Trying To Make Sense Of The Oregon State Beavers Defense

Much has been written (and even more has been said) about Oregon State’s defense through these first four weeks. They need to evolve with modern schemes. It’s time for defensive coordinator Mark Banker to go. They can’t stop mobile quarterbacks. The criticisms are completely warranted.

Currently, the Beavers are allowing over 35 points a game, which places them 108th out of 125 FBS teams. While they are giving up 432 total yards of offense per game, the interesting numbers show up when the passing and rushing yards are separated. Oregon State gives up an acceptable 145 yards per game on the ground, which places them a middling number 52 of the 125 FBS teams. Through the air is where the problems lie, as they allow 287 passing yards per game. In this category, they rank 109th out of the 125 FBS teams.

But is the defense as a whole the issue, or can we look back to the four games played thus far and find some common thread of inability?

Week 1 vs. Eastern Washington:

We all know the story here. EWU’s quarterback, Vernon Adams, racked up 518 yards of offense and 6 touchdowns as the Eagles left Corvallis with a 49-46 victory over (then) #25 Oregon State. The Eagles had 9 scoring drives in this game (6 TD, 3 FG). The three drives resulting in field goals, as well as the two that ended with rushing touchdowns, all consisted of at least nine plays. The remaining four scoring drives, all producing touchdowns through the air, combined for a total of 17 plays. With these drives requiring an average of 4.25 plays before reaching the end zone, it becomes clear that Oregon State’s primary issues in this game were with the cornerbacks allowing big plays through the air.

Week 2 vs. Hawaii:

Coming into this game, the fans were hopeful that the Beavers would take the field with something to prove. Once halftime arrived, the score was tied 14-14 and the stadium that had hoped for a blowout victory was filled with a sense of dread for what was looking to be a disappointing season. Thankfully, the second half was a different story as Oregon State held Hawaii scoreless the rest of the way, finishing with a 33-14 win. Hawaii only had one true scoring possession during this game, a nine play drive resulting in a passing touchdown (their other score was a return of Sean Mannion’s only interception this year). While Hawaii is not a talented enough team to be considered “brag worthy”, allowing only seven points defensively against any FBS school is nothing to frown upon.

Week 3 at Utah:

In their first road contest of the season, Oregon State took on a scrappy Utah team that (at the time) was on the verge on being ranked. Entering halftime, the Beavers held a 20-10 lead and looked to be in control. Then, sparks began to fly as the two teams combined for 60 second half points, resulting in a tie at the end of regulation. In the overtime period, Oregon State’s defense woke up and forced Utah to settle for a field goal. This set up Sean Mannion’s game winning pass to Brandin Cooks that gave the Beavers a 51-48 victory.

To score 48 points, Utah used eight scoring drives (6 TD, 2 FG). We can discount the overtime field goal “drive”, as it only netted a single yard before the Utes kicked a field goal from almost the same spot as where they started. Of the remaining seven drives, only two of them lasted as long as 11 plays before a score occurred. Five of the drives, all touchdowns, took a combined 29 plays.

Week 4 at San Diego State:

In last week’s thriller, a 34-30 win that required two interceptions in the last few minutes of regulation to complete a 20-point fourth quarter comeback, Oregon State once again appeared to give away the game before a final flurry preserved the win. While San Diego State is not a very good football team, the composure that the Beavers portrayed in the waning moments speaks volumes to the principles that Coach Riley instills in his players. During this game, San Diego State had six scoring drives (3 TD, 3 FG). Once again, the possessions that resulted in passing touchdowns were the shortest of them all, notching a total of seven plays between two drives.

The table below shows the combined statistics from these four games in regards to scoring possessions allowed by the Oregon State defense so far this season:


# of scoring drives

Total # of plays

Average # of plays per drive

Passing TD




Rushing TD




Field Goal




While it makes sense that drives resulting in passing touchdowns would take fewer plays (as each play chews up more yardage on average), I find it notable that the Beavers are not getting beaten by any sort of “dink and dunk” passing efforts. When teams pass the ball, they are breaking off large chunks of the field and finding the end zone quickly. This provides very few opportunities for the defense to create turnovers, or for the opposing offenses to hurt themselves with drive-killing penalties. Additionally, the momentum boost that a team gets from a long scoring play can sometimes be significantly greater than the boost received after a long tedious drive.

Oregon State’s defense is bad right now, I cannot argue otherwise. However, with Steven Nelson’s emergence as the nation’s leader in interceptions, it might be worth paying attention to how the secondary performs in the coming weeks. With each takeaway, and each game that results in a victory, this same secondary that entered the season with hopes to carryover last season’s success just might figure out how to stop getting burned on the big plays and provide some breathing room on the scoreboard.

About Arran Gimba