Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

Local Weather

Mostly Cloudy

65°F

Portland

Mostly Cloudy

Humidity: 50%

Wind: 5 mph

  • 1 Oct 2014

    Sunny 65°F 48°F

  • 2 Oct 2014

    Mostly Sunny 72°F 53°F


Eggers: Veteran defense could give Beavers an edge

Photo Credit: COURTESY OF OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY - D.J. Alexander is one of the starters on a experienced, deep Oregon State linebacking corps.CORVALLIS — Nobody has to remind Oregon State’s players of the embarrassing opening-day losses to Sacramento State in 2011 or Eastern Washington in 2013. But coach Mike Riley intends to this week, anyway.

“Nothing can be taken for granted,” Riley says. “When you do that, you lose your edge and you get beat.”

With training camp over, the Beavers started practicing Monday in preparation for another season-opening FCS opponent — Portland State at 1 p.m. Saturday at Reser Stadium — with resolve to not let history repeat itself.

“Last year’s loss to Eastern Washington was tough,” junior receiver Richard Mullaney says. “We know how it feels. This whole year, we haven’t stopped hearing about that.

“We’re going to take it like any game. This week we have one game, one game only. We’ll focus on that game.”

The Vikings, defensive end Dylan Wynn says, “are a good team, a really good team. We’re treating them the same as any opponent, just like a Pac-12 opponent.”

Quarterback Sean Mannion says the Beavers won’t concentrate on avoiding the calamity of laying an egg for the third time in four seasons.

“We’re a focused group,” Mannion says. “We’re not looking back. Everything is focused on looking ahead. We want to get off to a good start, play well, and take care of things one week at a time.”

Mannion and the Oregon State offense will get plenty of attention, but a veteran defense could be the team’s strong suit. Defensive coordinator Mark Banker believes the strength of the defense lies in six returning senior starters — Wynn, linebackers Michael Doctor, D.J. Alexander and Jabral Johnson, and safeties Ryan Murphy and Ty Zimmerman — who have been with the program for at least four years.

Banker says the return of Doctor — granted a medical redshirt year after missing most of last season following ankle surgery — is integral to the Beavers’ defense.

“We lost the engine, the emotional guy, the communicating leader of the defense,” Banker says. “It’s great to have him back with the other seniors. Michael and the others are program guys who have been with us forever. I’m getting goosebumps talking about them.

“If they don’t know what we need from them, they never will. And hopefully, the guys who don’t know will play like they do.”

A year ago, Banker worried about the lack of scrimmage and live tackling sessions during spring ball and training camp. It showed in the Beavers’ 49-46 loss to Eastern Washington. This year, there was more hitting and live work, and Banker thinks it will pay off on the defensive side.

“It has to,” Banker says. “If it doesn’t, we’re terrible. The big thing about the physicality and aggression is it carries over to an attitude. Either you’re passive or you’re aggressive. You’re either playing tackle football or flag football. You have to play the game.”

From a defensive standpoint, Banker says, “First games usually come down to tackling and deep-ball coverage. I think we’re on track. It’s a matter of making sure all the good work we’ve done up to this point carries over to the game, that we peak at the right time.”

Banker believes Steven Nelson — who tied for the Pac-12 lead with six interceptions as a first-year JC transfer last season — can be terrific as a senior.

“Steven learned a lot in the spring,” Banker says. “I got after him day in and day out. He has to learn how to practice very day. He has been great working outside of practice. Nobody out-trains him. In the summer, he’s out there doing extra stuff by himself. I like him because he’s solid and he’s a playmaker.”

Banker shies away from comparisons with the 2009 Oregon State defense that ended the season with a 3-0 win over Pittsburgh in the Sun Bowl.

“That was a special group,” Banker says. “This group has a chance to be good. We’ll have a conversation at midseason, and I hope I can say they are very good. By the end of the whole thing, hopefully we can say that was a great group.

“They have the opportunity to do it. We have their attention, which is critical. They’re listening. Now we have to get them into the line of fire and go.”

New offensive coordinator John Garrett is cautiously optimistic about an offensive unit that was slowed in camp by injuries to the line and at receiver.

“The guys will be ready,” Garrett says. “Most of our (projected starters) are healthy and back practicing and are going to play in the Portland State game. We have a good plan. We’ll be ready for what (the Vikings) do.”

The Beavers will strive to improve a run game that ranked 115th among 123 FBS teams a year ago. But Portland State ranked last in the Big Sky in pass defense a year ago.

“We’re aware of that,” Garrett says. “We’ll be ready to run or throw it. We’ll attack their coverages, and if they allow us to throw downfield, we anticipate making some big plays.

“Everybody strives for balance, but realistically, you can never be 50-50. The team you’re playing might be a really good run defensive team and you have to throw it a little more. Or if we can’t throw it, we have to run it. You have to pay attention to the events of the game and how they’re playing it. We’ll be looking for those formations and schemes to reveal a weakness and try to exploit it, whether it’s run or pass.”

Center Isaac Seumalo, a second-team all-Pac-12 choice as a sophomore last season, will sit out the opener following a pair of surgeries on his left foot. Even so, Garrett believes the O-line has the horses to get things done.

“We feel good about the starting line,” Garrett says. “We’d love to have Isaac in there, but we have to make sure he’s healthy before we play him. We feel good about the guys we’ll be going with. They’re picking things up well.”

Riley is aware that Portland State is in position to make a jump up in the Big Sky after finishing 6-6 a year ago. The Vikings suffered four losses by a total of 13 points, including a 37-30 loss at California and a 42-41 setback in the season finale against Eastern Washington.

The Vikings “have been dynamic offensively, led the Big Sky in total offense last year,” Riley says. “Defensively, they’re well-coached by Nigel (Burton) and his staff. They had Cal going and took Eastern Washington down to the wire. They play good football. We’ll have to play well to win.”

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Twitter: @kerryeggers