Time again for our weekly “Five Questions, Five Answers,” blog post examining UW’s opponent. This week, it’s Paul Buker, the Oregon State beat writer for the The Oregonian talking about the Oregon State Beavers. Here’s more on Buker, and you can also follow him on Twitter at @Pnbuker.
As always, our questions, his answers:
Q1: What went into the decision to replace Ryan Katz with Sean Mannion (pictured at right in a game against WSU in an AP photo) at quarterback and how has that moved worked out so far?
A: (OSU coach) Mike Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf started talking in camp about how impressive Mannion looked. Katz didn’t look bad, just wasn’t 100 percent after coming back from wrist surgery and not being able to participate fully in the spring. Still, it was a shocker to see the player Riley said in pre-season would be “the glue that holds us together” be basically benched after one half of the 29-28 OT loss to Sac St. that started this Highway to Hell 2011 season. Katz played a little bit at Wisconsin and hasn’t gotten off the bench since. We expect him to announce he will transfer at the end of the season. The thought of Mannion being a four-year starter isn’t that unappealing – he’s thrown for 2,690 yards and 11 TDs. He’s got way too many INTs (conference-high 15) but then again you wonder how much more efficient he would be if he didn’t have to throw so much. The OSU running game has disappeared faster than Kim Kardashian’s wedding pictures.
Q2: Why has Oregon State struggled so much to run the ball this season? I imagine the running game would be better if Jacquizz Rodgers hadn’t left early.
A: Quizz leaving early – and before that, the James Rodgers’ injury at Arizona – touched off a chain reaction of unfortunate events at Lunchpail U. Injuries, lack of a prime-time tailback, the fallout from some lean recruiting years on the offensive line, and the fact this current O-line can’t run-block to save its life have all played a part. And while we’re talking Huskies, here’s a thought: Cort Dennison gets there too late, Joe Halahuni catches that two-point conversion pass, OSU wins by one, and goes to a lower-tier bowl game. Instead of wanting to get out of Dodge, Quizz stays. But that might be far-fetched. I think one of the reasons Quizz hit the NFL early was the thought of that offensive line returning basically intact.
Q3: How has James Rodgers played this season and has he ever really been the same since his injury?
A: Great story. One of the more respected players in the history of the program, and I think, in the conference itself. He’s ALMOST back from two knee operations. The same quickness shows up in little bursts. He told us (Tuesday) he is just out there playing right now and not thinking about his knee. But that “next level” double move isn’t there yet. Riley says by next year, James will be the player he was before the injury, which means he might have an NFL chance. He will finish as the school’s all-time receptions leader (he needs just three catches in the next two games). In terms of intensity and hunger to win, I have not covered many players like this, ever.
Q4: Statistically, some of the defensive numbers don’t seem that bad. How has it played overall?
A: The defense is small up front, and missing the only run-stuffer type on the team in Castro Masaniai, who broke his leg in the BYU game. There are no Stephen Paea types on this team. The bright spots are clearly DEs Dylan Wynn and Scott Crichton. They are going to be really good. The LB situation has been a mess at times, lots of injuries. They got the seconday issues fixed (this team couldn’t cover ANYBODY in early games) just in time for holes to develop on the D-line and at LB, where MLB Feti Unga has missed all but a small part of the Cal game in recent weeks because of a knee ligament issue. Given how good OSU defenses were in the team’s glory days (22 months ago, these guys were playing for the Rose Bowl) it’s kinda shocking how bad the Beavers’ run defense has been. Wisconsin ran for 208, UCLA 211, BYU 282, Utah 225, Stanford 300, and Cal 296. …Chris Polk’s problem Saturday may be cramping up after he goes for 200-plus.
Q5: Finally, this obviously has been a disappointing season for OSU. Did anyone see this kind of thing coming and does there seem to hope for a quick turnaround, and is there much criticism of Mike Riley?
A: Riley is getting killed on the message boards, his coordinators have been fired many times over (in cyberspace) and our columnist at the Oregonian, John Canzano, has proposed that Riley get rid of his stodgy old Pro Style attack and get with modern times. In other words, run something like what Big Brother down the freeway runs. Trouble is, OSU doesn’t have the read-option athletes to pull it off. In reality, I don’t see Riley firing his coordinators or scrapping his offense. I do think he needs some help on both lines before 2012. And no, I did not see a potential 10-loss season coming (first time since 1995). I also didn’t see Riley yanking Katz after one half of the first game. My year started with a video on OregonLive.com whereby I confidently told viewers it would take “an act of God” for Sac State to beat a vastly superior Oregon State team. My paper has mercifully not asked me to make very many prediction videos since then.