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More physicality, better technique keys for team's 'engine'

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Senior guard Gavin Andrews says it's pretty simple for the Oregon State offensive line: 'We need to attack the line of scrimmage and move people around. 'CORVALLIS — There are plenty of concerns on the offensive side of the ball as Oregon State (1-1) prepares to play host to Boise State (2-0) in Saturday’s 12:30 p.m. intersectional matchup at Reser Stadium.

The biggest, however, is the performance of the offensive line.

The O-line struggled some in the opener at Minnesota, but that was expected, in part because left tackle Blake Brandel and center Yanni Demogerontas were making their career debuts as starters.

The inability of the O-line to protect quarterback Darell Garretson and open consistent holes for the run game in last Saturday’s 37-7 win against FCS opponent Idaho State was more perplexing. The Bengals — one of the bottom feeders of the Big Sky Conference and a 2-9 team a year ago — held their own in the trenches against the Beaver O-line, sacked Garretson three times and pressured him a ton.

“There’s work to be done,” says O-line coach T.J. Woods, OSU’s co-offensive coordinator. “We have to continue to get better protecting the passer. Seven sacks in two games is not what anybody wants. We have to get better with our pad level and knock some people off the ball in the run game.

“I saw improvements against Idaho State. If we continue to do that, we’ll be OK. We have some guys learning through the School of Hard Knocks. That’s part of the drill. Technique got better. There were a couple of assignment busts, but overall, I was pleased.

“The other thing is, protection is a team deal. It’s (the QB) getting the ball out on time. It involves the running backs and tight ends. There are some things we’re working on cleaning up there, too.”

Oregon State is going without its top three O-linemen from a year ago — center Josh Mitchell, guard Isaac Seumalo (now with the Philadelphia Eagles) and tackle Sean Harlow, who is redshirting because of injury.

“I don’t feel like we’re missing a lot,” says guard Gavin Andrews, a 6-6, 325-pound senior. “We wish we’d kept those guys and wish we had Harlow this year. But it’s what we’ve been dealt, and that’s what we’re going to work with.

“As Coach Woods says, the O-line needs to be the engine of this team. If we’re messing up, then the whole offense is going to be messing up. We need to attack the line of scrimmage and move people around.”

Oregon State took advantage of five Idaho State turnovers, including a 75-yard interception return for a touchdown by Treston Decoud. The Beavers managed only 17 first downs, the same as the Bengals, and won the total offense battle only 418 to 363. Three times, OSU settled for Garrett Owens field goals instead of punching in touchdowns. Perhaps most disconcerting was third- and fourth-down efficiency — 4 for 17.

“We have to finish drives,” head coach Gary Andersen says. “When it’s all said and done, you have to score points in this league. To do that, you have to be able to sustain drives. You have to do a good job on third downs. Overall, we have to be better.

“It’s (getting) all 11 guys on the same page. We need to be able to get the run game to have some consistency. If that requires some shifting in game-planning and making sure we’re doing the right things with packages and putting kids in the right spots, that’s what we’ll have to look at. If you’re getting the same results, you have to try something else.”

But, Andersen adds: “There are only so many things to try in the running game. You can’t rub some magic crystal ball and say we’re going to be really good with the run now. But it has to be fixed for us this year, if we’re going to be a team that makes some noise in this league at all.”

Oregon State coaches were surprised the O-line wasn’t able to out-physical the Bengals.

“We felt we could line up, get big and knock them off the ball,” Woods says. “They made that unfair (by loading the box with defenders). We have to do a better job as coaches, making sure we’re not running uphill all the time. We have to put them in better situations at times. That’s on me. We’ll do that.”

OSU coaches will look at personnel changes. Junior Brayden Kearsley played most of the second half at center. It’s possible he’ll start there Saturday.

“There’s an open competition at that spot,” Woods says. “Yanni hasn’t done anything to lose the job. Brayden played well, which was great to see. We need Brayden. We need the depth if nothing else. He definitely has earned an opportunity to be the starting center. We’ll go through practice this week and see how things shake out.”

