulls to 13 first downs, 51 yards rushing and 262 yards total offense.
Fleck, who came to Minnesota from Western Michigan, already is one part folk hero, one part rock star at his new home in Minneapolis. ESPNU is airing a four-part documentary series showcasing the energetic coach, entitled "Being P.J. Fleck."
Oregon State has plenty to figure out after being taken to the wire by Portland State.
The Vikings rushed for 291 yards, an ominous sign as the Beavers go up against the Gophers' Smith and Brooks.
"These backs are real," OSU coach Gary Andersen says. "You better become real good tacklers real fast to be able to maintain and control these guys."
After two games, Oregon State has totaled zero sacks and allowed more than 500 yards both times. Defensive coordinator Kevin Clune has to find a way to get more pressure on the opposing quarterback, or the Gophers might put up a 500-spot, too.
In last year's game at Minnesota, OSU's Ryan Nall rushed 13 times for 71 yards and caught eight passes for 80 yards. Against Portland State, the junior tailback managed 59 yards and 16 carries and also caught four passes for 34 yards. That's 20 touches. Andersen needs to find a way to increase that number this Saturday.
And he should incorporate Thomas Tyner — who had only two runs for 10 yards, both on fly sweeps from the slotback position — more into the offense. Tyner is a weapon that needs to be exploited. The Beavers should consider using some two-back formations, or perhaps get the Oregon transfer into a role returning kickoffs and/or punts.
The Beavers will be motivated to prove they're a better team than they showed the first two games. They'll have an opportunity to beat Minnesota, which is a Big Ten school but not to be confused with Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Wisconsin or even Nebraska.
It should be a competitive game, but one in which the Orange and Black will fall short.
THE PICK: Minnesota 28, Oregon State 20