In Week 2, OSU played a solid game in soundly beating Southern Utah, a team with a strong pedigree one division below in NCAA football’s pecking order.
In Week 3, the Beavers came back from a 23-point deficit at Nevada to give themselves a chance to win on the game’s final play before a field goal try went wide.
In all, it looked like the massive reconstruction project Jonathan Smith inherited was well ahead of schedule. But, given the size of that task the former Beaver quarterback was presented when he became his alma mater’s head coach, it was inevitable there would be some hiccups along the way.
Oregon State opened Pacific-12 play with a 35-14 loss to Arizona at Reser Stadium in a game that showed the Beavers do have a lot of work to do.
“Obviously it’s disappointing,” Smith said. “You’ve got to give credit to those guys (Arizona), they did a good job, they’ve got some good players and coaches over there. I do think our preparation was good going into this game. I liked our kids’ effort throughout the week. And I didn’t think our kids’ effort was a problem in this game.”
The problem was execution. Most of the day, the Beavers were challenged to move the ball or stop Arizona from moving it; the Wildcats ended up with a 594-238 edge in total yards.
Still, OSU was within 14-7 at the half and, down 21-7 late in the third quarter, they were driving with a chance to make it a one-score game before penalties resulted in a scoreless possession.
It got out of hand from there, leaving the Beavers looking to bounce back for next week’s game at Arizona State.
“We’ve just got to be better all around, that’s for sure,” OSU quarterback Conor Blount said. “And if we do that we’re in a good spot. But we can’t just let this snowball into next week and the week after that. We have good leadership on this team that will rally us and we’ll get things rolling.”
Added Smith: “I appreciate these kids. It’s tough to win, especially in this league, but it’s not going to change our approach of learning from this game and improving on it. And we need to, in all aspects: offense, defense and special teams. But we’ve got to improve. Credit Arizona, they came out and won the game and we’ll move on.”
RUSH JOB: For the second straight season, Arizona gashed Oregon State’s defense with the run. Last season in the Wildcats’ 49-28 win in Tucson, they rushed for 534 yards; Saturday it was 442 yards, averaging 8.7 yards per carry.
“It wasn’t the scheme,” OSU linebacker Hamilcar Rashed Jr. said. “The calls were right, we just have to get off blocks and that’s practice also. You can’t have the running back get into the secondary and the safety making all the tackles. We just have to fight on that and get better every day.”
A year ago, it was quarterback Khalil Tate going for 206 yards to lead the UA ground game. This year an ankle injury and new head coach Kevin Sumlin’s offensve have curtailed his production, but running back J.J. Taylor ran for 284 yards and two touchdowns and backup Gary Brightwell added 113 yards and a score. Often they weren’t hit by a Beaver until well past the line of scrimmage.
Other than two sacks of Tate and a kneel-down to end the game, the Wildcats didn’t have a carry for lost yardage among their 51 rushes.
“The D-line has a particular gap and they’ve got to cover that gap, and there are other guys who have to fill like linebackers and outside backers,” Smith said. “As for the defensive effort, we’re around the thing … we’ve got to get the guy on the ground tackled a little bit better.”
OUT OF SYNC: Oregon State’s offense went into the game ranked No. 1 in the Pac- 12 in total offense (527 yards per game), second in both rushing (212.3 ypg) and passing (314.7 ypg) offense and fourth in scoring offense (38.0 points per game). Against Arizona, the Beavers managed just 97 yards rushing and 141 passing.
“The thing I think about that is, we’ve played four games now,” Smith said. “Coming into the season, people didn’t know what this offense was going to look like. Now we’ve got four games of tape. We’ve got to continue to evolve and improve as we go.”
The Beavers regained the services of wide receiver Trevon Bradford and tight end Noah Togiai but, after suffering an ankle injury last week, quarterback Jake Luton — who has split time this season with Blount — did not play against Arizona.
Blount entered the game having completed 39 of 61 passes this season for four touchdowns and an average of 190 yards per game. Against Arizona, he completed 17 of 24 for 137 yards and OSU’s two touchdowns but had trouble finding open receivers.
“They executed well,” Blount said of Arizona’s defense. “There were a few throws — or non-throws, I guess — that I’d like to have back, but I guess that’s football. Nothing’s perfect.”
Said Smith: “There were some times I thought we had some guys open and he didn’t see them. I think there were other times the pocket was getting squeezed on him a little bit. I do think Conor played hard. It wasn’t the cleanest game out there offensively; it wasn’t just him, but he kept on battling. We’ve got to improve as a group.”
Freshman running back Jermar Jefferson, who had average 130.3 yards per game through three weeks, was limited to 82 yards on 19 carries.
“Some of those runs that had been popping were tackled at the line of scrimmage,” Smith said. “I think that’s a big factor in no rhythm, no momentum, on the offensive side.”
ODDS AND ENDS: In the all-time series, Arizona now leads 24-15-1; in games in Corvallis, the Wildcats have an edge of 10-8-1 … Saturday was Arizona’s first win in Corvallis since 2009 … Oregon State had its first turnover-free games since a loss to California on Nov. 4 of last season … Saturday was the first time since 2015 OSU had opened its Pac-12 season athome.