California came into Saturday having lost 3 games in a row, the last one a lopsided blowout loss to UCLA. Fortunately for the Bears, Saturday was their turn to draw Oregon State on the schedule.
The Beavers’ defense has been the antidote for anything that ails an opposing offense for some time now, and with injuries piling up, the Oregon State offense is losing its ability to present problems to any defense as well. Saturday was not only no exception, it was the Beavers’ worst outing of the season.
California controlled the first half, and opened a 21-0 lead that wasn’t a touchdown larger only because the Bears suffered an unforced fumble while knocking on the Oregon State goal line.
But the Bears remedied that on the first drive of the third quarter, going the length of the field on 4 plays to take a 28-0 lead, and the game was effectively as over at that point as it was when Josh Drayden snagged a pick-6, above, with 20 seconds left that made the final 49-7.
Unable to get Jake Luton healthy enough after the high ankle sprain he suffered in Reno for Coach Jonathan Smith to be comfortable with playing Luton, the Beavers again went with backup Conor Blount at quarterback.
Blount was totally ineffective, completing just 6 of 13 passes, for only 42 yards, and with an interception, and 3 sacks, including below.
It would and should have been 4 but for a mis-spot that resulted in what went in the books as a run for no gain. It amounted to an abysmal quarterback rating of 5.9.
And then he got knocked out of the game shortly before halftime, the victim of a targeting hit while sliding. Oregon State has had at least one quarterback knocked out of every game this season.
California on the other hand benched turnover machine Brandon McIlwain, turning instead to Chase Garbers, and limiting McIlwain to several effective wild-cat and receiver packages, as Bears coach Justin Wilcox traded a few big plays for ball security.
Garbers responded with a 17 of 26 day passing, for 234 yards and 4 touchdowns, plus 54 yards on 8 carries.
Meanwhile, Patrick Laird ran wild against the Oregon State non-defense, rolling up 193 yards and 2 touchdowns on 22 carries, plus another 48 yards and another score through the air.
In all, California rolled up 305 yards rushing, and 539 total yards. This by the same Bears offense that managed only 7 points at home against an until that time winless UCLA team that beat them by 30. And the Golden Bears snapped a 14 game conference road losing streak at the Beavers’ expense, improving to 4-3, and 1-3 in the Pac.
Oregon State turned to third string quarterback Jack Colletto after Blount got put into concussion protocol, and though he led the Beavers on their sole scoring drive of the day, and got their only touchdown, overall looked like a third string quarterback. Colletto collected 4 more sacks as well.
The Beavers also went initially with Artavis Pierce at running back, only bringing on freshman Jemar Jefferson late in the second quarter. Jefferson promptly broke off a 33 yard run, Oregon State’s best play of the day by a wide margin. But he disappeared again shortly thereafter, a lingering hamstring problem the reason.
Pierce managed only 44 yards on 13 carries before he too left the game banged up.
Oregon State did get wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins, out since late in the first half of the Arizona State game with his own hamstring issue, back, but the struggles at quarterback meant Hodgins only had 3 catches for 24 yards. Further, the Beavers were only able to find WR Timmy Hernandez twice, for only 15 yards.
Defensively, Jeromy Reichner made his first appearance as a Beaver, after missing the first half of the season with a foot injury suffered in camp. But Elu Aydon sat out the game, and the Oregon State defensive line remained unable to stop the run or pressure opposing passers.
It was a beautiful sunny fall day, with temperatures in the 70s, and the Pac-12 Pregame show and in-game on site team on hand, what should have been a perfect afternoon for a breakthrough football performance. Instead, most of the gathering that, despite the perfect conditions and being Homecoming, barely numbered 20K, despite the announced ticket distribution of 32,390, left before halftime.
The feeling around the stadium, and the results, matched those late last season. The Washington State game paralleled Cory Hall taking over the team at midseason last year. In both cases, the plucky players played their hearts out, and actually competed against superior competition. But after that initial burst, and again today, reality set in, and the massive differential in talent, experience, size, speed, and depth, plus opponents scouting them, caught up with the Beavers.
Whether its an inability to get people healthy, or an overabundance of caution about not risking further injury, the result has been a series of embarrassing performances, which have gotten even more players hurt in the process.
Oregon State, now 1-6, and 0-4 in the Pac-12, has lost 17 in a row against FBS opposition, and is about to start the tough part of their schedule, with 3 of their next 4 games on the road, where the Beavers haven’t won since the middle of the 2014 season.
They will do so with their 1st and 2nd string quarterbacks questionable, and their 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th running backs all banged up, if not out altogether.
Coach Smith and the Beavers might yet manage another surprising uprising, but it will be a real surprise if they do. Finding a way to keep a rapidly shrinking investor base engaged, and giving the recruits that will be required to solve the matchup problems Oregon State faces all over the field a reason to believe they should come anywhere near a program that is trying and failing to compete in the Pac-12 with a mostly Big Sky Conference roster might be even tougher, and even more surprising.
The Golden Bear fans that made the trip north from Berkeley were the only ones who did any real celebrating on the day, and the best thing that happened all day for the few Beaver faithful that stayed until the end was the joint post-game concert by the California Straw Hat Band and the OSU Marching Band.
(Photos by Andy Wooldridge)