Oregon State’s first scrimmage during preparations for the 2017 season, and the first look we have had at anything meaningful about the Beavers since the Spring End of Winter Game, was surprisingly informative. With all but a handful of players available and in action, a notable contrast from a lot of scrimmages and open events in recent years, the assembled crowd of nearly 4,000 at Summit High School in Bend, got to see a number of series with starters and, especially on defense, a lot of people who will be rotation players.
The turnout, made much larger by the sound decision to push start time back to 7:30 in light of the week’s heat wave, allowed a number of Beaver onlookers to make the trip over from the valley who would not have been able to do so on a weekday. It made the autograph session almost unmanageable, but that’s a good problem to have, and a welcome one when a team is coming off 3 consecutive losing seasons.
And even after the majority of the fans left early, used to a format that meant once the 3rd & 4th stringers appeared, nothing more of relevance would happen, we still saw useful series, as Coach Gary Andersen continued to rotate 1s & 2s in until the end of the hour and a half exercise, and even ran some kickoffs where returns actually were not whistled down. More on that, and special teams in general, later.
The first thing most fans were looking for was a look at 6’7″ transfer Jake Luton, who was named the starter earlier in the week. Luton was ill during the winter practices and game, and still established himself as the clear leader in the starting quarterback competition, which went on longer than it should have. Friday night established that Luton, who has gained all of the 30 lbs. he lost to the illness that he fought through earlier in the year, was in fact the right choice, leading multiple scoring drives, including a 70 yard march on the opening drive of the scrimmage.
That drive showcased another newcomer of note, freshman wideout Isaiah Hodgins, above, who had a 39 yard reception, and was capped by another player fans were looking forward to seeing, when TE Noah Togiai, who suffered a season ending knee injury in the second game of last season, reeled in a red-zone touchdown catch.
The next time the 1s were on the field, Luton engineered another 70 yard touchdown drive, and capped that one with another touchdown toss to Togiai. They would connect again later in the evening for another score.
The key play of that second drive was another of the things Beaver backers were eager to see; an 18 yard run by senior transfer Thomas Tyner, who came over to Oregon State from Oregon. Tyner finished with a team high 54 yards on 8 carries.
Coupled with Ryan Nall, above, who had 22 yards on just 5 carries, a 4.4 average , Tyner, below, will give the Beavers a 1-2 punch in the backfield that will wear down, and potentially wear out, a lot of linebackers and safeties this season.
Injuries cut short Tyner’s career as a Duck, and keeping Nall healthy for the rigors of a full season has eluded Oregon State as well. But with the ability to alternate them, be it between series, or from game to game, going with whichever one is the more favorable matchup against an opponent, and given that Tyner is a kickoff return force as well, Oregon State should make sure their 2 big backs (Tyner is well north of 230 lbs., but still has speed and quickness of moves [and experience] that exceeds anything anyone else Oregon State can put on the field) combine for 30+ touches every game. The option to ride one for a couple dozen plays in a given game, with the knowledge that they have the other to turn to the following week, or have both fresh in the 4th quarter, is the best weapon Oregon State has.
It was also encouraging, and reassuring, to see that Seth Collins, above, has fully recovered from his bout with meningococcal disease that ended last season early, and is still his pile hurdling self. Collins has handled the shift to the slot receiver position well, and led the Beavers in receiving, with a co-high 3 catches (with Togiai), for 47 yards, including the longest catch of the game.
Not All Sunshine
It wasn’t all the sunshine Oregon State is pedaling though (that’s not an editorialization, they really are having @SunshinePDX do promo pieces for the team; at least they are admitting it), even before it got dark (very dark!) once the sun went down, and it cooled off to really comfortable football conditions.
Luton’s 10 of 15 completions for 122 yards and 3 touchdowns weren’t spectacular numbers by any stretch, but it was apparent that Luton, above, had command of the offense, at least as far as the offense went.
Which is part of the problem. It’s understandable that Oregon State would not want to put much on tape for opponents, except that the offense on display Friday night, even with Luton at the controls, looked just like it did most of the last 2 seasons. It’s a rare thing to see any Oregon State quarterback ever go to a second read, and almost unheard of where it isn’t a check-down, in 2 years in the Kevin McGiven offense. And almost all passes that do occur are short dumps.
Unless its a panic and break the pocket too soon scramble and chuck it up, which, thankfully, Luton doesn’t succumb to. Even when he runs, its with a plan, not a prayer.
And we have now seen 8 different quarterbacks running the McGiven offense, and its stunning how limited they all appear.
Friday night, it was most of the way through the scrimmage before Oregon State ran anything that stretched the secondary in any way (Hodgin’s early big play was mostly yards after catch), the longest completion of the night to Collins.
And then the next 2 plays ended poorly, with Luton overthrowing a single receiver sent deep by more than 5 yards in each case. Notably, even in pre-scrimmage drills, Luton overthrows receivers on routes where the rest of the array of quarterbacks have usually underthrown them, which could be producing a tendency to not run out plays that will have to be overcome since its now possible to NOT outrun the pass.
