Each week during the Pac-12 season, we'll try to hook up with our fellow SB Nation sites across the conference. We travel as far north as we've been all season this week to talk with our friend Andy at the the excellent Oregon State SB Nation site, Building The Dam. We'll get his thoughts on their new coach and this year's team, and see proof why he's more mature and better adjusted than I am (it's true, I'll admit it)
Bruins Nation: Oregon State went down to the wire with Colorado two weeks ago, and then played tough against an angry Utah team on the rebound last week - which I think speaks well of the OSU coaches and players. Is this a sign that this team is beginning to gel in Coach Gary Anderson's inaugural season, and how do you see his future at OSU?
Building The Dam: Both games were indicators that the younger and otherwise inexperienced players are continuing to battle, and also to learn. The Beavers had career best games on defense from LB Jonathan Willis and DE Baker Pritchard. Oregon State may have had their best game of the season in terms of pressure in the opponent's backfield, and tackles for a loss.
Andersen's real success will come after he and his staff recruit some additional Pac-12 level players, though, and the upgrade in recruiting in a short first season last year, and so far part way through this cycle, is where the real encouragement comes from. Most people see the rebuild for the long haul project that it is, and are waiting until we see the current ground work begin to come to fruition.
BN: The U.C.L.A. defense is going to face your backup QB, redshirt freshman Nick Mitchell, on Saturday. Now, believe me, Bruin fans can truly sympathize with seeing a starter go down from an injury, but we also have a bad habit of making backup quarterbacks look like All-Americans. What are Mitchell's strengths and weaknesses compared to the injured starter Seth Collins?
BTD: Mitchell, who now has 1 complete game at quarterback to his credit, but did play in several games earlier in the year, is a more balanced quarterback than Collins. Part of that is because he isn't the running threat that Collins is, but he has shown some ability to make good reads on pass-run option plays, whereas Collins had a tendency to take off earlier and more often than he needed to. Accuracy and footwork are very much still a work in progress for Mitchell, but the coaches are as high on him as they are because he understands the offense the best of any of the quarterbacks.
BN: Collins was the team's leading rusher at the time of his injury, but running backs Storm Barr-Woods and Ryan Nall have been productive this year, too. The Bruins have looked vulnerable against good rushing teams this season, and they're missing more than a few key players on defense. Do you think OSU can exploit the Bruins rush defense and keep the ball away from the potent Bruin offense?
BTD: The Beavers will certainly try. Nall's best work is done between the tackles, and that's why he had a quiet day at Utah, after a career best afternoon against Colorado; Andersen didn't like the Beavers' chances against a Ute defense that has several future NFL players in the middle.
Woods came out of the Utah game in one piece (which hasn't been a given this year), and is the quicker back, capable of getting out of the backfield both rushing and as a receiver.
The Bruins, as you noted, have had some issues, mostly injury induced, so expect Oregon State offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin to try for about an even balance of pass and rush.
BN: Oregon State's defense played a really good game against Utah, but they allowed some big point totals in the first 6 games of the season. What's the difference with the defense now compared to earlier in the year, and where are the weaknesses on the OSU defense?
BTD: As the players get more experienced, the adjustments are coming sooner. It took until halftime against Washington State before defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake could get changes made that slowed the Cougars down. Utah marched very effectively on their first 2 possessions, both for touchdowns, but after that, the adjustments got made after only 1 quarter.
And then Oregon State got some disruption into the Utah backfield, something they were never able to do against Arizona or WSU.
Everything about the defense is different than these players learned previously, so its taken time in the form of game reps to not only learn what Sitake wants, but also relearn how he wants it done.
BN: Given Mike Riley's surprising departure from Corvallis, was there any bit of satisfaction from seeing Nebraska gave up 55 points to a 1 win Purdue team last week, or are OSU fans more mature than I would be in their shoes (I'm still bitter over my 8th grade girlfriend) and have moved on from the coaching changes?
BTD: Coach Riley the person is still very well liked around Beaver Nation, and there is appreciation for what he did accomplish, and so most fans were hoping he would succeed at Nebraska, even if what's happened is closer to what most expected would happen. There's very little ill-will, and the focus is much more about going forward.
Our thanks again to the Andy and all the great crew at Building The Dam for their time with us this week. Head over to check out their excellent site for our answers to their questions, and for all the best news and analysis on Oregon State sports. You can follow them on Twitter at @BuildingTheDam.