Andersen is cooking in Corvallis

OSU Head Football Coach Gary Andersen enters Reser stadium on Nov. 26. This is Andersen’s second year at OSU and he just won his first Civil War game defeating in state rival Oregon 34 to 24.

Josh Worden Senior Beat Reporter

The vision of Beaver’s head coach led to successful season

The 2016 Oregon State football team had one of the best 4-8 seasons you’ll ever see.

OK sure, winning four games overall and going 3-6 in the Pac-12 is not where the Beavers want to be long term.

Beating the Ducks in the Civil War, though? Yeah, Beaver fans are happy with that.

How about that Duck bandwagon, by the way? Looks like it lost a wheel. If this season was a journey on the Oregon trail, the Ducks got stuck in Kansas and everyone on board contracted cholera.

But as for OSU, the Beavers had some disappointing losses this season and still is in the bottom half of the conference in terms of their record and yes, probably talent, too.

Except for Ryan Nall. That dude is absurd.

OSU had a relatively mediocre season in head coach Gary Andersen’s second year, but in one sense, OSU should have been far worse this season.

Consider this: OSU is one of only five teams in the nation to have different offensive and defensive coordinators in each of the last three seasons. Defensively, OSU has filtered through Mark Banker (2014), Kalani Sitake (2015) and now Kevin Clune (2016), while the offense has actually had five different coordinators in four seasons: Danny Langsdorf (2013), John Garrett (2014), Dave Baldwin (2015) and co-coordinators TJ Woods and Kevin McGiven this season.

OSU spent most of the year ranking in the top-10 in strength of schedule. Not to mention the players lost from last year’s squad, and I don’t just mean to graduation like Larry Scott and Kyle Peko. Remember Rommel Mageo and Justin Strong? They could have made a big impact for OSU this year if they hadn’t transferred.

Those four names were arguably OSU’s four best defenders a year ago and they all left.

How the heck did OSU even win four games this year? Give a lot of credit to the defense, which somehow improved despite itself to allow 30.5 points per game compared to 37.0 last season.

Even in OSU’s losses, there was progress. Andersen’s squad went 8-3-1 against the spread per ESPN, meaning the Beavers consistently did slightly better than expected. Did they win? No, not usually. But they lost by less than anticipated. And isn’t that

what it’s all about?

I’m slightly joking, but my point about OSU being competitive in games is valid. Andersen agrees with me: “Nobody flat walked in here, threw us around on the carpet and then said, ‘go home,’” Andersen said. And he’s right; OSU went 3-2 in its Pac-12 home games, losing those two by a combined nine points.

Here’s the biggest thing, though. The most important attribute in a rebuilding program’s success is whether or not players buy into the coaching staff’s vision. It takes commitment from the entire program and a lot of trust in the head coach to get the ball rolling.

Don’t just take it from me. Let’s look at the 1998 team. Coming off a 3-8 season in Mike Riley’s first year as head coach, OSU preceded its 2016 season by similarly adding two wins in Riley’s second year. It set the stage for a 7-5 season the next year and an 11-1 record in 2000.

Brandon Reynolds, an OSU wide receiver from 1996-1998, noticed a change in the Beavers’ program when Riley entered.

“I think everyone was buying into Riley and his coaching staff,” Reynolds said. “He had a winning perspective: ‘This is what we’re going to do. We’re going to do it well, we’re going to work, and we’re going to win.’

And he was right.”

Here’s the thing: players now say the same thing about Andersen that Reynolds said about Riley in 1998.

“You can see the fire in [Andersen’s] eyes and that he wants us to win more than anything,” said starting quarterback Marcus McMaryion.

“He says we deserve to win,” added junior safety Kendall Hill. “When you hear stuff like that from your head coach, it makes you want to go to anything for him.”

So are players buying into Andersen’s vision? Andersen says so.

“These kids have fought like crazy,” he said. “They know they’re in a big boy fight. They’re not where they want to be. None of us are. But I think they’re very bought into the direction we’re going. I think we all believe in each other, and that’s not just what they believe, that’s what we believe in as a group. But if you really want the answer to that, you should probably ask them.”

Good point, Gary. Luckily, I did ask them.

