OSU football: Beavers' defensive play shows vast improvement

2011-10-12T04:00:00Z 2011-10-14T22:55:50Z OSU football: Beavers' defensive play shows vast improvementBy CLIFF KIRKPATRICK, Corvallis Gazette-Times Corvallis Gazette Times

Slowly and quietly the Oregon State football team's defense has turned into a strong point.

Quite the surprise with how things started out.

Injuries, three new starting linebackers and freshmen in key defensive end roles meant a steep learning curve.

The Beavers were quick studies and that led to the first win of the season last Saturday over Arizona.

Now they hope to maintain that trend this Saturday in a nonconference home game against BYU.

"A lot of it is the learning, developing process," coach Mike Riley said Tuesday. "Guys continue to learn about our defense and continue to get taught by our defensive coaches. They are playing a ton of new starters. They are growing, there's no doubt about it."

The biggest injury was losing veteran cornerback Brandon Hardin for the season after he suffered a shoulder injury in training camp.

Rashaad Reynolds took his place and has held his own with three pass breakups. Jordan Poyer has become the shut-down corner with seven pass breakups and two interceptions.

The biggest improvement over the first five games has been pass coverage, Riley said.

"We are a lot more confident in our scheme," Poyer said. "Guys are playing with a lot more swagger."

Helping the coverage is the pass rush. That area started slow in part because defensive tackle Kevin Frahm hurt his knee in August. He returned after one game but hasn't been a major factor.

His absence allowed Andrew Seumalo to fill in. Seuamalo continues to play well on a rotating basis with 11 tackles and two blocked kicks.

Redshirt freshman defensive end Scott Crichton has made an impact as he leads the Pacific-12 Conference with eight tackles for a loss.

"We were young, and still are, but we had to warm up a little bit," Crichton said. "We had a great big win. We feel good about our defense now. We have to keep it going toward BYU."

A pleasant surprise is the rise of true freshman Dylan Wynn. He has filled in for Taylor Henry, who has been slowed by a glute strain.

Wynn has 13 tackles, including 2.5 for a loss, and has recovered three fumbles. He needs one more recovery to tie the OSU record held by Osia Lewis (1985), Mitch Meeuwsen (2001) and Alan Darlin (2006).

Defensive end Rusty Fernando, a junior college transfer, and Crichton are tied for the team lead with three sacks each. The team has nine.

Pressure on the quarterback has led to eight turnovers in the last two games. OSU has 10 for the season.

The Beavers have turned the ball over 12 times, but the defense has only given up three touchdowns after the turnovers.

"We just wanted to win," Crichton said. "We had to learn how to play fast."

The linebackers have been at the point of attack, led by middle linebacker Kevin Unga. He's second in the conference with eight tackles a game.

Outside linebacker Michael Doctor is a play-maker with 25 tackles, a sack and an interception.

All these individual efforts have led to better team play. The Beavers allowed 163.3 rushing yards a game through the first three contests and were ranked ninth in the Pac-12.

In the last two games the Beavers allowed 81 yards a game. They now average 130.1 a game and are ranked sixth.

Third-down percentage defense has also improved. Arizona State completed 1 of 10 on third down and Arizona 3 of 10.

"You have to give the players a ton of credit," Riley said. "It's their work and desire to improve and willingness to learn. This group is playing hard. Physically, they are getting after it. If we get that, we'll have a chance to get better."

Copyright 2015 Corvallis Gazette Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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