Oregon State jumped all over Southern Utah in the first half, roaring out to a 38-0 lead, and then the Beavers overcame the loss of a pair of key offensive players to hold off the Thunderbirds for a 48-25 win that snapped an 11 game losing streak that dated to last season’s second game, which also happens to be the last game Oregon State played against a FBS Big Sky opponent.
It was also the first win as a head coach for Jonathan Smith, though it continued a long track record of success as a player, assistant coach, and opposing head coach, of Smith being very successful at Reser.
Easily the biggest concerns coming out of the win were injuries to 2 key offensive players, first running back Artavis Pierce’s elbow, and then wide receiver Trevon Bradford’s shoulder, that sidelined the Beavers’ stars in the second quarter. Both had their arms in slings, with ample ice applied, in the second half. The status of both for next week’s game at Nevada, and possibly longer, are unknown, subject to treatment and further assessment by team doctors.
Bradford’s loss, coming as a result of his fall while hauling in a 33 yard touchdown pass from Connor Blount shortly before the midway mark of the first half, contributed to Oregon State’s second half fall-off in production.
But the loss of Pierce, after being knocked out of bounds early in the 2nd quarter, above, which would normally be a cause for near panic for a lot of teams, not just the Beavers, didn’t even prove to be a bump in the road.
The reason was freshman Jemar Jefferson delivered one of the best performances in Oregon State history. All Jefferson did was deliver the 3rd best performance by an Oregon State running back ever, trailing only Bill “Earthquake” Enyart’s 299 yard game at Utah, and Steven Jackson’s career best game.
Jefferson ran for 238 yards, just 1 yard shy of Jackson’s record effort, and a team record tieing 4 touchdowns, on 22 carries, and added 27 more yards on 3 receptions. His 2nd quarter scores, which with Bradford’s scoring catch were the difference in the game, came on runs of 32 & 62 yards, and conjured up memories of Jacquizz Rodgers with his combination of shifty moves and speed.
Realistically, it would be as easy to read too much into the win as it would be to read too much into last week’s blowout loss at Ohio State. Both games were talent mismatches on a spectacular scale, with the main difference being which side of the scale Oregon State was on.
But a well balanced 649 yards of total offense, 360 on the ground, and 289 in the air, is still nothing to sneeze at. Of course, neither is Oregon State’s defense surrendering 488 yards, including 340 in the air.
The stat sheet merits several notes of explanation. With Jake Luton having been knocked out of last week’s game due to a concussion suffered on the first drive of the game, Connor Blount got the start, and completed 15 of 22 passes, for 226 yards and the one touchdown toss to Bradford.
Blount, above, directed Oregon State to scores on their first 6 possessions, and 7 of 8 first half opportunities.
But just like last week, Blount would not play after halftime, as Smith and Offensive Coordinator Bryan Lindgren inserted Luton after the break. Luton missed several throws, but finished 4 of 9, for 63 yards, and had the honor of taking a knee to run out the clock.
The halftime switches weren’t limited to the quarterback change, as neither Isaiah Hodgins, who had a team high 4 catches for a team high 59 yards, nor Timmy Hernandez played in the second half, as Smith and staff substituted liberally, in an effort to get Luton back into game form, and also to get meaningful and extended reps for numerous other second string players in a game that appeared to no longer be in doubt (though Southern Utah did pull to within 22 points, and was driving in Oregon State territory, before fumbling).
On a more positive note, a slew of additional Oregon State players who left the game after being shaken up in one manner of another, all returned, or could have, including Jalen Moore, Dwayne Williams, Kaleb Hayes (twice), and Sumner Houston.
206 of the 344 yards Southern Utah quarterback Chris Helbig threw for came in the second half, as did 101 of the Thunderbirds’ 162 rushing yards. Oregon State had rolled up 454 of their 649 yards by halftime as well, as Beaver punter Danny Rodriguez didn’t appear until the 3rd quarter, and only was called upon twice (though Blount did have a 4th down short punt).
Beyond the injuries to Pierce and Bradford, the other significant concern was Oregon State’s continuing struggles on the defensive front, both to stop the run, or to apply any pressure to opposing quarterbacks.
Helbig, above, had almost unlimited time to read, scramble, and complete passes countless times.
Still, it was a win, and as noted, the first win for Smith, in “9er’s retrurn”. Cue the fight song.
(Photos by Andy Wooldridge)