After a disastrous defensive effort at Arizona, Oregon State interim coach Cory Hall was determined to concentrate some of his time with those players.
The idea was to simplify the concepts and make football more fun for the players on defense.
Apparently the effort did not translate to performance on the field until the second half in a 40-24 Pac-12 loss to Arizona State on Saturday in Reser Stadium.
The Beavers looked on the brink of a blowout loss before the offense got the passing game on track and put together a few drives that not only resulted in points but kept the defense off the field.
When the defense was on the field, there was better play against both the run and pass.
“What changed is everybody just buckled down and got to their assignment,” linebacker Jonathan Willis said. “It was a little hesitation at the beginning and we just got it together and stuck together.”
Nevertheless, it was too late for OSU.
The 30-7 gap was too wide for the Beavers to make up the ground when they starting clicking in the second half.
“I felt like the players had a really good week at practice and what I’m learning and seeing is those things are really manifesting later in the game,” Hall said. “As to why, that’s something that I’m going to have to really dig deep about.”
Once again, the Beavers struggled to stop the run.
The Beavers were pushed around at the point of attack and too often let ball carriers slip through their grasp.
ASU finished with 286 yards on the ground. Running back Demario Richard had 119 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries to lead the way and Kalen Ballage finished with 103 yards on 19 carries.
It wasn’t quite the damage done last week by Arizona with quarterback Khalil Tate rushing for over 200 yards and two running backs going for 100-plus.
With the run game humming, the Sun Devils did not have to go to the pass all too often, but quarterback Manny Wilkins was effective when he did throw.
“The game plan was what it needed to be, but there needed to be some minor tweaks,” Hall said. “Tweaks to the game plan and that’s what happened really at halftime in the second half. Those details and those little adjustments need to be made quicker. That’s going to be another thing that we really need to focus on and I’m going to focus on that detail this week.
“In the game of football, as a coach, you have to make adjustments. And a lot of those adjustments can’t just come at halftime, you’ve got to be able to make them on the fly. So as you’re trying to feel your way through there in that first half when they’re running you’re trying to see how they’re going to react to certain scenarios and defensive looks that you give them and then you adjust accordingly.”
The Sun Devils made it look easy from the start, carving through the Beavers with an effective mix of run and pass.
It took ASU four plays to go 69 yards on the first possession of the game.
Then it was a 71-yard touchdown drive and a 14-0 lead before the Beavers even had time to warm up.
OSU gave up a safety and then another quick touchdown drive at the start of the second and the Beavers faced a 23-0 deficit with the better part of three quarters to go.
Richard’s second touchdown run of the first half made it 30-0 before the Beavers’ offense got in gear and put together a touchdown drive near the end of the second.
Willis said he had no explanation for the slow start.
“It is a little bit surprising because that’s not what we come in and expect,” he said. “But we worked hard enough and we’re all working together as a team, so we’ll be able to mold together and keep fighting no matter what the score is.”
The Beavers allowed 318 total yards in the first half, with 219 coming on the ground.