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Impressive OSU defense pitches shutout

CORVALLIS — As Oregon State transitioned to the Gary Andersen era this offseason, the bulk of the attention went to the change from former head coach Mike Riley’s pro-style offense to a more wide-open attack. As the Beavers opened the football season with a 26-7 win over Weber State at Reser Stadium on Saturday, though, the OSU defense stole the show.

With just two starters returning, the Beavers pitched a pair of shutouts. They didn’t allow a point, as the Wildcats’ lone score came on an interception return. Perhaps more impressive, they held Weber State to an 0-for-13 mark on third-down conversions.

“I hoped they could (do something like that), but that’s an amazing stat,” Andersen said.

Andersen and defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake felt there were only one or two possessions when the Beavers got a bit “off-kilter,” as Andersen put it, not making the right pre-snap reads.

“But they communicated well, they ran to the ball well, they seemed to tackle fairly well … in fact, I’d say they tackled very well,” Andersen said. “There’s a lot of new faces out there, and they did a heck of a job in Game 1.”

The Beavers limited Weber State to 178 yards total offense, including just 81 yards in the first half as OSU’s offense struggled and Oregon State led just 6-0 at the break.

After playing against that unit all of August, Beaver running back Storm Barrs-Woods wasn’t surprised.

“A lot of guys flying around, making plays — they’re very positive from coach Kalanie on down,” Barrs-Woods said. “The defense did some great things tonight. They had our backs.”

COLLINS NO SURPRISE: After the Beavers went into the game with a two-quarterback rotation with freshmen Seth Collins and Marcus McMaryion, Collins moved into the starting job with 152 yards rushing and 98 more passing on a 10-for-18 game with no interceptions. His runs ranged from a first-quarter hurdle of a defender to a fourth-quarter head-on blasting of a Wildcat defender.

For Barrs-Woods, it was just what he expected to see.

“I’ve been on his team since he stepped on campus,” Barrs-Woods said. “I’ve been impressed from the first day he touched campus. I knew this was going to happen. Y’all may be surprised, but I’m one of his biggest fans. I don’t hide it at all: I’m proud of him, I’ll always be proud of him.”

Everything from how Collins handles himself off the field to the way he takes command of the huddle impresses Barrs-Woods.

“He’s a guy who doesn’t blink, and words can’t express how proud I am of that young man,” Barrs-Woods said.

GOING LIVE: Oregon State did more live tackling in fall camp than in past years, and Barrs-Woods said that helped not only the defense, but the Beaver offense.

“It helped a lot,” said the senior who rushed for 63 yards. “You really don’t want to go into a game not being tackled a lot. You want your body to be somewhat banged up in camp so it’s not so much of a shock in the game. And like I said, going against those guys, you’re taking two or three shots every game. They swarm to the ball. We were very prepared.”

OFF TO THE BIG HOUSE: Next up for Oregon State is a trip to Michigan next Saturday. The Wolverines began their season Thursday night with a 24-17 loss at Utah.

“It’ll be a huge test,” said Andersen. Having coached at Utah, knowing Ute head coach Kyle Whittingham and having 2014 Utah defensive coordinator Sitake on his current staff, Andersen knows the Utes are a tough team.

“And that game basically went right down to the wire,” Andersen said. “It was a one-possession game at the end, 17-24, so it could go either way. This will be a big test; it will be a big moment for us.”

GETTING BETTER: The Beavers finished with 391 yards total offense after managing just 139 in the first half. OSU’s struggles included not converting on a fourth-and-inches at the Weber State 21 in the first quarter.

“I felt like we weren’t getting the surge we wanted early in the game. I think that would be a definite thing I felt on the field and we’ll know more when we see the film,” Andersen said. “I think our backs ran harder in the second half, which was nice to see.”

The Beavers need to do a better job of breaking tackles and making defenders miss on a consistent basis.

“You can’t just let those ankle tackles get you down when we get into league play, and as we play next week, when we play San Jose (State) down the line,” Andersen said. “It’s going to get much more difficult to break those tackles and we need to break some of them. But the offensive line will improve drastically as we move forward, and I think the backs will, too.”

BEAVER SALUTE: Saturday was Beaver Salute, Oregon State’s tribute to United States military active personnel and veterans. The Beaver decals on OSU’s helmets and the logo in the center of the field were red, white and blue. OSU’s honorary captain was Vern Johnson, a 1950 Oregon State grad who served in the U.S.Navy. Johnson has been attending Beaver football games since 1936. Grant Schadeberg, one of OSU’s assistant coaches, is a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq.

ODDS AND ENDS: In OSU’s 119-year football history, it now has a 21-7-5 record in debut games for head coaches. The last two debuts were Mike Riley’s 33-7 victory over North Texas in 1997, Dennis Erickson’s 28-13 victory at Nevada in 1999, and Riley’s 40-7 win over Sacramento State in his 2003 return to OSU … Andersen evened his record at 2-2 in his college head coaching debuts. His first game at Southern Utah was a 24-23 loss at Nevada in 2003, his first game at Utah State was a 35-17 loss at Utah in 2009, and his first game at Wisconsin was a 45-0 win over Massachusetts in 2013.