Oregon State's offense, despite rebuilding its 2008 offensive line and receiving corps, ranks No. 1 in the Pac-10 in passing (280 yards per game) and No. 2 in pass efficiency.
That's due in large part to the maturation of fifth-year senior Sean Canfield, who may be the front-runner to become first-team All-Pac-10 quarterback.
And a lot of credit for Canfield's and the offense's success is due to Beavers coordinator Danny Langsdorf, who took over play-calling duties mid-way through last season from head coach Mike Riley.
The "Wild Beaver" formation with running back Jacquizz Rodgers adding throwing to his already substantial running and receiving repertoire? That's Langsdorf, who is a rising star on one of the best coaching staffs in the Pac-10.
How tight is that group? Well, Langsdorf, in 2007, donated a kidney to Laurie Cavanaugh, offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh's wife.
Seeing that the Beavers, who play host to Washington on Saturday, are riding their typical late-season surge toward the top-half of the conference -- and are still in the Rose Bowl race -- it seemed like a good time to check in.
Give me a general assessment of the offense -- what's going well right now and what concerns you?
Danny Langsdorf: We've been pretty balanced. We've been able to run the ball and off of that our play-action has opened up. Occasionally, we'll hit a flier or reverse that is important to our run game -- it has a little bit of deception to it. Anytime you can run the ball and have some things off of it, you are able to open up a lot of different stuff. I would say we didn't run the ball great last week [against California] and had to do some things in the passing game to make up for it. That was a bit of a concern. If we can get back to running the ball successfully, it really helps us out a ton.
You're the quarterbacks coach: Canfield is playing as well as any quarterback in the conference. For you, what was his breakthrough moment?
DL: That's a good question. I think it dates back to last year. He was coming back from [shoulder] surgery and it was hard to tell how he felt. About midseason last year, [then-starting quarterback Lyle Moevao] goes down against Arizona State and [Canfield] goes in at a point where we were pretty sure he was ready to go but he hadn't really taken any meaningful snaps. So he goes in early in the game against Arizona State and ended up winning the game for us and playing pretty well. I think from that point on he really had some confidence. I think he had some trust from our team. He goes and wins [two] in a row after that. I think with that Arizona State game, after that he kind of turned the corner. I think that gave him great confidence going into the spring and starting off the season.
Then there's the unfortunate side of that coin. Former starting quarterback Lyle Moevao has had a tough senior year for a variety of reasons, most particularly injuries. How have you handled him and how is he doing?
DL: He's obviously very disappointed. I think the only thing I was able to share with him was I went through the same thing my senior year in college [Linfield College in McMinnville, Ore.], I got hurt and didn't get to play much. So I had been there before and know what he's going through. I think just being able to be there for him in that sense. And, obviously, he did so much good stuff for our team, so many great things last year. To have his season end the way it did -- to not even get started, really -- is really a shame. But I think because of his character, he's such a great guy, that he's been a very good leader for our guys and vocal. He's been a real help to our team, even through his injuries. He's such a positive person you can't help but like being around him. He continues to be a leader for us.
Do you sometimes feel like a mad scientist trying to figure out ways to get the Rodgers brothers the ball?
DL: It's been fun. They are so much fun to try to move around to different formations. They are so talented. We've started throwing a little bit with Quizz and doing some things that are pretty fun for the guys. They're exciting to watch. As long as they are working, it's all good. I think there is some challenge to create different wrinkles off of what has been successful. You can't overdo it and get away from some things you need to be good at. But at the same time, it sure adds some spice to the offense and I think the players have fun with it.
I saw you guys in August and thought you might struggle on the offensive line. You did for a bit, but not it seems like those guys are playing well. What happened?
DL: I think they came together as a group. We did struggle early on and part of it was getting beat one-on-one. I think that helping the guys with our backs and tightends and then the quarterback getting rid of the ball faster has all been helpful to our protection schemes. It takes a little bit of time for a front-five to come together as a group. I think we've changed a little bit in our protection to help them out also. We're throwing the ball a little faster, not as many deep, drop-back throws. I think all of that has helped us.
Before you started calling the plays the middle of last year, how did you and Mike Riley split up responsibilities before that?
DL: We still work very closely with the game plan. I think, through our discussions and film study, we put a plan in place. I think his time commitments made it hard to be prepared to call a game. I wouldn't say we've changed a whole lot. Obviously the play-caller is different. But our plans are put together with a lot of hours discussing it. We've created a plan where both of us are on the same page. He'll throw his two cents in and I'll obviously listen and take the suggestions. It's been pretty good. It's been a pretty smooth transition. I don't think people would notice that much is difference even though the play-caller has changed.
I have had a couple of coaches tell me some things are a little different -- how are things different with you calling the game?
DL: That's a good question. I guess we're, lately, a little bit more empty, emptying the backfield out a little more, releasing the tailback. Part of that was a commitment to making Quizz a little bit more of a receiving threat than just a runner. That's shown up. I don't know how many catches he has , but he's got a bunch. That's really helped us because it's added another real threat in the passing game. I think that is probably a little bit of an evolution that we've gotten to. I wouldn't say the run plan is different. I'm trying to think about how you'd notice -- our "Wild Beaver" stuff is a little bit different. Other than that, we've been running stuff that we've been doing for a long time. We're trying to create some wrinkles off of it and expand and evolve, but our base stuff is pretty much the same as it's been.
Obviously there's a lot to play for this year, but you've got a lot of guys coming back in 2010. That said, you've got to find a new quarterback. How will that stack up?
DL: That will be a very important spot to fill. We've had experienced leaders at that position for a couple of years now. Anytime you break in a new one, it can be scary. We've got some young kids [redshirt freshman Ryan Katz and junior Peter Lalich] who we are really excited about, but you can't simulate live competition very well in practice. There are always growing pains with a youngster. But we do have some talent at that position. It think if we can help him out with some veteran guys to surround him we'll be OK there.
Mike Riley is a prince of a guy with the media. Does he have a dark side that we are missing? Does he secretly have a horrible mean side behind closed doors?
DL: Oh, he's awfully mean to me [laughs]. What you see is what you get with him. That's the beauty of it. There's no hidden agendas. There's no false pretense with him. You watch him on TV or on the sidelines and he's smiling. It's the same stuff he's saying to me on the phones. We'll be in the middle of an important part of a game and he'll say something like, 'Man, isn't this fun!' He says stuff that you don't think a guy would say at a time like that. That's just how he is. He's relaxed and poised. He's pretty good to work for that way. He doesn't undress you and swear at you. He talks to you. He encourages you. And he'll get mad. But you don't see it very often.