Editor’s note: The following is a Q&A between Kabir Rao, football beat reporter at The Daily Californian, and Andres De Los Santos, sports chief at Orange Media Network. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Kabir Rao: What would you say are the Beavers’ strengths and weaknesses?
Andres De Los Santos: One of their big strengths is the run game. They can power through just about anybody. Behind this offensive line, B.J. Baylor is good at finding those open holes and making cuts in order to create huge plays. The linebacker corps, especially Jack Colletto, Omar Speights and Avery Roberts, are good not only at making plays but making necessary stops and getting tackles. In terms of weaknesses, I would say the pass game. Even though quarterback Chance Nolan looked really good against Utah, he threw for under 100 yards against Washington. Another weakness is the defense — the unit has given up some big plays. It’s looked good nonetheless, but that happens more than it should.
KR: How do you think Oregon State can remedy those weaknesses in the remaining stretch of the season?
ADLS: It’s doing a good job right now. Our offense isn’t one-sided — it is not just the run game or just the pass game. It does a good job of mixing it up and keeping the defense on its toes. OSU’s offense uses a lot of play action, faking handoffs and then passing or faking a pass and then handing it off. The Beavers use a lot of jet sweeps and motions, and they do a good job of getting everyone on the field involved. It could be Colletto, Anthony Gould, Jesiah Irish — they get everybody involved in making huge plays. They do a really good job of mixing up the game plan and keeping the defense honest.
KR: Who are the players that Cal should really look out for Saturday?
ADLS: Baylor is a good one, but really, watch out for the whole running back core. That’s Baylor, Deshaun Fenwick and Trey Lowe. Those three guys in the backfield are really a threat to the entire conference. In terms of receivers, Tre’Shaun Harrison and Trevon Bradford are some that come to mind. Offensively and defensively, look out for Colletto. No. 12 is a Swiss Army knife for the team and does just about everything. On defense, keep an eye out for Alex Austin, Speights, Roberts and the entire defensive line as well. The Beavers’ pass rush is incredible and can seriously generate some sacks.
KR: What makes Colletto so unique on both sides of the ball?
ADLS: Colletto is a two-way player. He is outstanding at linebacker, but he also comes in at fullback, especially in third-and-short and fourth-and-short scenarios or in goal-line situations where the team needs to score. He’s definitely the team’s Swiss Army knife.
KR: Nolan and Baylor are quite the duo, and having such a dynamic balance between the passing and running games certainly keeps the defense guessing. How have they stepped up to fill the shoes of last year’s starting quarterback Tristan Gebbia and running back Jermar Jefferson, respectively?
ADLS: It is unfortunate because Gebbia did get hurt against Oregon last season. Gebbia is a great quarterback; I can only say great things about him. But when he got hurt, Nolan had some huge shoes to step into. Nolan has had his moments. Against USC, Nolan looked phenomenal. His hot streak took a break against the Huskies and Cougars, but then Nolan rebounded against the Utes, so he’s really good at bouncing back. Leading OSU to a 5-2 record says a lot because honestly, this program has not had a winning record in quite some time. Baylor was the backup to Jefferson last season. Obviously, Jefferson was a huge threat to the Pac-12 and to the nation overall, so he also left big shoes to fill. But once again, Baylor being able to do so soundly and make big plays every game says a lot about his character, the way he plays and his mindset toward the game.
KR: OSU enters this contest with the top-ranked offense in the Pac-12, as the unit is averaging more than 35 points per game. What makes the Beavers’ offense so lethal, and how do you think it’ll perform against Cal?
ADLS: It’s lethal because of how effectively it mixes passing plays with running plays. In terms of runs, it uses a lot of jet sweeps but can also run up the middle. The offense uses a lot of short passes, which allows Nolan to find open receivers. But Nolan is a dual-threat quarterback. At times, he has trouble committing to either running or throwing and ends up trying to do too much. But the offense is lethal because a big play is always waiting to happen in either the run game or the passing game. Against Cal, the Beavers’ offense should fare well because it has so many options. OSU head coach Jonathan Smith has so many tricks up his sleeve that he can pull out to win a game. With his playbook, the Beavers are ready to do whatever it takes to win the game.
KR: Last time these teams met, the Beavers ran all over the Bears in Corvallis. How is this year’s OSU team different from last year’s?
