One has to believe that if Gary Andersen truly knew how long the Oregon State football rebuild would take, he might have stayed in Wisconsin.
Andersen endured a long 2015 season in which the Beavers didn’t accomplish much on the field. The year was valuable for what Anderson achieved off the gridiron, as he came to terms with the larger reality of his situation.
Mike Riley left the cupboard absolutely bare in Corvallis, and it showed with a dismal 2015 campaign. Beaver fans sat through a 2-10 season bereft of a single Pac-12 victory. Year one of the Andersen Era can’t be seen as a verdict on Oregon State’s new coach, but now, with some of his system in play, the outside world can begin to judge what Andersen is made of.
The Pac-12 media obviously doesn’t expect a lot in Andersen’s second year — they picked the Beavers last in the North Division and 12th overall. However, if the Beavers do finish last, they can say they are rebuilding instead of brushing off dead weight and leftovers.
“Obviously, we’ve got a lot of work to do as coaches, and a lot of work to do as players. We’re excited about the year that’s in front of us,” Andersen said in an interview at Pac-12 Media Days last week. “I think these kids have handled the ideas of the culture change, the ideas of what it takes in this league moving forward to show improvement, and to be competitive in this league, we need to show obviously major improvement.”
When this season begins, the Beavers will have new offensive, defensive and special teams coordinators. They’ll also have a new quarterback, Darell Garretson, who is more familiar with Andersen’s style. It was obvious that Seth Collins wasn’t going to be the guy, but it goes to Andersen’s character that he expected Collins back after he decided to transfer to San Diego State, only to come back to OSU (where he’ll be a wide receiver).
Garretson was at Andersen’s former school, Utah State. The transfer will have two seasons to make a difference at Oregon State. He was well on his way to becoming a four-year starter at Utah State before he went down with a season-ending injury in 2014 and then transferring.
“He (Garretson) brings so much competitiveness and his will and his fight, we’ll see,” Andersen said. “He’s done it. He’s gone to BYU and won. That’s hard. Not many quarterbacks can say I’ve gone into Cougar Stadium and won. He had a very good team with him when he did that, but he still did it as the quarterback. So there’s a lot of those things I think he’s done.”
Garretson, along with Victor Boldin, one of the top receivers in the conference, will go a long way toward enabling Andersen to improve the Beavers’ anemic 2015 offense. Oregon State was dead last in the Pac-12 by scoring just 19 points and averaging 336 yards a game. Not only were they last, but the Beavers scored nearly a touchdown less per game than the 11th-place team in scoring (Colorado). Utah was next to last in yards, but still gained 27 more per game than OSU.
The defense was bad also, finishing near the bottom in most categories. Andersen firmly and decisively identified the source of his team’s lack of production:
“Maybe the most important part for us is our physicality. If it does not improve, then we’ll be right where we were a year ago because we could not hang in there physically with people in our league week in and week out. And if you cannot do that, the way we want to play football and the way you have to play football to win at this level, you will not be successful.”
Andersen was able to recruit 24 players in this most recent recruiting class. It will take time to refill the Beavers’ cupboard. This year might not be much better than it was last season, but more players will represent Andersen’s philosophies both on and off the field.
Andersen elaborated on the value of getting past a first season and establishing relationships with his players:
“Just knowledge of kids, understanding their personalities, understanding what they had to do, what they had to work on, what their deficiencies are, what positive things they bring to the table, their skill set, if you will, how they learn, all those things that come with it. So it’s much more comfortable as a head coach. It’s much more comfortable as a position coach, and I believe our kids are more comfortable with us as a whole and within the scheme. We want to be multiple. That’s why our depth chart lists 14 guys on offense and 14 positions on offense and 14 positions on defense. We feel where we are at this time if we are not multiple, we will not be a very productive football team.”
Oregon State might not achieve everything it wants to in 2016, but if Gary Andersen’s comfort zone with his players translates to the field, this slow rebuilding process can inspire genuine optimism in Corvallis.