Last week, the Colorado football team got off to a great start to Pac-12 play with an upset on the road.
This week, Oregon State is looking to do the same thing. The Beavers (1-2) have sputtered out of the gates this season, but have an opportunity to restart with their Pac-12 opener against the Buffaloes at Folsom Field.
This week, BuffZone.com caught up with Danny Moran, who covers the Beavers for The Oregonian, to get his thoughts on the team and this game.
BuffZone: As with Colorado, Oregon State seems to have questions at quarterback coming into this game. Which quarterback do you expect to see this week, and is there a drop-off if Darell Garretson can't play?
Moran: It will be Garretson. Gary Andersen squashed any notion of a quarterback controversy after the Boise State loss by saying that the junior had not been "100 percent" and that he was the starting quarterback. Conor Blount, a freshman walk-on, performed well when he replaced Garretson to start the second half with the Beavers down 31-7 and is the clear No. 2. He proved to be more mobile under collapsing pressure than Garretson, who the team said was dealing with a leg injury. The offensive line has struggled to keep a clean pocket and is looking to adjust in part by bringing back left tackle Sean Harlow, who has been out since breaking his leg against Colorado last year.
BuffZone: So far, the Beavers have struggled to get going under Gary Andersen, but he has a great reputation as a coach. Do you believe the program is headed in the right direction?
Moran: It became clear midway through last season that this was going to be a longer rebuild than some may have initially expected. The Beavers were decisively the worst team in the Pac-12 and, despite improving in multiple areas, are still thin and young at a number of positions on both sides of the ball. Some players I've spoken with who were seniors on last year's team had really positive things to say about Andersen, so that may be an indicator that he's done okay with a tough situation. The biggest challenge is what it sounds like Colorado has gone through the past couple years. The Pac-12 may not have a team to win the playoff but it's a really deep conference. OSU could be better than last year and end up 1-8 or 0-9. CU was picked last in the Pac-12 South and is now an 18.5-point favorite Saturday after its strong start to the year. There is still optimism around the program direction but it will be interesting to see where that goes if the league losing streak (now at 11 games) keeps growing.
BuffZone: The analytics show that cornerback Treston Decoud has played very well this year. Just how good has he been, and does he have enough help in the secondary for Oregon State to slow down CU's talented receivers?
Moran: He has been very effective. He won Pac-12 defensive player of the week for his performance against Idaho State on Sept. 17, when he had two interceptions, including a 75-yard pick six. At 6-foot-3, he is by far the biggest member of the secondary and he has used his size to his advantage to this point with solid tackling in the open field. Opposite him is redshirt freshman Xavier Crawford, who is relatively inexperienced but performed well when he got tested downfield in the season opener at Minnesota. Former walk-on Devin Chappell is now as a captain and starting safety. He has played well this year and is a hard hitter, forcing two fumbles against Boise State. The biggest thing thus far is that group has stayed healthy and not given up any big plays. Only one passing play for more than 30 yards has been allowed, the best mark in the conference.
BuffZone: Despite their results to this point, what have the Beavers done well that could translate into some success this week?
Moran: Oregon State forced eight turnovers through three games. The defense had 12 all of last year. Offenses have had successful stretches of moving the ball against that group in all three games, but if they have truly turned a corner in that department, that is how the Beavers could make things interesting. Furthermore, they had an all-around top notch special teams performance against Boise State: a kickoff return for a touchdown, a successful onside kick, solid punt returns and stellar punt and kickoff coverage. Speedy wide receiver Victor Bolden has been their home run hitter for returns and could do some damage if Colorado can't get touchbacks.
BuffZone: In what area — or areas — do you think Oregon State could really struggle this week?
Moran: The offensive performance is a concern. Coaches acknowledge they are still in search of an "identity," a few of the team's scores have come courtesy of short fields set up by turnovers and the receiving corps has generally underperformed. Part of that may be the uncertainty at quarterback and the offensive line issues but it could be an issue given the talent in Colorado's secondary. Also, the defense struggled to contain the one mobile quarterback it has faced (Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner), so that could present a problem if Steven Montez is the Buffaloes' guy given the running prowess he showed against Oregon.
Brian Howell: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.