Each week, a reporter covering the Gophers’ opponent will be my guest to break down his or her team. This week, it’s Danny Moran of the (Portland) Oregonian. He takes a look at Oregon State and the situations surrounding Saturday night’s game, including the nearby wildfires.

Here’s the Q&A with Danny Moran:

1.       How is the rebuilding job at Oregon State going in coach Gary Andersen’s third year? Do there seem to be signs that he has the program on the rise?

The Beavers went 6-18 in the first two years under Gary Andersen, but they built great momentum at the end of last season by crushing Arizona and beating Oregon in the Civil War for the first time since 2007. Part of the difficult transition was due to a dip in the talent pool and part was due to schematic changes – OSU went from a pro-style offense to a spread and a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense after more than a decade under Mike Riley. Fans and media were optimistic heading into the third year, but expectations have been tempered by the first two weeks. Andersen sold the rebuild well, but results are expected soon – starting with a bowl appearance.



2.       What can we expect out of quarterback Jake Luton and running back Ryan Nall?

Luton has had mixed success in his first two starts after transferring from a California junior college. He’s looked most effective when the Beavers have needed to run their two-minute drill at the end of halves and he has a big arm to match his 6-foot-7 frame. His accuracy has also been spotty at times, as he’s thrown four interceptions to three touchdowns and missed some gimme throws. At times it looks like he’s still building his confidence as a Division I starter, but the potential is there. Ryan Nall has amazing speed for his size (6-foot-2, 237 pounds). His best characteristics as a runner are bouncing off initial contact and displaying breakaway speed after getting past the first layer of opposing defenses. Nall is a former H-back, so he also has pass-catching skills out of the backfield.

3.       Oregon State has had a lot of trouble stopping the run. What do you expect the Beavers to do to stop Minnesota’s Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks?

This should be the toughest test to date for a defensive front that has not measured up through two weeks. The OSU defensive line has made mistakes leaving open gaps, which were glaring errors when allowing 291 rushing yards against Portland State. The perimeter run defense looked out of sorts as well. PSU had an athletic freshman quarterback who made a few Beavers look silly in space. The defensive line will need to be gap sound against Minnesota and do a better job of aggressively pursuing tackles in the open field.

4.       What your thoughts on how Oregon State will stack up in the Pac-12 race?

OSU seemed assured no worse than a fifth-place finish in the Pac-12 North heading into the season. But two poor showings and California’s upset of North Carolina in Chapel Hill throws everything up in the air. The Beavers missed a bowl game for the third year in a row last season but finished fourth in their division due to down years for the Golden Bears and rival Oregon. Stanford, Washington and Washington State are all Top 25 teams again, and the Ducks impressed with 77 points in their first game under Willie Taggart. If Oregon State doesn’t improve soon, it could be back at the bottom of the conference.   

5.       What’s the situation with the wildfires in Oregon this week? Is there any chance the game will be postponed?

I don’t see that happening. Corvallis had “moderate” air quality Tuesday according to the Department of Environmental Quality, nowhere near the “hazardous” conditions in Eugene that forced the Oregon Ducks to move their practice to a middle school on the Oregon Coast. There’s a chance of rain later in the week, which could help clear things up, and OSU isn’t as close to some of the serious fires raging throughout the state.