NCAA Football Preview - Oregon State Beavers
Share This Story
From The Sports Network By Brian Mason, College Football Staff Writer 2003 SEASON IN REVIEW: The Beavers opened the 2003 season by winning five of their first six games, including an impressive 35-21 win against a much improved California squad on October 4th. However, OSU then proceeded to lose four of its next six regular season matchups and finished the year with an 8-5 overall mark and a conference record of just 4-4. Although things looked bleak for the Beavers at the end of November, a convincing 55-14 win over New Mexico in the Las Vegas Bowl gave hope for a bright future in Corvallis. The offense was led by Heisman candidate Steven Jackson, who has since moved onto the NFL. Jackson dominated on the field, producing 1,545 rushing yards and 22 total touchdowns in 2003. While Jackson excelled once again, signal-caller Derek Anderson had a very rough campaign under center. Anderson, who threw for 3,313 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2002, finished the year with 4,058 yards, 24 touchdowns, 24 interceptions and completed only 51.3 percent of his passes. Speedy wideout James Newson (81 receptions, 1,306 yards and three scores) was Anderson's target of choice, while Mike Haas (44 receptions) and Tim Euhus (49 catches) each tallied seven touchdown catches. The surprising part of the Beavers 2003 campaign was the outstanding play of their defense. OSU ranked fourth in the nation against the run (84.4 ypg) and 37th against the pass (204.3 ypg). Head coach Mike Riley, who is now in his fourth season with the Beavers (1997-98, 2003), hopes the momentum from the team's bowl win will pay dividends this year as his squad tries to stay more consistent than it was a season ago. 2004 ANALYSIS: OFFENSE: Replacing Jackson at tailback is an impossible task for the Beavers, who are now without a playmaker at that position. Dwight Wright will likely be handed the starting role this year, but he is by no means the workhorse that Jackson was and will definitely be spelled often by Ryan Cole and Yvenson Bernard. None of those three will come even close to putting up the numbers that Jackson did, but Wright should be effective both running in between the tackles and as a receiver coming out of the backfield. Wright will likely be Anderson's main safety valve this year, which could help him improve on his career passing percentage of .493. Anderson has the size and ability to be a dominant starter, but his inconsistency has always been a knock on the senior signal-caller. It doesn't help Anderson that his receiving corps is depleted as well, with Newson and Euhus having graduated. Haas will remain the team's most consistent receiving threat, but beyond the 6-1 junior their is a lack of speed and experience. Joe Newton should be a solid replacement for Euhus, but being just a sophomore it could take him half the season to be fully acclimated into the offense. Tackle Doug Nienhuis anchors an offensive line which should open up holes for the running backs and keep defenders out of Anderson's face for the most part. DEFENSE: Oregon State returns two starters from last season's impressive defensive line and Bill Swancutt leads them after posting 11 sacks in 2003 and 25.5 for his career. Swancutt is one of the best defensive ends in the country and will be helped by sophomore standout Ben Siegert, who was a dominating run stuffer in 2003 as a freshman. The Beavers lost All-Pac 10 middle linebacker Richard Siegler, but should be ready to make senior outside linebacker Jonathan Pollard a star. Pollard finished last year with 50 stops and two sacks, but should be even more effective using his speed in 2004 by playing on the weakside. The secondary has little depth but its starters are truly the strength of this squad now. Safety Mitch Meeuwesen had six interceptions last year, while returning starters at cornerback, Aric Williams and Brandon Browner, are shutdown defenders. Browner was the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year and a Freshman All-American last season, tying for the team-lead with six picked off passes. He also posted 43 tackles and broke up six passes using his outstanding closing speed and physical play. SPECIAL TEAMS: Kirk Yliniemi was one of the best kickers in the Pac-10 over the past couple of seasons and will be missed. Junior John Dailey will take over in his place, but may have to fight off Alexis Serma for the starting nod. Junior Sam Paulescu and John Strowbridge will battle for the wide open punting position, but it is Paulescu who has the inside track. The talented juco transfer has a strong leg and the coaching staff believes he will only get better with time. OUTLOOK: Riley may have his hands full this season in Corvallis. The losses on offense will not help Anderson turn into the player that most thought he would be and an improving Pac-10 conference will take advantage of that. There are questions at nearly every position and the schedule is not a forgiving one. The Beavers open the year with contests against LSU, Boise State, Arizona State and California and will have to play USC and rival Oregon at the end of their 2004 slate. If the offense doesn't find playmakers at running back and receiver (outside of Haas), this defense will get worn down from being all the field constantly. However, if Wright can produce at tailback and the run defense can have a repeat performance from 2003, a second or third place finish in the Pac-10 is not that far fetched.