“Guys are buying into him,” McMaryion said. “He’s definitely a players first coach. He gives us everything we ask for, so the least we can do is play our tails off and try to

get wins for him.”

“We’re more of a family now,” added junior wideout Jordan Villamin. “I’m not saying last year we weren’t, but it’s more of a family atmosphere. The offense talks to the defense all the time, instead of keeping cliques. Everybody vibes with each other all the time, so it really helps. If someone makes a mistake, we’re like ‘Okay, you got it. We understand.’ It’s not like everybody’s getting mad at each other. Everybody’s in tune. It’s really nice.”

Need more?

“It’s definitely different [this year]: different team, different mindset, different work ethic, different everything,” said senior cornerback Treston Decoud. “We’re going to keep fighting and working, and I promise it’s going to turn around. Everybody’s going to want to get on the ship, but it’s going to be too late. We expect to win, and that’s what we’re going to keep expecting.”

OK, one more, this time from an assistant coach.

“I think he’s an incredible leader,” said wide receivers coach Brent Brennan. “The fact that you continue to see our team compete and fight the way they do even though they haven’t gotten the results they want, is a testimony to how much they believe in coach Andersen, the staff and what he’s doing with this process here. That’s beenincredibly positive.”

Most players echoed the same sentiments. Before the California win, though, sophomore defensive lineman Sumner Houston acknowledged that some players are still “working on” putting full trust into the process.

“There’s some people that are still hesitant about buying into the system, doing things right and trusting teammates,” he said.

The positive sign for OSU: that seemed to improve as the season went along. Last year, OSU started to get blown out week after week as the season closed—losing by 41 to

UCLA, 30 to Cal and 45 to Washington late in the year—but this year, OSU outscored its opponents in the final five games.

One more thing about 1998: OSU had a heck of a young running back in freshman Ken Simonton and got some big plays from quarterback Jonathan Smith. Same goes for 2016 with Nall and McMaryion, both sophomores.

“It was fun because we had Jonathan Smith, the walk-on, who just goes off. And then we had Ken Simonton, the running back who went crazy, too,” Reynolds said of his 1998 team. “It was fun to watch the dynamic to go from two unlikely heroes to winning a bunch of games and being competitive. In the Pac-10, we snuck up on a lot of teams and punched them in the mouth.”

Sound familiar? I mean, did we expect McMaryion to rip off a key 33-yard run in the Civil War’s fourth quarter in OSU’s go-ahead drive? Well, it happened, and so did OSU’s 10-point defeat of Oregon despite being three-point underdogs.

So, we’ve heard about Andersen’s thoughts on OSU heading in the right direction, and we’ve heard from the players. What do former Beavers think of Andersen? Greg Laybourn, a safety for OSU from 2006-2008, played on three bowl teams for the Beavers.

“Everything I’ve heard about coach Andersen and the brief interactions I’ve had with him at some events, it sounds like he’s really doing the right things,” Laybourn said. “He’s getting the recruits in. Only time will tell how things go on the field. We’ve got a tough league that we play in. I just hope we can continue to improve and get back to the top of the league.”

As a team, OSU has its vision cast upwards. Specifically, though, let’s pinpoint one big area of need. The Beavers realistically could be contending for the Pac-12 Championship if they develop an elite passing game. OSU was competitive in just about every contest this year, and that was with a passing offense that ranked last in the conference in efficiency for the second straight season. Imagine how good OSU could be once it figures out how to consistently move the ball downfield through the air. And if Ryan Nall is still dragging defenders for touchdowns every other play? Say goodnight.

Partway through the 2016 season, Andersen started talking about OSU’s struggle to consistently win games. He admitted OSU’s losing record, but didn’t stop there.

“I wake up each morning with a smile on my face,” he said. “I truly love my job and I love these kids. This place is special to me.”

Well, Gary, it’ll only feel more special when OSU becomes a regular bowl attendee. I think that will start next year. I thought OSU would win four games this year, and the Beavers leaned at the finish line to get there. In 2017, OSU will need 13 uniform combinations instead of 12 with a bowl game to account for.

Maybe the Ducks can help with some guidance on uniform ideas. Just don’t ask them about how to win the Civil War. OSU’s got that figured out now.

Matter of fact, don’t bother with the uniform advice, either.