Oregon State had few problems moving the ball in 2013. The Beaver’s inability to prevent their opponents from doing the same to them left fans exhausted. A promising 6-1 start was followed by a five game losing streak that included one of the coldest fall’s anyone can remember in Corvallis. Three painful losses at Reser Stadium to #6 Stanford (20-12), USC (31-14), and Washington (69-27) capped off by a heart wrenching 36-35 defeat in Eugene to #13 Oregon.
While certainly it had been a tough stretch to watch, Oregon State finished the 2013 campaign with a convincing 38-23 victory in the Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl over the then freshly Chris Petersen-less Boise State Broncos.
An inspired effort in the most important game of the year followed by the Beaver’s trouncing of another regional rival reinvigorated a fan base that had experienced the humiliation of starting off with a loss to FCS Eastern Washington, the jubilee of riding a 6-1 record, the devastation of losing a last-minute rivalry game in Autzen Stadium, the weight of a 6-6 regular season finish, and the bliss of not falling to under .500 for the third time in four years.
One of the most exciting and surprising position groups in the aforementioned season of Lebowskian strikes and gutters was the Beaver secondary. The big number that stands out is 19 interceptions, putting Oregon State second in the conference behind Arizona State.
Fueled by the 12 combined interceptions (6 each) of NFL-bound Rashaad Reyenolds and returning junior Steven Nelson, the Beavers didn’t exactly wow on other segments of the stat sheet. Oregon State’s defense allowed 31.4 points, 436 yards per game (190 on the ground and 246 through the air), and surrendered 48 touchdowns (28 on the ground and 20 through the air).
Statistically, this puts the Beavers in the lower third of the conference. Mark Banker’s unit finished 7th in passing defense, 11th in rushing defense, and 9th in total defense.
Defense truly is a “team-effort” concept and statistics can be misleading when it comes to positional breakdowns. If a pass rush is ineffective, it can make a secondary look porous and flimsy, all the while still being an athletic and talented group. One could make the case that Oregon State’s lot in 2013 was simply a case of an unbalanced defense.
Scott Crichton and Dylan Wynn were defensive anchors on the outside, but both failed to replicate their 2012 numbers. A play by committee system left the middle of the line unstable and created a critical soft spot in the Beaver’s armor. The Beavers were the only team in the conference that allowed a 5+ yard per rush average in 2013.
Returning for the Beavers is half of the 12-pick tandem, Senior Corner Steven Nelson. Nelson posted 6 INTs and 62 tackles on the way to being named to the Pac-12’s Honorable Mention team. Replacing Rashaad Reynolds on the right side will be Larry Scott.
The junior from Corona, CA appeared in 12 games in 2013 and managed 9 tackles and an interception. Scott missed time in 2011 and 2012 due to a knee injury sustained in his second collegiate fall practice. Senior Malcom Marable and Junior Patrick Naji will also see time at corner. Marable and Naji had 2 tackles each in 2013.
Red shirt freshman Dashon Hunt should also have an opportunity to compete for a steady role in the rotation. Hunt plays much bigger than his 5’8 frame would suggest and will have the benefit of learning from a seasoned group.
Behind the wealth of big game experience at Safety, sophomore Zac Robinson and homegrown walk-on junior Micah Audiss will see time in the secondary as well. An intriguing name on the depth chart is red-shirt freshman Justin Strong, younger brother of former Beaver and current New Orleans Saints linebacker Victor Butler (although he may still be remembered as Victor Strong-Butler in Beaver Nation).
The Beaver’s 19 interceptions would point to an athletic and able secondary and with only one member of the 2013 squad leaving the roster, there is reason to be optimistic in Corvallis. Headlining the trio of returning lettermen, combining for 63 career starts, Zimmerman, Nelson, and Murphy will be critical not only to the Beaver’s defensive effort in 2014, but also in the preparation and development of tomorrow’s crop of defensive stars.