CORVALLIS — Apart from a 2-9 record one year into the Jonathan Smith head coaching era, where does Oregon State’s football program stand?
“I think we’ve got some optimism,” Smith said after the Beavers ended their season with a 55-15 loss to Oregon at Reser Stadium on Friday afternoon.
But, Smith said, there’s a lot of work to do — as the record and that Civil War score would indicate.
“I knew what I was coming into, and this staff knew it, and these kids know it,” Smith said. “I mean, we’ve got to improve. We’re building something. We weren’t going to go about it with a quick fix to find quick answers or a bunch of transfers that are only going to be here a year or those type of things.
“We knew we were going to lay a foundation this year; I think this year is disappointing, for sure, but there will be some positives if we continue to work and look back on this year and we laid a solid foundation.”
Senior wide receiver Timmy Hernandez saw the positives despite the paucity of wins.
“l’d say throughout the season we played with full effort for four quarters, and maybe that’s something we lacked a little last year,” Hernandez said. “I’m proud of the way these guys came out every week and put everything they had on the line for us.”
Smith’s initial season provided more highlights on the offensive side of the ball than might be expected given the Beavers’ record and the even greater level at which OSU struggled last fall.
The defense was another story and Saturday was the Cliffs Notes version. Oregon gained 510 yards, rushing for 392 of those. The Beavers allowed every opponent but Southern Utah and Nevada at least 500 yards total offense, and OSU gave up an average of 281.1 yards on the ground.
“I mean, 400 yards rushing is something you don’t want, obviously,” OSU junior linebacker Andrzej Hughes-Murray said. “But I don’t think we executed as well as we should have, as well as we could have, and as well as we’re able to.”
Even when Duck starting quarterback Justin Herbert left the game injured after being sacked late in the first half and OSU could afford to load up against the run, the Beavers couldn’t stop it as Oregon threw just two passes in the second half.
“Which was disappointing, because I thought we did (focus defense on the run) after that,” Smith said. “We felt they were going to run the ball either way, with the lead, and made an emphasis on being aware of the running game.”
Smith was asked if any coaching changes might be made on that side of the ball.
“I’ve been looking at this staff the whole season,” Smith said. “And I know the work that is getting done there. We’ve got to improve, we all know that, and I feel confident we have the guys to help us do that.”
OFFENSE SLIPS: When Oregon State’s defense struggled this fall, the Beaver offense was often able to keep things at least somewhat interesting by scoring enough to have the Beavers in striking distance into the second half. That wasn’t the case Saturday.
While falling behind 21-0 by early in the second quarter, OSU came up empty on drives that reached the Oregon 33-, 22- and 3-yard lines; they also had to settle for a field goal on a drive that had given them a first-and-10 on the Duck 16.
“I think it was a little bit of execution on those,” Smith said. “We got some contested plays — face it, we’re playing another team out there and they’re doing some things and we didn’t execute that.”
The Beavers had also pulled off plays from deep in the playbook a number of times throughout the season, but two of those backfired spectacularly against Oregon.
Trailing 21-0 midway through the second quarter, the Beavers drove to the Oregon 3. On second-and-goal from there, backup quarterback Jake Colletto was put in the game; he’d run for five touchdowns this season in similar situations.
This time, Colletto started up the middle, then pulled up for a jump pass to tight end Teagan Quitoriano. The ball was tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted by Oregon safety Nick Pickett to end the threat.
“We had the tight end slip into the back of the end zone and I thought he was open,” Smith said. “It was a nice play to tip it. I thought it was a good call; every time he had come in he’d been running the ball, and they made a nice play.”
In the third quarter, the Beavers had driven 79 yards in four plays to score and make it 28-9. They then forced a Duck punt and were marching again, moving the ball from the OSU 20 out to its 49, and OSU fans could start imagining a comeback similar to several the Beavers had staged this year.
The next call was a double-handoff flea-flicker that ended with quarterback Jake Luton getting drilled as he got the ball back to try and pass; his fumble was recovered by Oregon defensive end Gus Cumberlander at the Beaver 23. Four plays later the Ducks scored for a 34-9 lead and the score got out of hand from there.
“It looked like it was just bad ballhandling at the end of it,” Smith said. “We were trying to get the ball back to Luton. That’s part of coaching, that’s part of play calling: you’re going to take some risks here and it could backfire on you, and that one definitely did.”
The Beavers also got little out of a rushing game that had been effective most of the season, going for just 54 net yards. Freshman Jermar Jefferson, who had seven games over the 100-yard mark before Saturday, was limited to 64 yards. He finished the season with 1,380 yards, the sixth-best season total in OSU history, and 12 touchdowns.
MAKING ADDITIONS: Smith had no problem identifying where the Beavers needed to improve most before the 2019 season.
“The line of scrimmage, on the offensive side and the defensive side,” Smith said. “The line of scrimmage is something we have to build off in recruiting but also in the weight room this offseason. We’ve got to flat-out do it; you can see it out there that we’re not matching up.”
There may be some junior college players to help out in that regard, but it won’t necessarily be the focus.
“We’re going to look for good players, so you might see a little bit of that,” Smith said. “But still, the majority of the class, we’re going to try to make it high school.”
Oregon State may have immediate help on the way in several areas. In 2019 the Beavers figure to have at least four transfers from four-year schools: sophomore defensive end Addison Gumbs from Oklahoma, redshirt freshman quarterback Tristan Gebbia from Nebraska, sophomore linebacker Avery Roberts from Nebraska and junior wide receiver Tyjon Lindsey from Nebraska.