We continue our team-by-team review of the Pac-12 with Oregon State.
Offense: The Beavers were one-dimensional nearly the entire season, with that "nearly" providing one of the stranger footnotes in the Pac-12. The pass-happy Beavers rushed for 426 yards in their final two games, a tight loss to Oregon in the Civil War and a win over Boise State in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. That seemed to suggest that, perhaps, they could have run the ball better throughout the season if they had tried harder to make it a priority. As it was, Oregon State led the Pac-12 in passing and ranked 11th in rushing. The offense did improve compared to 2012, averaging 34.8 points compared to 32.5 in 2012 and gaining 36 more yards per game. The yards per play average went up from 5.9 to 6.2. The pass efficiency rating was slightly higher. The Beavers also gave up eight fewer sacks, but they had three more turnovers. Still, for most of the season, the offense was Sean Mannion to Brandin Cooks and little else. That was fine until the schedule ramped up in difficulty. During the five-game losing streak to end the regular season, the Beavers only averaged 20.1 points per game. Grade: C+.
Defense: In the preseason, it looked like the Beavers' defense would take a step back from the strong performance of 2012. That preseason perception proved true. The unit was worse by every measure. It gave up 31.4 points and 436.6 yards per game, up from 20.6 and 354.0 in 2012. It dropped from third to eighth in pass efficiency defense. It yielded nearly a yard more per play (6.1 ypp in 2012 compared to 5.2 in 2012). It created two fewer turnovers and recorded three fewer sacks. Things started terribly in a 49-46 loss to Eastern Washington, an FCS team. In Game 3, Utah scored 48. Over the next five weeks, however, the defense improved, yielding 20.1 points per game. But then things started again to slide, with the bottom coming out during a humiliating 69-27 home loss to Washington -- the Huskies gaining 692 yards, including 530 yards rushing. The Beavers started out with a number of obvious personnel holes, and then injuries made things worse. Grade: D+.
Special teams: The Beavers were slightly below mediocre in special teams. They were 14 of 20 on field goals (ninth in the conference) and averaged 36.7 yards in net punting (seventh). They were eighth in the conference in punt returns and kick returns, though Victor Bolden did return a kickoff for a TD. They were ninth in kickoff coverage. While Oregon State wasn't a disaster on special teams, it's fair to say special teams didn't boost the Beavers in many games. Grade: C-.
Overall: The Beavers had a dynamic pass-catch combination in Mannion and Cooks but little else. The back-loaded schedule probably made the season feel worse than it was, but a 7-6 finish was a win or two below realistic preseason expectations. For one, the Beavers would have been 8-5 if they played a lick of defense in the opener against Eastern Washington. Of course, then a 7-0 start would have led to a high national ranking and likely even more painful disappointment when the schedule hit its rugged second half. Oregon State lost five in a row to close the regular season, but all five losses came to teams that finished ranked in the AP poll. The only true disaster was the white flag performance against Washington. Still, Beavers fans are frustrated. They see Oregon continuing to thrive. They see Washington moving past them in the North Division pecking order. They see Washington State gaining under Mike Leach. They want more, and that will put some pressure on Mike Riley to deliver it in 2014. Only problem is, there are some big holes to fill on both sides of the ball. Grade: C-.