If Kearsley starts at center, the 6-3, 305-pound Demogerontas could shift to guard in place of Andrews. Gus Lavaka, a 6-4, 340-pound true freshman from Kearns, Utah, played some against Idaho State and could figure into the lineup at guard, too.

Oregon State has some potent weapons at the skill positions, including Ryan Nall at tailback and Victor Bolden, Seth Collins, Jordan Villamin and Paul Lucas at receiver. In order to get them the ball in space, the blocking has to improve.

“I want to be an offense that is productive enough to win games in the Pac-12,” Andersen says. OSU’s offensive identity “may vary a little bit from year to year, but you have to score points. You can’t punt the ball eight or nine times in a game or you’re going to lose.

“We have to work at getting better. That’s just where we are. You can’t just kick and scream and go in the corner and suck your thumb and feel bad for yourself. You have to bow up for yourself and fight and make it better.”

NOTES: Tight end Noah Togiai, who suffered a knee injury on the opening kickoff against Idaho State, has been declared out for the Boise State game and is feared to be lost for the season. Linebacker Landry Payne (linebacker) also won't play Saturday. … With the loss of Togiai, the Beavers are likely to use more four wideout sets with no tight end. … Freshmen Isaac Garcia (linebacker) and Christian Wallace (cornerback) are on campus but have not been cleared to play by the NCAA Eligibility Center. Wallace, who has completed the university’s “Bridge” program for freshmen, has practiced; Garcia has not. OSU coaches are hopeful to get word on appeals for their eligibility this week. Even if they’re cleared, both players are headed for a redshirt season. ... Andersen says true freshman Artavis Pierce, who carried seven times for 30 yards against Idaho State, “has solidified himself as the backup running back.” … True freshman Adley Rutschman, who signed with OSU to play baseball, fared well in his debut as kickoff specialist against Idaho State. “He can be a kicker and a baseball player,” Andersen says. “He loves to compete. You cannot have enough kids on the team who love to compete. Adley is one of those guys.” Per NCAA rules, Rutschman’s scholarship will now be taken care of in football, not baseball.

Oregon State has a home-and-home series against Boise State scheduled for 2022 and ’23, but Andersen would prefer that not to be the case. The second-year OSU head man wants to schedule nonconference opponents out of the region. “We would like to get into a place where we recruit more,” Andersen says. “Maybe it’s bringing a team in here from Texas or Florida or Georgia, where it’s tied more into our recruiting base.” It’s unlikely teams such as Miami, Florida, Florida State, Georgia or Texas would agree to a home-and-home series, but Andersen is thinking of teams such as Central Florida, Florida International, Florida Atlantic, South Florida, Texas State and Southern Methodist. Andersen would be open to scheduling two road games and one home game with the traditional power schools from those areas. … Decoud, who had two interceptions against Idaho State, including the pick-six, was honored as Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week. It’s the first Beaver to win a conference player of the week award in the Andersen era. … Bolden has had difficulty catching punts in both OSU games. “That doesn’t scare me — it’s petrifying,” Andersen says. “If that’s not better, we’ll lose a game because of our inability to catch punts. We’ll make sure that’s a point of emphasis going forward.” It’s likely that senior Rahmel Dockery, or perhaps true freshman Trevon Bradford, will handle punt return duties against Boise State. … Bolden, however, remains OSU’s biggest weapon on offense. The senior receiver ran 92 yards on a fly sweep for a touchdown — second-longest in school history behind Terry Baker’s fabled 99-yard TD run in the Beavers’ 6-0 win over Villanova in the 1962 Liberty Bowl — and had a 48-yard reception. “Victor has a lot in him,” Andersen says. “Those plays are what we talk about — kids turning a play into something special. Victor had a couple of them against Idaho State. We need to get two or three more of them a game.”

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