From his perch in the coaches box, Oregon State offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren surveyed the scene Saturday night at the L.A. Coliseum.
There was plenty to like:
The Beavers were leading by 25 points early in the fourth quarter. USC’s defense had no answers, the crowd had no hope, and 61 years of frustration and futility in the venerable stadium were melting away.
Lindgren glanced at his call sheet from OSU’s sixth touchdown drive: Eight plays — all of them runs.
It was a dream scenario in an alternate universe. Oregon State was bludgeoning USC at the line of scrimmage to a degree rarely seen in the Coliseum.
“You’re always hoping it would be like that,” Lindgren said Sunday. “But I had envisioned the game going down to the wire and us having to be a lot more patient: This run for four yards; that run for three yards; then maybe pop one. But it was was 45-17, and I was thinking, ‘This is pretty cool.’”
The Beavers’ first victory over USC in the Coliseum since 1960 featured plenty of pops, but was built mostly on booms. They rushed for 322 yards, averaged 6.3 yards per carry and allowed no sacks
Only two running plays went for negative yards — the kneel-downs at the end of the game.
So overpowering was their offensive line that the Beavers jettisoned any attempt at achieving run-pass balance and stuck with what worked, over and over and over: Their 51 runs and 19 pass attempts produced a 45-27 victory.
“Their (offensive coordinator) was great schematically,’’ USC interim head coach Donte Williams told reporters after the game. “Up front, their line was double-teaming and chipped away … They ran their offense to the T.”
It was the second-highest rushing total against USC by a Pac-12 opponent in the past decade, exceeded only by Oregon’s 426 yards in the 2012 season.
“We liked the matchup up front,” Lindgren said. “Our offensive line has some veteran guys, and they have been real physical coming off the ball.
“Our mindset was to win the line of scrimmage and then change things up in the running game so they couldn’t key on anything. It’s nice when you can run the ball and don’t have to drop back. We didn’t want to get into a throw-fest because of their edge rushers. We wanted to run the ball and use play action.”
Oregon State’s offensive line is a mix of second-tier recruits and transfers — center Nathan Eldridge’s career began at Arizona, in 2016. But all five starters have experience in the system, and their position coach, Jim Michalczik, has been one of the best in the conference for decades.
“We maybe don’t have a lot of guys who are difference-makers in their first year,” Lindgren said. “But we develop them over two or three years. And (Michalczik) had them really dialed in.”
Add punishing tailback B.J. Baylor to the veteran line, and the Beavers have the foundation for a first-class rushing attack.
But two other factors played central roles in their stunning success Saturday night:
— Quarterback Chance Nolan made shrewd decisions at the line of scrimmage.
“We put a lot on him to make checks at the line to get us in the right run scheme,” Lindgren said.
Although he threw two interceptions — one in the end zone — Nolan was patient and accurate, completing 15 of his 19 attempts. He also threw four touchdown passes.
“Last year, if his first read wasn’t there, he would bail on the play and just run the ball,” Lindgren said. “Now, he’s getting to his second and third reads.”
— A highly relevant, recent game film of USC.
Two weeks earlier, Stanford walloped the Trojans 42-28 with a style roughly comparable to Oregon State’s preferred tactics. (Both the Cardinal and Beavers make ample use of their tight ends, for example.)
“We studied that game,” Lindgren said. “Stanford was physical up front, got some explosive plays and won some one-on-one matchups on the perimeter.
“Formationally, it was a good film for us to watch. Their wing sets, their use of double tight ends and their heavy personnel and run schemes — we felt like we could match a lot of that.”
The key was remaining vigilant. The Beavers had to resist the temptation to repeat plays or formations that were working.
If they used the outside zone run too often, for example, the Trojans could counter with Lindgren called their “wide-zone beaters.”
As designed by Lindgren and coach Jonathan Smith, the gameplan featured runs to the boundary side of the field that OSU hadn’t used before — a wrinkle specifically for the Trojans.
They mixed the inside and outside zone runs with fly sweeps to counteract USC’s aggressive pursuit.
They used what Lindgren called the “duo power scheme.”
And it all worked masterfully:
— Quarterbacks and receivers accounted for 27% of the rushing attempts.
— Of the 51 runs, 17 went for eight yards or more.
— On their 28 first-down runs, the Beavers averaged 8.5 yards per carry (excluding the kneel-down at the end of the game).
So successful was OSU’s ground-and-pound approach that formations blurred and the running scheme began to merge with the passing game.
“We’re constantly trying to marry the run and the pass, so they look alike to the defense,” Lindgren said. “We pride ourselves on plays that can be one or the other.
‘We have our core running plays, and we have play-action off of it. The formations, the way the line moves and the way the quarterback meshes — we want it all to look the same to the defense. That way, if they overcommit to the run, we can play-action off it and get access to different parts of the field.
“It’s fun to see when it all comes together.”
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