Oregon State Football Defense Preview

Oregon State's Defense Has Been Far From Elite... But Was Able to Stop Cal in 2019

Photo Credit: Calbears.com

Defensive Overview: 

Big picture wise we can actually expect a similar defense as Wilcox’s 3-4, why? 

Their DC/OLB coach is Tim Tibesar who coached under Wilcox at Wisconsin in 2016 (DC Tibesar coached at Wisconsin 2015-17 as LB coach, before that he was a Defensive consultant at Northwestern, and a LB coach with the Chicago Bears,) and held DC spots with the Montreal Alouettes, Kansas State, and North Dakota State which parallels the experience of DeRuyter and Wilcox as a DC. We can also expect strong and well coached OLBs position group (ie. All-American Hamilcar Rashed Jr.) 

Fun fact: he also coached at Cal in 1999 (when Cher’s “Believe” was the #1 song) as a graduate assistant for the OL. 

Tibersar’s Oregon State has been very aggressive with the blitz which could spell further trouble for Cal’s OL who struggled to coordinate on blitz pressures (on a handful of occasions 3 OL would block a NG/DT, or fail to account for the extra rusher). 

All of the above could mean that the scout team’s defense can run the Wilcox playbook against the Cal offense for practice. This is a benefit of “know thy enemy, know thy self” happening here and Tibesar and Wilcox may plan defenses differently. However, it is important to know that Wilcox knows Tibesar and Tibesar knows Wilcox, each other’s knowledge it’ll be a small mind game for each offensive staff, but that’s another discussion. 

Positional Preview:

Defensive Line:

Oregon State has struggled pretty heavily on the ground in the first two games, giving up over 200 yards rushing to both Washington State and Washington, including allowing 7.6 yards a carry against the Cougs. This is a continuation of the trend seen in Jonathan Smith’s first two years – in 2018 they gave up an average of 281.8 yards per game on the ground (281.8!!!), before improving slightly last season to 10th in the conference in rushing defense. The blame is likely placed on the defensive line, as has been the case for its defensive woes in prior seasons.

The best player is Junior defensive tackle Isaac Hodgins, who has started all but one game in his time at Oregon State. The other two linemen – defensive tackle Alexander Skelton and defensive end Simon Sandberg both don’t bring much prior starting experience, with Sandberg only starting 3 games last season and Skelton starting none.

This unit was supposed to take a step forward this season but is missing a couple of Seniors that were supposed to contribute, leading to the inexperience outside of Hodgins.

Linebacker:

The linebacking core is by far the strength of this Beaver defense, with Senior All-American Hamilcar Rashed Jr. leading the way at the outside linebacker position. He currently projects as an early-to-mid round NFL draft pick. Rashed is an absolute beast and finds himself in the backfield often – he led the nation in tackles for loss last season (22.5) and was fourth in sacks (14). He had a particularly great game against the Bears last year with 3 sacks, so he’s someone to keep an eye on given Cal’s offensive line woes last Sunday.

Rashed Jr. does a great job anticipating the snap count, and is so quick off the line that offensive linemen frequently struggle to get their hands on him.

LB Hamilcar Rashed Jr. anticipates the snap count to get a sack on QB Jayden Daniels, a player that’s not particularly easy to get your hands on.

I actually watched this clip in slow motion to see that he didn’t jump offsides. One of the reasons that Rashed Jr. had so many TFLs last season is that he does an excellent job of tracking the ball in the backfield:

LB Hamilcar Rashed Jr. gets a sack on QB Devon Modster.

You may also remember this unfortunate play, where Rashed Jr. plays the role of QB spy to keep QB Spencer Brasch contained, and ends up forcing an interception:

LB Hamilcar Rashed Jr. deflects QB Spencer Brasch’s pass for an interception by NB Jaydon Grant. 

Rashed Jr. is a sure tackler, a big issue for Oregon State in previous years (OSU was 129th out of 130 in the FBS in rushing defense in 2018, but had improved to 79th in 2019).

He’s complemented by inside linebacker Omar Speights, a sophomore who was a four star recruit coming out of high school and a freshman All-American last season. He really came onto the scene in the second half of 2019, including a game against Washington where he channeled his inner Evan Weaver with 18 tackles.

I am also a fan of inside linebacker Omar Speight’s ability to stop the run:

LB Omar Speights stuffs RB Richard Newton near the goal line. 

An issue in past seasons for Oregon State has been depth on the defense. To solve this, coach Jonathan Smith has looked to the transfer portal: rounding out the starting linebackers are former 4-star recruits ILB Avery Roberts (Nebraska) and OLB Addison Gumbs (Oklahoma). Behind Hamilcar Rashed Jr. is Riley Sharp, who showed a ton of promise last year in his freshman season (you may also remember his 3 sacks and 3 TFLs against us). Another interesting twist is that former backup QB Jack Colletto (the quarterback OSU uses any time they want the QB to run the ball) has been converted to a linebacker and has also recorded a couple tackles this year.

Cornerback:

Of the terrible defenses the past couple of seasons, the passing defense has been the most respectable part. At corner, Oregon State returns both of their starters in Isaiah Dunn and Nahshon Wright, and safety Jaydon Grant also started 9 games last season. Starting opposite of Jaydon Grant at safety is Freshman Akili Arnold, who despite redshirting last season did play four games, including in the rivalry game against Oregon.

Through two games, the passing game has held its own, allowing 141 yards last week against Washington and 227 yards the week before against Washington State. Notably, Washington State’s passing offense was much more alive the week after against Oregon. This could be that Wazzu true freshman QB Jayden De Laura gained some experience from week 1, but could be interpreted as a solid sign of the Beavers passing defense.

Perhaps as a consequence of OSU having a historically bad run defense for a number of years, the secondary isn’t tested quite as often, and has comparatively better stats as a result. I’m not particularly high on their safeties, but Isaiah Dunn is a good cornerback, and I think Nashon Wright is a rising star at CB. He led OSU in interceptions last year (his first year after transferring from JUCO), and I don’t think I’ve seen him get beaten at corner. Here he his blanketing Washington’s top wide receiver, Terrell Bynum:

CB Nashon Wright shadows WR Terrell Bynum.

And here he is with a physical pass break-up on WR Rome Odunze:

After CB Nashon Wright’s takedown of WR Rome Odunze, he climbed up to the top rope and paid homage to Randy Savage with a diving elbow drop that electrified the crowd. 

I think Nashon Wright is on his way to becoming a shutdown corner. 

Cal’s Keys to the Game:

1) Run, run, run the ball: It’s been pretty clear through the first two games that opponents don’t respect the Beavers running game. Given Oregon State’s depth issues, I would imagine Cal wants to keep the defense on the field for as long as possible. Last year against Oregon State, the lack of success on the ground also hampered Cal from getting what should have been an easy win.

2) Have the linebackers be far away from Chase Garbers and out of the backfield: Rashed Jr. and Speight are two talented linebackers that have a proven ability to get to the quarterback and tackle running backs behind the line of scrimmage. Cal doesn’t want to be in a situation where Oregon State’s strength gets in a groove. 

3) Keep the cornerbacks honest: This ties in with the first two keys, but the less effective Oregon State’s cornerbacks can be, the more Cal can get the run game going and keep the linebackers out of the backfield. If the Beavers cornerbacks can cover Cal’s receivers 1v1, that spells trouble by opening multiple avenues for Oregon State to bring pressure.