ADLS: For starters, there’s no Jefferson or Gebbia. But beyond record, the main difference I can see is that there’s a lot more heart and passion in this team. Maybe it’s because with the record they have now, the players know how close they are to claiming a berth to a bowl game — they’re right there. But this team is fighting tooth and nail to get stops, finish tackles and make big plays. Obviously, every football team has heart, but I feel that there’s more fuel to the fire with this year’s squad because of the fact that it’s vying for first in the Pac-12. To the Beavers, that says a lot to the doubters and those that didn’t believe in them. They have something to prove to the conference and to the rest of the nation.
KR: OSU has had a lot of success against conference foes this season and boasts a 3-1 record against Pac-12 teams. How do you think it can continue this upward trend, and what makes the Beavers so successful against other teams in the conference?
ADLS: I’d say they have to keep utilizing the run game. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The rushing attack is one of the team’s big success factors, and it’s not just one running back; it’s a mixture of these guys. But it’s not just even running backs. OSU’s run game also consists of receivers like Bradford, Irish and Gould. They’re really good on jet sweeps and screen-pass plays, which essentially serve as run plays. Overall, the run game is phenomenal. Looking at the Utah game, Nolan looked more comfortable in the pocket and on his feet when he got the protection he needed. If he gets that level of protection, Nolan can make big plays and continue to find open receivers. That’ll go a long way toward continuing the Beavers’ success.
KR: At 5-2, the Beavers are sitting tight with rival Oregon in the race for the Pac-12 North crown. Do you think they’ll catch the Ducks, and what do you believe is the ceiling for this OSU team?
ADLS: I think they’ll catch the Ducks in the race. It’ll be very close, and it could come down to the last game of the season when the two teams meet in Eugene. That could be the deciding factor in determining who goes to Las Vegas. Both teams are really good and have a lot of heart, so it’ll be close. I’m bad at predicting records, but I think OSU will finish with a winning record. The Beavers are currently 5-2, but I’ll say they finish with eight wins.
KR: What do the Beavers need to do to win this football game?
ADLS: OSU needs to wake up in the first quarter. In the game against Utah, the Utes scored 14 points in the first quarter before the Beavers ever really touched the ball. Whoever is on the field first — offense or defense — needs to wake up and be firing on all cylinders. Against Cal last season, OSU ran the gauntlet on the Bears and looked good on offense, on defense and on special teams. The Beavers blocked two punts last week, but before that, the last time an OSU player blocked a punt was against Cal last season. So perhaps they’ll run the gauntlet against the Bears again this week. If the Beavers can wake up and come out firing on all cylinders, they should win this game.
KR: OSU hasn’t been the most successful program in years past. If the Beavers win Saturday, it’ll make them bowl eligible for the first time since 2013. Tell me a little bit about what that means not only for the football program but also for all of the fans in Corvallis.
ADLS: A lot of people do not consider OSU a threat to the rest of the Pac-12 or to the nation, in general. And the record has not been good — the Beavers were 2-10 before I came here, were 5-7 my freshman year and went 2-5 last season. The fact that they flipped that record and sit at 5-2 right now is a statement. There are some hardcore Beavers fans out there as I’m sure there are plenty of hardcore Cal fans, and they’re well aware that OSU has not qualified for a bowl game in so long. I’ll make a prediction: If OSU makes a bowl, no matter where that game takes place — it could be in Florida, Alaska, Hawaii — I guarantee you there will be a lot of orange in that stadium. The fans understand what this win would mean, and they’ll appreciate this program even more. Obviously, they already do, but the amount of respect that the program would get from fans and from the rest of the conference would be insane. In turn, it’s a confidence booster for the players. A lot of these players came here when the program was not that good, and to see it essentially flip on its head and turn into a threat in the Pac-12 will be a really good thing for them.
KR: Is there anything significant about this matchup that I haven’t covered yet?
ADLS: Once again, Colletto is a Swiss Army knife. He plays defense, offense and special teams, and he is the one to look out for the most. You put Colletto on the field, and good things happen. There’s been only one time this entire season when he got stopped and didn’t get a first down. But the Pac-12 is a crazy conference, and anything can happen within the realm of college football. Quite frankly, I am just excited to see how these two teams stack up on Saturday.
KR: How do you think this contest will play out, and what is your final score prediction?
ADLS: No win is an easy win, and Cal is going to come out and fight. No team ever wants to lose, and I know the Bears will come out swinging. The fact that Cal was so close to beating Oregon, a team that is ranked nationally, is something to keep an eye out for. That means the Bears know how to fight, scrap and make good things happen. This will be a good game. But I’m not saying it’ll be a close game. I’ll take the Beavers winning by 10.