The question most of the 4-5,000 members of Beaver Nation who turned out for what turned out to be a sunny afternoon for their only look at Oregon State football during spring winter ball was who the starting quarterback will be. Based on who took the first reps, and the most reps with the starters against starters, it appears it will be JC transfer Jake Luton, even if head coach Gary Andersen and Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks coach Kevin McGiven don’t want to say so yet.
That same rotation suggests Marcus McMaryion, who started the latter part of last season, and was the most effective of the 3 who played, will be the backup, with Darrel Garretson third on the depth chart. Connor Blount is still the insurance policy, and Mason Moran is still a distant 5th.
Nothing that happened in the (nearly) Spring Scrimmage suggests otherwise.
All 3 posted relatively decent numbers, but the differences with Luton are differential. Despite being on the rebound from an illness that cost the 6’7″ Luton some 20 lbs. (has anyone around the Corvallis campus NOT had some malady this winter?), Luton has the ability to stretch the opposing defense.
That was on display early in the 2nd series (the first one went for a touchdown on the first play, more on that shortly) when Luton hit freshman Isiah Hodgins for a 37 yard completion, below.
And it wasn’t a case of finding someone behind a backup defensive back who won’t be seen on the field in a contested contest; it was Dwayne Williams and Brandon Arnold, Oregon State’s best corner and safety. That set up a touchdown toss to Jordan Villamin.
Luton’s other quality is a combination of pocket presence and patience. Whereas McMaryion still tends to cut and run pretty quickly, Luton stands in the pocket, or rolls it, looking to still make a throw, or throw the ball away. With his height, he’s more like Sean Mannion than anyone seen on campus in Corvallis since, but who he really reminded me of was Sean Canfield.
Before Beaver readers still mentally scarred by images from Canfield in the early years panic at that, I’m referring to the latter portion of Canfield’s career, when he had developed into one of the best passers in the Pac-12.
A nifty quarterback draw for a first down not withstanding, we didn’t see a lot of running from Luton, nor will we. But that patience allowed for something else not seen to date in the Andersen era, some crossing routes and also some deeper sideline throws. It looked like some of the staples of the Washington State offense. It was also somewhat on display particularly with Garretson on the field, but Luton was most effective at it.
That’s not to say he was perfect; Luton completed only 13 of 21 passes, for 118 yards, and just 1 touchdown. He also threw a pair of interceptions, and narrowly avoided a third for what would have been a pick-6 on a low throw deflected at the line had Manase Hungalu been able to corral the wounded duck.
Luton also illustrated why the old saying “Don’t throw late over the middle” is true, when he backpedaled way way too far, and then threw only to the mid-range way way way too late, where Wesley Payne, above, was waiting.
And then there was a deep sideline route where Luton put the ball inside, where it absolutely can not be thrown, and freshman CB Jaydon Grant, left, was there to grab it. Grant, the son of former Portland TrailBlazer Bryan Grant, by the way, was impressive all day, and should see plenty of action, despite comments by the coaching staff that suggest a red-shirt may be in his immediate future. Grant has room to grow, and get even better, but he’s already ready to contribute to a team that could be in a dog-fight to become bowl eligible this fall.
But overall, whether things worked or not on any given play, you got the sense that with Luton, whom no one had seen previously, there was a plan in place, rather than the often scramble to find whatever first thing that appears to the offense that has characterized the last 2 seasons.
Nall Ball Will Be A Force
One problem a lack of depth combined with seemingly endless injuries caused in the last couple of years was the inability to get meaningful combinations on the field working with key pieces in the spring. That changed this season, and those in attendance were both hopeful and happy to see that “Nall Ball” should be humming early this year.
We didn’t really see that much of Ryan Nall, but it was more than the defense wanted to see. Nall, above, carried 7 times, but for 72 yards and a touchdown, and was also a target out of the backfied.
But it was that first play of the game that got the buzz going. After a year of nagging by Nall to put a halfback pass into the offense, McGiven drew one up. Nall threw it once in practice, and suggested it to start the game.
