Arizona State tends to be an inconsistent team at best, and can be downright mediocre when they can’t control the game. But the Sun Devils are very hard to beat when they score early, and even moreso under Coach Todd Graham when they take a substantial halftime lead. Yet they struggle mightily in the state of Oregon in general, and at Reser in particular, especially late in the season.
Oregon State knew all that, but was unable to do anything about it. The last thing the hapless Beavers could afford to have happen was for the Sun Devils to get off to a good start.
Yet that’s exactly what happened Saturday.
Arizona State took the opening kickoff and marched the length of the field in 4 plays, the last of which was a 23 yard touchdown pass from Manny Wilkins to Kyle Williams.
Oregon State went 3 and punt, and Arizona State again marched the field, going 71 yards in 8 plays, the last one on another touchdown toss by Wilkins, this time to Curtis Hodges.
Just like that, the Sun Devils were up 14-0 not 6 minutes into the game, and before the Beavers were able to run their 4th play of the day.
If wasn’t already over then and there, it probably was after Oregon State quarterback Darell Garretson was called for grounding the ball in the end zone, which cost the Beavers 2 points and the ball, and set up the Sun Devils for their 3rd touchdown of the day on the first play of the second quarter, on the first of 3 touchdown runs by Demario Richard.
The 23-0 Sun Devil lead 6 seconds into the 2nd period prompted the beginning of the exodus of even season ticket holders in the small crowd of Beaver hopefuls that, at best, topped 20 thousand by only a little.
Another Richard touchdown run built the lead to 30-0, and even though Oregon State finally fought back with a 79 yard drive, and a Ryan Nall touchdown a minute before halftime, there weren’t 10,000 fans left in Reser from a ticket distribution of 36K, exaggerated by thousands of unused tickets and inflated by numerous tickets distributed for Family Weekend and Senior Day, to see the second half of the last home game of the season for Oregon State.
Or the rally the Beavers mounted in the 4th quarter that actually kept the contest a contest for most of the afternoon.
Interim Coach Cory Hall made the adjustments that finally slowed down the Arizona State offense, and the Beavers held the Sun Devils to only a field goal in the third quarter. One Oregon State matched a minute and a half before the end of the period to keep it a 3 score game.
Some of the few remaining in Reser booed Hall’s decision to have Jordan Choukair kick the 31 yard field goal that made it 33-10, but it was the right decision. A comeback was highly unlikely at best, but coming away with a failed 4th down gamble would have been the end of the game, not to mention bad football, and bad football math, something seen all too often it seems.
But even after Arizona State re-extended their lead to 30 points, going up 40-10 on Richard’s 3rd touchdown of the day early in the 4th quarter, Oregon State still fought back.
The Beavers answered with a 10 play touchdown scoring drive, recovered the ball after a squib kickoff, and scored again on a 4 yard Garretson touchdown run, which got Oregon State back within 2 scores with still half the 4th quarter to go.
The end was so “Oregon State” in the 2017 season though, as a couple of colossal mistakes not only cost the Beavers any chance to pull out a win, it produced yet another frustrating multi-score loss.
The Beavers drove into the Sun Devil redzone, only to have Garretson fumble the ball.
Undaunted, Hall used his timeouts on defense, and forced Arizona State to punt with almost 2 minutes left, still time enough for at least a try at a miracle.
But Adam Soseman ran into Arizona State punter Dalton Sleep, and the resulting first down allowed the Sun Devils to run the clock out.
The 40-24 win improved Arizona State to 6-5 for the season, making the Sun Devils bowl eligible, and 5-3 in the Pac-12, ensuring a winning record in conference heading into the Territorial Cup contest with Arizona next week.
The win, the Sun Devil’s first in 12 years in the state of Oregon, also snapped a 5 game Arizona State losing streak in Reser Stadium.
Oregon State lost their 9th in a row, and fell to 1-10, and 0-8 in the Pac-12, headed into next week’s Civil War, and ensuring a 2nd season in the last 3 with double digit losses, something that hadn’t happened since the back to back 1-10 seasons back in 1990 & 1991.
For all their efforts, all Oregon State accumulated in the second half besides several more serious injuries, some season ending, were some stats that achieved some career milestones.
Senior wide receiver Jordan Villlamin, above, in his last game at Reser, had 5 catches for 60 yards, which moved him into the top 10 on Oregon State’s career receiving yardage list, and Nall’s 42 yards rushing moved past Bill “Earthquake” Enyart for 8th all time in rushing yards for the Beavers.
Garretson, above, completed 26 of 37 passes, one of his better efforts, for 269 yards.
Timmy Hernandez, above, had a game high 7 catches, and Noah Togiai, below, had 5 catches, for a game high 88 yards.
However, none of Garretson’s passes went for touchdowns, after he threw for 4 in last week’s game at Arizona. And he threw 2 interceptions, fumbled twice, and gave up the safety.
But most of it came too late. Oregon State didn’t get their 3rd first down of the game until after they were down 30-0, as Arizona State ground up the Beavers in the first half, especially on the ground.
Both Richard and Kalen Ballage topped the 100 yard rushing mark, and Wilkins, below, added 60 more, as the Sun Devils rolled up 286 yards on the ground.
Meanwhile the Beavers, led by Nall, above, managed only 106.
A key to Arizona State’s early offensive success was Wilkins’ consistent reads of the Oregon State defense, and consistent ability to make the correct adjustment to the call.
Fortunately, Manase Hungalu, who left the game, is expected back for the Civil War, but Jay Irvine is likely done for the year after suffering a dislocated shoulder.
The sparse turnout that got sparser meant few saw the gutty rally, but it also means none of it matters going forward. Until Oregon State comes to terms with a new coach, be it California Offensive Coordinator (and former Eastern Washington head coach) Beau Baldwin, the apparent front-runner, former OSU assistant and current Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall, a popular second possibility with Oregon State brass, or someone else, no one will know what system the Beavers will run next year.
That makes figuring out who will be the quarterback, and what skill set that quarterback must have, can’t happen. Neither can figuring out what kind of offensive lineman the Beavers need to recruit several of.
Which players will return and which will transfer is a total unknown.
And while Oregon State HAS to figure out their defensive line, both in terms of stopping the run and pressuring opposing passers, and get both bigger and faster elsewhere on their defense, who the new defensive assistant coaches, and once again, what the system will even be, must be determined.
Today was yet another demonstration that despite extreme effort and unquestioned heart, Oregon State is as far away from being competitive as at any time since well back into the depth of the dark ages of the 29 year losing streak.
Cue the fight song! (It’s about all we got!)
(Photos by Andy Wooldridge)