After watching Oregon State scrimmage for a couple of hours, several things stood out.
Luton Will Be The Man
I remain confident in my assessment post spring ball that Jake Luton will be the Beavers’ starter at quarterback. And should be.
The talk about Connor Blount and Jake Colletto, and the reps they are getting, are coachspeak and an exercise in figuring out which one would be the better choice in the event someone has to step in should something happen to Luton. Which is fine; odds are better than even that any given starting quarterback in the Pac-12 is going to have to have their backup play a (hopefully) meaningful play at some point.
Its not that Blount and Colletto don’t have some ability; they both have demonstrated that. The difference is Luton can make throws no one else in Corvallis can.
Expect both Isaiah Hodgins, above catching a TD pass from Luton, and Timmy Hernandez to have a better year this year.
My bet would be Blount winds up as the primary backup. He has experience Colletto lacks, and does a better job at running Jonathan Smith’s offense, which not surprisingly looks a lot like what we have seen from Washington in recent years. An inside running game, coupled with a lot of check-downs, bubble and tunnel screens, and slant routes. Not exactly exciting, but as the Huskies have demonstrated, when run efficiently, it moves the sticks, gives the defense time to rest, and ultimately puts points on the board, and wins games. Blount could well be the second coming of Cody Vaz, and that wouldn’t be a bad thing.
Colletto is the only Oregon State quarterback that has any business running anywhere, but Smith and offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren should shelve any thoughts of the option. The Beavers don’t have the personnel to run the option, and the couple of times it was thrown in, it didn’t work well at all.
However, Colletto is one of the more imposing physical specimens on the roster at any position. And he is a super-sized version of Smith, both in style and substance. Which is why he could well take over in a year.
But while its easy to see why he tore up Washington high school opponents, and impressed as a JC, he’s a one on one nightmare for the average player at those levels, his lack of experience at the Pac-12 level is apparent. And while his creativity gives him options that sometimes produce a big play, that free wheeling also gets him in trouble at times, occasionally spectacularly.
Aidan Willard might even be the best bet to be the backup in the short run. He will be the man on the sideline with the headset, relaying all the calls. The only other quarterback to even put on a headset or signal anything all afternoon was Luton, during the drives when Willard went in. And though 3rd/4th string vs 3rd/4th string isn’t a great barometer of anything, even then, it was apparent Willard has a command of the system on par with Luton’s. Which is why he had the headset.
Defensive Speed A Big Concern
A big, BIG concern.
Drawing conclusions about the defense was complicated by the absence of several key players.
Presumed starters Dwayne Williams, David Morris, and Jeremy Reichner, and rotation/situation/ regulars/sometimes starters Jay Irvine and Omar Hicks-Ono, are all injured, and the result was some trial and error shuffling, not only of personnel, but positions. That in turn made it hard to fully evaluate the second string, because of the presence of a number of third stringers.
But the injuries are real, and have been a significant contributor to the Beavers’ defensive woes in recent years. The pattern is already setting up, and its still 3 weeks until the first game.
However, the over-ridding concern, probably the biggest one of many facing an Oregon State team in massive rebuild mode, is the lack of overall defensive team speed, and especially in the defensive back 7.
Size is a close second concern, mostly because of the lack of speed, both laterally and vertically. Size isn’t a requirement for good, or at least effective, defense, as Washington State, for example, has proved recently. But if you don’t have size, you had better be really fast.
It does seems that in only a week of fall practice, Coach Smith and his staff are already far ahead of their predecessors, in that the defense did not seem to be continually in fire drill mode. That, unfortunately, didn’t prevent giving up a number of explosion plays that frankly shoudn’t have been. But it was more a case of just flat getting beat, vs the completely blown assignments that were common place during the Gary Andersen era.
Scheme wise, again, Oregon State under Smith will show some defensive looks familiar to anyone who has watched Washington recently. The base first team defense employed only 2 down linemen, Kalani Vakameiliao and Isaac Hodgins, flanked by a pair of rush ends up in a standing start, usually Hamilcar Rashad and Andrzej Hughes-Murray.
Elu Aydon only appeared in a 3 man look, usually in short yardage rush situations, and often bringing Isaac Garcia and/or LaMone Williams with him.
Regardless, generating quarterback pressure is a challenge for any personnel group the Beavers field. But I did observe some creativity, when on several occasions Oregon State aligned 4 players listed as corners on the line, sending one of them, ostensibly with coverage of the slot receiver of an H-back or tight end, on a blitz.
Its an approach that can work, but requires elite speed, given the distance that has to be covered before an alert quarterback dumps the ball over the blitz to the slot receiver often left with only a linebacker in coverage.
Don’t look for it to be employed extensively for that reason, but do look for Smith and Defensive Coordinator Tim Tibesar to throw some creative schemes on occasion.
Special Teams Getting Some Attention
Under Coach Smith, special teams isn’t an aspect of the game that’s either an afterthough, or an isolated piece of preparation. During the scrimmage, at logical points, individual special teams plays, or a group of reps for a given situation, were thrown in.
Starting running back Artavis Pierce got some run on kickoff returns, but Tino Allen and freshman Kolby Taylor also got both kickoff and punt return action, as did Champ Flemings.
Ceiling Is Higher, But Probably Also In The Future
The immediate outlook for the program is not good, and there’s no getting around the reality of a young squad that also lacks depth, (Having bodies to put on the field does not equate to depth.) and is trying to recover from a culture, on the field and off, that did nothing to foster success.
But the feel around the group is different, and reflects what Smith has pretty consistently done as a player and an assistant coach; one of making corrections to get better. Eventually.
As such, the ceiling for a team that has run off 4 consecutive losing seasons, and 6 in the last 8 years, and hasn’t won a road game since before mid-season in 2014, does seem like it will be higher, though probably not until some significant recruiting can occur.
The offense will again have trouble stretching the field, and opposing defenses. The defense will get stretched.
It isn’t about being able to do what you want to do, its about being able to do what you want to do, and what you need to do, 80+ snaps a game, each side of the ball.
The home opener against Southern Utah should be a good, competitive game. The outlook for the rest of September would be brighter if instead of Ohio State, Nevada, Arizona, and Arizona State, the rest of the schedule was Portland State, Idaho, Northern Arizona, and Montana State.
But at least in just a few weeks, it will be football.