Are this year's Beavers tough enough?
One long-time Oregon State football fan, with a view from the Reser Stadium public address announcer's booth, referenced the debacle against UCLA he witnessed Saturday as "feeling like early (Jerry) Pettibone era."
He may have been gracious.
These are not your Mike Riley Beavers. They bear no resemblance to the Dennis Erickson Beavers, either.
Sorry Beaver Believers, but this may be one of the worst football teams since the Joe Avezzano era — perhaps the bleakest period in that wasteland that was a 28-year losing streak, the longest stretch of futility in college football history. Sure, Pettibone posted three one-win seasons in his six seasons in Corvallis; he also inherited a one-win team and a program in relative shambles with little in the way of facilities and funds.
First-year OSU coach Gary Andersen inherited a program with facilities comparable to those at Washington State, Utah, California and Arizona. The Beavers won nine games as recently as 2012 and went bowling in 2013. They were 5-7 a year ago. Those saying that Riley left the cupboard "bare" when he departed for Nebraska are overlooking the truth that the leaders on this year's team are guys Riley recruited.
There were three returning quarterbacks on the roster — all sophomores or juniors to be — and a redshirt freshman in Nick Mitchell, when Andersen was hired from Wisconsin to replace Riley.
Before spring drills began, all three of those returners were gone and Andersen was building around three freshmen: Seth Collins, Marcus McMaryion and Mitchell.
Mitchell started against UCLA, having risen from third on the depth chart to place-holder after Collins was injured going into the Beavers' game with Utah, a contest the Utes led 14-0 two drives into the game and won 27-12.
Based off the performance in Salt Lake City, some in Beaver Nation were thinking Oregon State had, possibly, turned the corner.
What I witnessed at Reser on Saturday was not a team turning a corner. There was a brief period of hope in the first quarter (scoreless) stretching into the second when the Beavers managed to mount a couple of drives. Then UCLA recovered a Mitchell fumble and converted it into a field goal. The Bruins then turned two interceptions into touchdowns, scoring 17 of their 24 second-quarter points off OSU mistakes.
With the Beavers' offense dropping into hibernation, the ball game was over with a half to play. UCLA would average 7.1 yards per play and roll up 674 total yards against the Beavers. It was a 1980s vintage butt-whipping.
I saw Andersen — a no-holds-barred talker — exhort his team coming out of the locker room at halftime. "Let's go! Let's show them how we do things!"
The longer I watched, the more convinced I was that OSU had been "Huskied" by Utah. Back in the Avezzano era, Northwest rival Washington feared no one in Oregon. The Huskies often did just enough to win the game, running vanilla play after vanilla play that the Avezzano Beavers could not stop. The final score looked promising for OSU fans, and the Huskies had shown nothing on film for future opponents to counter.
After the Beavers were shut out 41-0 by UCLA for the first time since a 35-0 shellacking at Wisconsin in 2011 (before Andersen arrived in Madison), Andersen was unyielding in his comments about the players in his locker room. "The tough guys will survive and the weak ones won't and that's where we're at and if we don't realize that, we are sadly mistaken."
Most of those players were recruited by Riley, and the implication, when combined with Andersen's earlier comments regarding the comportment of the Beavers, leaves me wondering if he is the right man for Oregon State. Apparently Andersen sees too few "tough guys" in his locker room; there are too many "nice guys" for the Beavers to win.
When things are wrong, Andersen says so, and I laud him for that. But there are two ways to coach a group of inherited players: either force them to do things your way or send them down the highway, or adapt your system to what those players have the skills to execute. It strikes me that Andersen is taking the first route and it's not working — at least not yet.
"It's easy to jump off the ship. I won't jump off the ship," Andersen said. "I will never change from demanding our football team learn to handle itself in a professional manner.
"On offense, we had nothing. Offensively we were ineffective at best. I would say we're either coaching it wrong or refusing to learn. Either way the blame goes right, straight between my eyes."
From the evidence of Saturday's 246-yard offensive show — led by Storm Barrs-Woods' 87 yards rushing on 14 carries — it might be both. When asked if there were toughness issues among the older Beavers as well as the underclassmen, Woods would only say he wouldn't comment.
At least those early Pettibone teams were tough on defense and single-minded on offense. This Andersen team is having a hard time with both.