The only other play that came close to stretching the secondary all night was Togiai’s 3rd touchdown catch, which was a rerun of the completely-across-the-field crossing route that produced the 2nd touchdown, except this time underneath 3 receivers clearing out deep, and in the opposite direction.
And for those looking for a Jordan Villamin resurgence, it might be a long look.
Villamin had just 2 catches, for 13 yards, and I only noted one other look in his direction, as he once again disappeared almost completely. But then in the 1 read Oregon State offense, if you aren’t the first read, you aren’t going to get many looks.
McMaryion Moves On
The quarterback competition that continued with all 4 of the backups seeing series, didn’t really settle anything though, except it sort of did because it didn’t.
Darell Garretson was 6 of 9, but for only 61 yards, but Marcus McMaryion, who was the starter at the end of last season, and was the presumed likely backup to Luton, was only 4 of 9, for just 36 yards.
That led to speculation around the field at Summit, and on and after the trip back to Corvallis, that Garretson might have seized the backup job, though I have to wonder if Connor Blount might be the better option, or at least one that won’t blow as many reads.
And probably finalized McMaryion’s decision to transfer, which he announced once back in Corvallis. A stellar student, McMaryion already has a degree after 3 years, and still has 2 years of eligibility.
Special Teams Sightings!
Sophomore kicker Jordan Choukair connected on all 5 of his field goal attempts, including both from 50+ yards. If Oregon State can reach the opponents’ 35 yard line, they should be able to put points on the scoreboard.
And punting remains a strength for 1 more year, with senior punter Nike Porebski back for his senior season.
Kickoffs are another matter though, and Adley Rutschman’s decision to commit the summer to baseball, and carry that into fall ball, after a strong freshman season as Oregon State’s catcher, that was even better than his freshman kicking and special teams efforts, means kickoffs are likely going to be left short of the end zone more often that would be desirable.
Some Other Interesting Observations
Even watching the 3s & 4s was of some interest. One needs to be cautious about reading much (anything?) into what people who won’t see the field do against those who shouldn’t see it, at least this year.
But freshman Calvin Tyler was impressive, with both a couple of good runs, and a big kickoff run back. Andersen has said he doesn’t want to red-shirt the Texan, and he does look like he can play. But with Nall & Tyner, as well as sophomore Artavis Pierce, there aren’t going to be many touches available. And while that kickoff return was exciting, it was bookended by impressive ones by Tyner and Trevon Bradford. It might be better to not waste a year’s eligibility.
And in addition to Hodgins, already a starter, it looks like LB David Morris will make his mark right away. The in-state recruit has already had some run with the 1s in practice, and should be in the regular rotation on defense.
Beaver fans should also be comfortable with Brandon Arnold & Xavier Crawford in the secondary again this season, based on what I saw at Summit.
It’s apparent that there are enough skill players for Oregon State to get something done this season, although contending for a division title is still a ways off.
But how far the Beavers will go will again ultimately depend on how the lines play.
Despite replacing 3 starters, the offensive line overall played pretty well. But the dropoff to the 2nd unit and beyond is precipitous. Keeping this group healthy is going to be crucial to getting the Nall/Tyner combination into the open, and Luton upright and able to find any of an actually pretty effective group of receivers.
The biggest problem last season was a defensive front that struggled to stop the run, or pressure opposing passers, leaving the linebackers and secondary exposed for too long.
It wasn’t addressed in the offseason, and has been called out by Andersen himself, who expressed concern about the state of the preparation of the D-line at the start of camp. Despite what we saw when Bright Ugwoegbu broke through to break up a play late in the scrimmage, its hard to see how the defense is going to get off the field against, Washington, USC, or Stanford, unless there is a big step up in consistency. Which might be hard to accomplish with a constantly shuffling front.
The good news is that while there are 3 almost certain Ls on the schedule, Washington, at USC, & Stanford, there are also 2 games, Portland State and California, that there is no way should not be Ws. That leaves 7 games up for competition.
It’s unlikely that a win will be the result at Washington State, which has one of the best offenses in the country, never mind the conference, and is a bad matchup for the Oregon State defense. Washington State has individually and collectively out-coached Oregon State in the Andersen era as well. Also, the game is in Pullman, and Anderson has yet to win a road game with the Beavers, only even coming within 2 scores a couple of times.
But one can never count out the possibility that the Cougars could “Cuog It” at any time.
That means against Colorado State, Colorado, Minnesota, Arizona, Arizona State, and Oregon, the Beavers probably need to find 4 wins to find possibly a Foster Farms or Cactus bowl qualifying non-losing record. But then after the last several years, the Las Vegas Bowl would be a major accomplishment.
It was somehow not surprising when the Summit scrimmage ended in a play that was wiped out by an offensive penalty.
However, there are some pieces coming together, including clarity behind center for the first time in literally years, that should mean Oregon State could & should still be in the hunt for a post season come November.
We will get another look this coming Saturday, when the Beavers hold another open scrimmage, 2 weeks before the early opener in Fort Collins, in the opening of Colorado State’s new stadium.