The Oregon State defense was lambasted for the first month of the season. After all, the Beavers gave up 49 points in a season-opening loss to Eastern Washington, wasting spectacular performances from quarterback Sean Mannion and wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Narrow escapes at Utah and San Diego State allowing 48 and 30 points didn't help matters.
Now, that side of the ball has just been ignored, overshadowed by the record-breaking pace set by Mannion and Cooks. But the OSU defense has quietly made major strides toward respectability, with redshirt junior defensive end Scott Crichton leading the way.
Crichton now has 10 tackles for loss, trailing UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr for the Pac-12 lead by one. In a 49-17 win at California, Crichton had four tackles, two tackles for loss with one sack, two pass breakups and one forced fumble, looking every bit like the force he had been last season when he had nine sacks and earned first-team All-Pac-12 recognition.
Even with opponents focusing their protections to minimize Crichton, the redshirt junior's resurgent form has elevated the entire defense.
"It makes it easy," cornerback Rashaad Reynolds told the Oregonian. "If you watch the tape, he's really pressuring those guys."
In this Saturday's home game against Stanford, Crichton (6-foot-3, 265 pounds) will get to face a punishing Cardinal rushing offense that largely rendered Barr a non-factor last week. But Crichton knows that feeling, as he managed only one tackle in last season's crushing 27-23 loss at Stanford.
Crichton will have to be more involved for OSU to keep its Pac-12 North aspirations alive, a tough task as he will be facing off against rising sophomore left tackle Andrus Peat. Known more for his quickness coming off the edge, it will give Crichton a chance to display his power and toughness.
"These are the teams we want to go against," Crichton said. "We want to show them how physical we are. This will be a good challenge for us."
If OSU wins, expect Mannion and Cooks to continue to dominate the headlines. Crichton and the OSU defense could be the deciding factor, however, even if they don't end up with the adulation.