“Why don’t we just start the game off with the halfback pass?” Nall said. “They’ll never see it coming.”
McGiven gave the green light, and the defense didn’t.
Luton made the backward throw to Nall, who was almost unaccounted for, above, and Nall in turn threw, albeit a little wobbly, into the notorious Reser crosswind that blows in one ramp and out the other, right to Hunter Jarmon, below, who the defense also didn’t account for.
Jarmon took it 60 yards to the house, and on into the student section, igniting a lot of jumping around.
“I told him before the scrimmage started that a celebration was highly encouraged on this day, and this day only,” a happy Andersen said afterward.
Jarmon Headlines Good Day For Receivers
The Oregon State offense when it was effective in the latter part of last season was mostly due to the 1-2 punch of Nall and Artavis Pierce, and that will be the backbone of the offense again this year. But the Beaver receivers had a good day too, led by Jarmon, right, who also had a 69 yard touchdown catch and run from McMaryion, and finished with 5 catches for 155 yards.
Confusion reined at times due to both Xavier Hawkins and Hodgins wearing number 7, but both had productive days, with Hodgins hauling in 4 catches for 69 yards, and Hawkins had a pair of catches, and also added a 39 yard reverse.
Pierce had 4 catches out of the backfield, Trevon Bradford added 3 catches, and Tuli Wili-Matogi had a touchdown catch on the final play of the day.
Once Seth Collins, still rehabbing from his bout with meningococcal disease, returns, the receiving corp does look ready to support Luton, and a hopefully expanded offensive game plan. Though after some early success, the offensive game plan did resort to a lot of the very short stuff that struggled to move the sticks in recent seasons.
Defense A Work In Progress
Part of the problem was the absence of Bright Ugwoebu, Shemar Smith, Jay Irvine, Landry Payne, and Joah Robinette, and a limited role for the much anticipated Christian Wallace. But the defense did have much of their front line and back line, and struggled against the starting offense.
The combobulated scoring system in use actually produced a 77-65 “win” for the Black shirted defense, but don’t read too much into that. The offense was way ahead early.
The system in use rewarded the defense substantially for stops and sacks, and 3 and outs, including ones by the 4th and 5th string offenses, skewed things substantially.
So to did a failed 4th down conversion, one that would have been an automatic field goal unless down by 4 or more in the final minutes of a game, except the only kicker with apparently more than extra point range, Adley Rutschman, was in Phoenix, catching for the baseball team against Arizona State at the time.
Instead, the wrong personnel package ran a play no one would ever call in the situation at hand unsuccessfully.
But when more or less normal matchups existed, the defense still struggled to consistently pressure the passer, a continuation of what has been an Andersen era-long problem. Rushing and pass defense were both boom or bust situations, with some good stops, and the interceptions were notable, but also some serious breakdowns. Especially the middle layer of the defense appears to be guessing a lot, and not functioning as a unit, an expectable result of a lot of churn with the personnel.
Summer ball, which will again be in Bend, will need to focus on finding a settled unit, and getting them enough reps together to move beyond 11 players playing one on one ball.
Offensive Line Solidifies
The effects of consistency, by contrast, were encouraging from a starting offensive line that consisted of Blake Brandel at left tackle, Fred Lauina at left guard, Sumner Houston, converted from defense, at center, Gus Lavaka at left guard, and often Trent Moore at right tackle. Will Hopkins appears to be the swiss army knife that could provide the rotation and depth as needed, unless he winds up back at right tackle.
My takeaway of the day, beyond that Nall ball will again be a thing, and that Luton should be the quarterback, was how significant the dropoff is beyond the starters and primary rotation, and whenever, even with them in, a play goes hay-wire for whatever reason.
At this point, with a schedule that appears to have 2 or 3 likely wins, and 2 or 3 likely losses, but 7-8 games that will be up for grabs, finding a way to move beyond activity to accomplishment with any consistency will be the key to the season.