oregon state blog

Then and now: What’s changed in the 2012 Beavers defense?

Health and fundamentals at forefront of Beavs D

The 2011 Beavers defense was horrid, ranking in the bottom of most major stat categories in the Pac-12.

Opponents averaged over 30 points and 411 yards per game. OSU had the worst run defense in the conference, with opponents averaging a near 198.6 yards per game on the ground.

Fast forward to 2012, and it’s a different story.

The Beavers have one of the tightest defenses in the Pac-12. They’re second in the conference in run defense, giving up an average of 83 yards per game. Opponents are averaging just 20.7 points per game.

What’s allowed this program to turn around in 2012?

Fundamentally Sound

Whether it was getting lost on coverage, or missing tackles, the OSU defense was not fundamentally sound. With such a young squad, that’s expected.

Watching games now, the 2012 squad is light years ahead.

The big thing is tackling. It looks so much better, with the players using their agility and strength to take down opposing players. No more of that jumping through the air and dragging them down stuff.

Even though they’ve given up some big plays, the coverage looks better too. Guys are playing tighter and not losing their man.

Dylan Wynn

Breakout seasons keep the Beavs D going in 2012.

Not to mention the Beavs have been really good at bunching up the sidelines, forcing opponents to pass over the middle.

While they’re not playing perfect football, it’s easy to see the improvements over 2011.


Health and injuries were a major cause for concern on last years squad.

October 15, 2011 the Beavers squared off against BYU in Corvallis. They would lose five guys in that game—two linemen and three

linebackers. That doesn’t include safety Lance Mitchell, who was already trying to play through a groin issue.

That was the norm for the defense last year, with injuries constantly rearing their ugly head.

So far so good in 2012, as the Beavers have remained relatively healthy—knock on wood.

The only issue has been with safety Anthony Watkins, who’s trying to return from a hip injury suffered last season against Utah. However, he’s played in the last two games while easing back into things. If he comes back at full steam, it’ll be a great boost

to the secondary.

Experience leads to emergence

The Beavers were a young squad in 2011, with only one breakout coming from redshirt freshman Scott Crichton. The defensive end turned in a standout season.

Now a year stronger, players are starting to emerge on defense.

Sophomore safety Tyrequek Zimmerman is second on the team with 19 tackles. Another sophomore, linebacker D.J. Welch, has 17—3.5 for loss.

Other sophomore gains include defensive ends Crichton and Dylan Wynn. They’ve combined for 20 tackles—six for loss—and four of the team’s seven sacks.

The added experience is making a difference for the squad, and it’s a big reason why they’re playing so much better.

Using the right system

Mike Riley has brought a new defensive package into the system for 2012.

This year the Beavers are running a dime package, instead of the previously ran 4-3 defense. With the dime setup, a team rolls with three linemen, two linebackers and six defensive backs.

Tyrequek Zimmerman

How’s that for a big play? Photo Credit: Orange County Register

It allows for more athletic and dynamic plays.

In the set, Jordan Poyer plays the rover. He generally lines up in the middle of the field, with the choice to blitz or play coverage. It makes him that much more dangerous, and has already resulted in a sack—the second of his career, and first since 2010.

While the changes have made the Beavers more dynamic on defense, it’s tailored made for the conference. The added backs help against spread offenses, such as Arizona and Washington State.

Making the big plays

Perhaps the biggest change in the defense is the Beavers ability to halt opposing marches. That often translates to making the big plays, something they were unable to do in 2011.

Offenses walked all over the D last season, gaining 277 total first downs with a 47% third-down conversion rate.

So far in 2012 things have changed.

The Beavers are on pace to allow only 240 first downs. They’re holding teams to a 21% conversion rate on third down—best in the Pac-12.

Being able to make key stops has been a big difference maker for this defense. As long as they can do that, they’ll be a force to reckon with.


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