Oregon State played their best half of football of the season Saturday afternoon, and probably their best first half of the Gary Andersen era, taking a 24-6 lead over Washington State, much to the delight of the Homecoming crowd that was on hand to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the 1941 team that won the 1942 Rose Bowl (in Durham, NC), for the Beavers’ only Rose Bowl Trophy.
But just as happened 2 years ago, it was the Cougars who clawed out a 4th quarter comeback win at Reser, this time a 35-31 win.
The fast start was a product of the return to action of both RB Ryan Nall and WR Victor Bolden, as well as quarterback Marcus McMaryion playing his best 30 minutes of ball as well.
Nall busted off the 3rd longest run from scrimmage in Oregon State history, above, for an 89 yard touchdown on the 2nd play of the Beavers’ second series, and added a 19 yard touchdown catch and run from McMaryion later in the period for a 14-0 Beaver lead after 1 quarter.
Oregon State opened up the playbook early in the 2nd quarter, when McMaryion lined up as a wide receiver, with Seth Collins at quarterback. Collins proceeded to flip the ball to McMaryion, who appeared to be running a reverse, and continued unnoticed toward the left sideline. McMaryion stopped and threw back to Collins, above, whom Washington State had lost altogether, for a 46 yard touchdown, and a 21-0 lead.
And though the Cougars finally got on track, with a 33 yard touchdown pass from Luke Falk to Tavares Martin, the Beavers blocked the extra point, and closed out the half with an exercise of good clock management, and a 32 yard Garrett Owens field goal, which helped erase the bad taste from an earlier miss, and a 24-6 lead.
Cougar coach Mike Leach was so frustrated he blew off the halftime sideline interview, sprinting ahead of his team to the ramp to get to the locker room. But he made good use of every second of the break, implementing adjustments on both side of the ball.
Oregon State did nothing of the kind, and it translated into a disaster of a second half.
The Beavers had the ball inside the Cougar 30 yard line with an 18 point lead on their first possession of the 3rd quarter, and not only went backwards, they blew the entire lead in 10 minutes.
Falk found Jamal Morrow covered only by LB Manase Hungalu, left, with no safety presence anywhere in the middle of the field, for a 66 yard touchdown catch and run, and then got to Gabe Marks twice for touchdowns, from 37 yards out (against solo coverage with no safety even in the area code), and then a 28 yard touchdown, below, which was thrown on target into triple coverage because he had over 6 seconds to throw from the pocket.
Oregon State would get the lead back on Nall’s 3 yard run that came immediately after the Beavers recovered a muffed punt early in the 4th quarter, going up 31-28. But Washington State answered immediately with a 7 play, 80 yard scoring drive, capped by Robert Lewis’ 1 yard catch and step into the end zone against a poorly conceived coverage that had the linebackers standing behind the line against a 5 receiver set.
The Beavers still had over 10 minutes to work with, but couldn’t come up with another score, and the Cougars claimed the come from behind 35-31 win that kept them unbeaten in Pac-12 play, and tied with Washington, 31-24 winners earlier in the day at Utah, atop the Pac-12 North
While letting the game get away was frustrating, it was the dubious decision making that made the loss that dropped the Beavers to 2-6 for the season doubly disappointing.
While Leach was tweaking things to get the Cougars going, Oregon State did any number of things that defy any apparent explanation.
Having 2 touchdowns come against systemic coverage failures, and 2 more against questionable schemes that opened the door for the very kind of play the “Air Raid” lives for, was bad enough, but it was the offensive play-calling that really disappointed.
Bolden had 7 catches for 113 yards plus 2 carries for 21 more yards in the first half, including a spectacular reach-around, below.
He had 1 carry for 6 yards in the second half, and no catches.
Nall, above, after rolling up 138 yards in the first half, did have a 71 yard catch and run in the second half, but only managed 20 yards on 10 carries. This included no net yards on back to back runs into the left side of the line on 3rd and 1 and the 4th and 2 that ensued in the 4th quarter.
Further, the overly conservative play calling also led to Oregon State unsuccessfully challenging the correctly spotted ball on the failed 4th down attempt. That left the Beavers shy a time out with the game still in doubt, and ultimately led to only having 1 play at the end of the game to try to get a miracle score.
Why the Oregon State coaching staff decided to not play field position ball and use their time out more effectively remains unexplained.
Tim Cook, who ran for over 100 yards last week against Washington, had only 1 touch on the night. And that was a direct snap on a fake punt that failed.
And while Falk, above, did not destroy the Oregon State secondary as he did in the first half of the game last year in Pullman, he did torch the Beaver secondary for 415 yards and 5 touchdowns, finding 10 different receivers in the process.
Marks, above, led the way, with a game high 8 catches, for 110 yards, and Martin had 6 more, for 82 yards. River Craycraft, below, got away for only 4 catches, but that included a couple of the circus kind.
Collins was second behind Bolden in receiving for Oregon State, with 6 catches for 83 yards. But he only had 1 carry in the game.
McMaryion, above, who started off completing 16 of 23 passes in the first half, for 234 yards, only completed 7 of 16 in the second half, finishing 23 of 39, for 327 yards total.
To top everything off, Oregon State had 13 penalties, for 110 yards, including a half dozen false starts.
Jalen Moore Shines To Lead Defense That Was Better In Back Than Upfront
Moore, a red-shirt freshman, was in on a game high 10 tackles for the Beavers, but that included a game high 8 solo tackles.
Brandon Arnold also got in on 9 stops, and Ugwoebu, Caleb Saulo, and Devin Chappell each figured in 7 tackles as well.
But the Beaver defensive line struggled all night to keep Cougar backs from reaching the second level, with Morrow rushing for 5 yards on 7 carries to go along with 5 catches out of the backfield for 95 more yards.
And James Williams added 74 yards on 11 carries and 40 more on 4 catches.
Oregon State will be without Bright Ugwoegbu in the first half next Saturday at Stanford, after being hit with a questionable targeting penalty in the 4th quarter. This could be a particular issue, given Ugwoegbu had both of the Beavers’ sacks of Falk.
The Beavers may well be without Hunter Jarmon as well. Jarmon, who had 3 catches for 25 yard, left in the second half with a foot injury. He did return to the sidelines, but with a boot and a pair of crutches. with freshman Trevon Bradford filling in for him.
(Photos by Andy Wooldridge)