Struggling Oregon State escaped with a narrow 35-32 win over FCS Portland State Saturday afternoon, and were extremely lucky to do so.
Had Graycen Kennedy’s 46 yard field goal attempt, which was amply long enough, not sailed wide right (this on a kick from the left hash mark), overtime would have ensued, and there’s a good chance the Vikings, who out-played the Beavers most of the day, would have won. Of course if Portland State had a kicking game of the competence level of most decent high school teams, at least one of their failed conversion attempts probably would have been good, and the field goal that should have been made would have won the game.
There were some positives for Beaver fans, those few who turned out and actually stayed for the finish, not the least of which was the game winning 7 play, 77 yard drive, executed in a minute and a half, and capped by freshman Isaiah Hodgins’ game winning touchdown catch, above.
Another was transfer quarterback Jake Luton going 6 for 6 on the drive, a good end to what was not only Luton’s career best performance, but also the best quarterback performance of the Coach Gary Andersen era at Oregon State.
Overall, Luton, above, completed 18 of 25 passes, 72%, for 235 yards. And he only threw 1 interception, the same number as his touchdown completions.
And it was good to see the Beavers respond, after Josh Kraght’s 3rd touchdown of the day, above, put Portland State up 32-28, and out of reach of a field goal, with just 2:43 left to go.
However, Oregon State struggled to run the ball for much of the game. Ryan Nall, above, managed only 59 yards on 16 carries, to go with 4 catches for 34 yards. Overall, the Beavers ran for only 154 yards.
In the plus column, freshman Trevorris Johnson scored his first collegiate touchdown, above, which, with the conversion, put Oregon State ahead 21-20 with 6 1/2 minutes to go in the 3rd quarter.
However, take away a 29 yard run by Artavis Pierce, and the Beavers barely averaged 4 yards per carry on the day.
And while Hodgins was having something of a breakout day, with 5 catches for 59 yards, and TE Noah Togiai had a game high 95 yards on 5 catches, Jordan Villamin, last week’s leading receiver for Oregon State, did another of his disappearing acts, and never touched a ball all day.
But the biggest problem once again was a disastrous performance by the Oregon State defense.
Manase Hunalu had a 21 yard pick-6, above, 5 minutes before the end of the 3rd quarter that put the Beavers ahead 28-20, the largest lead of the day for either team, but otherwise the Oregon State defense was nearly defenseless.
The Vikings out-rushed the Beavers in the first half, out-passed them in the second half, and out-gained them in both havles. Portland State piled up 515 yards, including 291 yards rushing.
Za’Quan Summers, above, rolled up a game high 106 yards on 18 carries.
The Vikings held a nearly 13 minute edge in time of possession, against a Beaver offense that ran more than it passed.
Oregon State, still unable to generate a pash rush also, as last week, failed to register a sack.
Both the Viking ground game and short passing game continued to take advantage of gaping holes in the short flanks of the defense, as the Beavers’ inside linebackers, by design or not, continue to have extreme difficulties flowing laterally.
And there were multiple coverage breakdowns that resulted in wide open receivers, and resulted in 2 of Kraght’s 3 scores.
Even when Portland State’s freshman starting quarterback Jalani Eason went down in the 4th quarter, apparently with cramps, the Vikings were able to adjust. Eason threw for 164 yards and ran for another 95, but Portland State effectively employed 4 quarterbacks on the day, and moved Kraght back in from wide receiver late in the game.
Kraght added 59 passing yards and 50 rushing yards to his 82 yards receiving, and was overall the player of the game.
Eason spent the latter part of the game flanking Vikings head coach Bruce Barnum, assisting with play signaling, and why he didn’t return was unclear.
Oregon State did get through the hot day that, thanks to the 11:01 kickoff that was the earliest in Reser Stadium history, started off only in the 80s, and had climbed only into the low 90s by conclusion (and also remained mostly smoke free, a condition that changed later in the afternoon), relatively healthy.
Titus Failauga, who left last week’s game at Colorado State early, tweaked a hamstring in the first half, and didn’t return, but Hungalu, who also had to set out some action, did return down the stretch.
Fan Frustration Setting in
There is a bigger problem facing Oregon State than the state of the defense, though, as Beaver Nation, frustrated with the poor play on the field, and lack of progress in Andersen’s 3rd year, appear to be about to do a “Craig Robinson” on the program.
There weren’t close to 10 thousand fans in the stadium when the National Anthem was played, and while fans did drift into the stadium in enough number that it was close to 2/3 full at its peak, total attendance was no where near the announced total of (only) 34,737, which included thousands of sold but unused season tickets and tickets sold a part of packages.
There was no buzz about the stadium, and little energy.
Further, numerous fans, including some of the season ticket holders who are considered the backbone of the fan base, left well before the exchange of scores at the end of the game, and didn’t see, or apparently care, that the Beavers improved to 1-1 on the season.
The early start, the near record heat, an FCS opponent (though being a local one, that helped over any opponent needing to travel a great distance), and the holiday weekend all were factors, but all of those factors except the early start were present down the road where Oregon bounced back from last year’s Civil War loss with a 77-21 win in front of a near capacity crowd.
Some channel surfing over the course of opening weekend revealed plenty of other games that had large crowds despite the holiday and heat, and plenty of them were no where nearly as competitive a contest as this one was.
Fans are clearly frustrated that Andersen, like Robinson, hasn’t come close to being nearly as competitive on the road as at home, and realize that will severely limit the overall success of the team, so much so that even an occasional win against a struggling opponent (Andersen has yet to beat a winning program; Portland State, which appears to be improved over last year, was only a 3 win team last season, and still will face stiff competition in the Big Sky) doesn’t mean much.
And experienced fans recognize poor play, and don’t care to watch it.
Those doubting the severity of the debacle should note that almost immediately after the game, Oregon State Athletics came forward with a 2 for the price of 1 ticket promotion for next Saturday evening’s game against Minnesota. Just try and find another example of a 2 for 1 promotion on tickets for a matchup of Power-5 conference programs.
Clearly, they are very concerned about the optics of a half empty (or worse at times) stadium on national TV. The 7 PM game against the Gophers will be carried on Fox Sports 1, unless there is a baseball game that runs long (Over 1/3 of Washington State’s game against Montana State was missed due to an over-running extra inning baseball game), and Oregon State will be a home underdog.
Minnesota, which beat the Beavers by only 7 points in last season’s opener, the only road game an Andersen coached Oregon State team has ever been competitive in, comes in 1-0 after beating Buffalo 17-7, and will attract some considerable degree of national attention due to the presence of new coach PJ Fleck, who took over the Gophers after going 13-1 last year at Western Michigan.
With the impending gauntlet of games against Washington State, Washington, USC, Colorado, and Stanford, all of whom opened their seasons with more impressive wins over arguable better competition, to follow, it will be a must win game for Oregon State. Or maybe not, if, as a number of Beaver fans apparently already believe, it won’t matter anyway.