CORVALLIS — Oregon State coach Gary Andersen pretty much knows what to expect from Minnesota, even though the Golden Gophers have a new coach.
As coach at Wisconsin from 2013-14, Andersen faced Minnesota in the battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe twice, winning both times. Then last year he took the Beavers on the road for the first game of the series against the Gophers.
So while there are differences with the Gophers under P.J. Fleck, Andersen said he's confident about what Oregon State will face.
"Sure there are differences in the offense and defense, but it's not a drastic departure," Andersen said.
Fleck's debut was a 17-7 grind-it-out victory over Buffalo. The first-year Gophers coach said he kept the running game fairly basic for his players — Rodney Smith ran for 76 yards while Shannon Brooks had 69 yards and a touchdown — but the offensive line will show more as time goes on.
"As we continue to go, we'll expand. Whatever the team can handle, we'll give them but that would be foolish for me to say here's everything, we haven't really had you practice much, you know, especially at the key positions, and you've been here three and a half weeks of true practice and here you go, here's the whole thing," he said.
The Beavers are 1-1 after a loss at Colorado State and a nail-biting 35-32 victory at home over lower-division Portland State. Like Fleck, Andersen said one focus will be making sure the Beavers' talented running backs are freed to work: "Sustaining blocks this week will be key."
Top rusher Ryan Nall ran for 115 yards in the opener, but had only 59 against the Vikings last week. He had TDs in both games. Thomas Tyner, who came to the Beavers from Oregon, is still catching on to the system.
Andersen said that overall the Beavers continue to search for that edge.
"As you go through (the season), you get to see who you are as a team. They have two games underneath their belts right now. We have some young guys stepping up, there are opportunities for others that see how they're playing. You should always gain a little bit of an edge, because it's one day closer to the season being over, also."
Things to watch when the Beavers host Minnesota tonight:
HISTORY: Minnesota is 3-1 all-time over Oregon State, including last year's 30-23 victory at home.
QUARTERBACK SHUFFLE: The Gophers have started the season playing two quarterbacks — Conor Rhoda and Demry Croft. Fleck is waiting for one of the two to take control and earn the job. That didn't happen in Week 1 against lowly Buffalo. Rhoda was 12 of 20 for 176 yards with a touchdown and an interception and Croft was 7 of 12 for 63 yards. "I want somebody to make that big, giant leap, and if they don't make the big, giant leap, that's OK," Fleck said. "But sooner or later, I would like to be able to focus in on one."
DOUBLE DUTY: Punter Ryan Santoso handled the kickoff duties as well in the opener for Minnesota after kicker Emmit Carpenter had those responsibilities last season. Santoso said that might change as the season wears on, but he did not find out he would be kicking off against Buffalo until two days before the game. "It is a different skill. It's a different leg swing," Santoso said. "I'm glad to be back out there. It's fun to see the boys getting all juiced up at the beginning of the games."
SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES: There were concerns about the smoke-filled skies in Oregon this past week caused by more than two dozen large wildfires burning in the Pacific Northwest. The Beavers were monitoring the situation, but showers moved across the region on Thursday night and cleared much of the haze.
GETTING HYPER?: Fleck is known for his buzzwords and catch phrases. So let's look at one: HYPRR culture. The word is an acronym for how, yours, process, result, response. He explains it here .
"It starts with the people, the people matter. Holistically, academically, athletically, socially, spiritually. I might get fired one day, I might stay here a long time but it's all about people, right? So it's my job to make them better students, better people off the field, better husbands, better fathers one day," Fleck said.