'Biggest challenge' for OSU's Andersen
CORVALLIS — Gary Andersen woke up Sunday morning feeling lousy about a lot of things.
Saturday's 48-14 loss to Minnesota left the third-year Oregon State coach with an ache in his gut that reached into his soul.
Andersen was disappointed in the collective performance of his players and the work of his coaches.
But much more than that, he was disappointed in himself, and downcast at the thought of letting down the program's fans.
"I completely understand what Beaver Nation is going through," Andersen says. "Those fans expect more, and they absolutely should. In the end, it starts and stops with me, and nobody else.
"This is without a doubt the biggest challenge I have faced in my career. I signed up for it, and mark my word — we're going to get it done. We're not going to fail. I'm not going to let that happen."
The Beavers (1-2) rank 113th among 127 FBS teams in scoring defense, allowing 45 points per game, and 107th in total defense, allowing 520 yards per game. So defense has not been a strength.
But Andersen's biggest concern coming out of the Minnesota debacle was his offense — especially in the second half, when the Beavers managed one first down and 35 yards.
"It goes without saying, that's unacceptable," Andersen says. "You can't run 18 plays for 35 yards in the second half and beat anybody in the country."
Oregon State's offense doesn't seem to have an identity. At times, the Beavers run the ball well with Ryan Nall or Artavis Pierce. At other times, Jake Luton has been effective through the air. But there has been little consistency. Often, the junior quarterback has 2 1/2 seconds to throw when he needs 3 1/2. Decision-making gets dicey when a QB is rushed, and it's been a problem at times for Luton, who has played only three games as a starter in the FBS ranks.
Andersen prefers an offense predicated on the run, ideally with a 60/40 split between the run and pass. The Beavers' run-blocking hasn't been consistent enough to make that happen, and when they are forced to throw, not enough good things have happened.
Pierce started at tailback over Nall against Minnesota, and Nall got only seven carries — one in the second half. He fumbled on that third-quarter attempt and didn't see the ball again.
Nall, who didn't catch a pass, needs to have 20 to 25 touches a game. He's the Beavers' biggest offensive weapon, and they need to find a way to get him opportunities to find the groove that made him a huge weapon a year ago.
Oregon State's run defense was better against the Gophers than it had been against Colorado State and Portland State, in part because the Beavers loaded the box. Minnesota still passed only eight times and rushed for 253 yards, though 64 of them came on a final bootleg by reserve QB Demry Croft with the outcome long decided. On the Gophers' other 57 runs from scrimmage, they gained 189 yards for a 3.3 average. You can live with that.
But the Oregon State defense was left on the field too long, so long that reserve safety David Morris — the outstanding true freshman from Sherwood — was called on to make 17 tackles.
The Beavers' depth on the defensive front is shallow, and now at the back end, too. Both starting cornerbacks, Dwayne Williams and Xavier Crawford, were injured in the first half on Saturday. Williams will undergo ACL knee surgery and is done for the season. Crawford, who hurt his shoulder, has been ruled out of Saturday's Pac-12 opener at Washington State.
The Beavers' football IQ was unsound Saturday. There was Trevon Bradford fair-catching a punt at the OSU 3-yard line. There was offensive guard Gus Lavaka's personal foul with the Beavers at first-and-goal on the Minnesota 1. There was Luton running out of bounds for no gain on third-and-5 from midfield on the final play of the third quarter, when a first down would have extended the drive.
By that time, a good portion of the fans had left Reser Stadium and headed for the exits, a sour taste in their mouths. It's clear that an element of Beaver Nation has given up on the team. Have the players given up, too?
"That's not the case," Andersen says. "Our guys are battling their asses off. But they need to play better, and we as coaches need to do a better job of putting them in position to succeed."
Andersen won't quit. He has been a fighter through his entire coaching career, a guy who turned around a program at Utah State and had two successful seasons at Wisconsin before taking on the challenge in Corvallis.
But now it gets tougher. After Washington State, OSU's schedule includes Washington, Southern Cal, Stanford and Colorado. That's a stretch that is going to be about survival more than anything.
Against Wazzu, Oregon State may have slotback Seth Collins, whose broken ring finger sidelined him for the first three games. He's a major weapon the Beavers have sorely missed.
Andersen and his staff will have to work overtime to keep their players' confidence and spirits up during these trying times. The coach knew it wouldn't be easy, but he didn't expect this kind of predicament.