It was going to be hard for Oregon State to beat Utah on the road in any event, and the loss of quarterback Tristan Gebbia late in last week’s win over Oregon didn’t help. But the big blow came when Covid contact tracing forced running back Jermar Jefferson into quarantine Tuesday evening, and out of the game, though Oregon State didn’t disclose that development until after it came out Saturday morning, after Jefferson didn’t make the trip to Salt Lake City.
Things got worse early in the third quarter when backup running back BJ Baylor was forced out of the game with a shoulder injury. Shortly thereafter, wide receiver and kickoff returner Champ Flemings also left, also with a shoulder injury.
When Utah’s Britain Covey started off the 4th quarter with a 64 yard punt return for the touchdown that put the Utes ahead 30-10, it probably would have sent most of the crowd for the exits on a frigid night in Salt Lake City, with temperatures in the 20s, had there actually been a crowd.
But the Beavers didn’t call it a night, answering with their best drive of the night, pulling back within 2 scores on Calvin Tyler’s second touchdown run of the night.
When Jaydon Grant recovered the ensuing on-side kick at midfield, it looked like Oregon State might actually be on the comeback trail.
A sack led to the opportunity going for naught, but then the Oregon State defense, which had been run over all night, finally came to the game, and got their first three and punt stop of the night. Chance Nolan, above, making his first start at the FBS level, directed another touchdown drive, capped by a 21 yard touchdown pass to Kolby Taylor, which Taylor tracked through a deflection by a Utah defender.
Suddenly, it was a 6 point game, with the Beavers down only 30-24 with still over 5 minutes to go. The Beavers couldn’t execute a 2nd on-side kick, but their defense stopped Utah on 4th down with still 2:47 to go.
But then Utah also got a 4th down stop. That wasn’t enough to put the game away though, as Oregon State used their timeouts to force a Utah punt, and the Beavers had one last chance, starting at their own 25, with still 1:16 to work with.
There would be no mid-night miracle, reminiscent of Oregon State’s 2013 overtime win over Utah, though. Midnight in Salt Lake City actually came and went before the Beavers’ final drive ended. But the chance for a comeback didn’t end until after Nolan had driven Oregon State to the Utah 36, when his 4th down pass didn’t connect with Luke Musgrave, with just 21 seconds left, leaving the 30-24 score the final in the Utah win.
The game didn’t start well for Oregon State, as Utah scored on their first 3 possessions, and Nolan threw an interception on his first pass above the JC level. Everett Hayes also missed a 50 yard field goal that had 60 yard distance, but was pushed wide right, and Tegan Quitoriano dropped a Nolan pass that would have either resulted in a touchdown, or a first and goal at point blank range.
The game could have started even worse though, as all 3 of Utah’s first 3 scoring drives ended in field goals, though it should be noted that 2 of them were a result of Ute quarterback Jake Bentley, who had banged his passing hand early in the game, twice missed Brant Kuithe, who was open by yards, by yards. The points the Utes left on the field in those situations despite totally dominating the first half of the game would ultimately allow the Beavers to make it close at the end.
Hayes connected on his next field goal attempt to make it just a 6 point game early in the 2nd quarter, and after Utah got their first touchdown of the game on Ty Jordan’s 1 yard run, Oregon State pulled back within 16-10 50 seconds before halftime on Tyler’s 1 yard run.
The biggest part of the Oregon State offense on the drive were a result of 4 penalties on Utah, 3 of them actually legitimate.
The only score of the 3rd quarter came when Bentley connected with Covey, above, for an 8 yard touchdown, but Utah’s ability to run the ball, and Oregon State’s inability to offer any real resistance prior to the 4th quarter, mean the Utes had already won the time of possession battle well before the end of the 3rd quarter.
Even with the 4th quarter Beaver heroics, the Utes rolled up 403 total yards, to 335 for the Beavers, 161 of which came in the final period.
Nolan rebounded from a slow first half in his first start, and finished with 20 completions on 38 throws, for 202 yards, and the 1 score. Nolan also ran for 36 yards, as his speed and mobility was a marked difference from what Gebbia was capable of.
Utah ran for 229 yards, led by Ty Jordan, above, who had game and career highs of 167 yards on 27 carries, in his 3rd collegiate career game.
Oregon State ran for only 97 yards besides Nolan’s runs, and 40 of those came on a single Jack Colletto Wild Beaver package run that contributed to their field goal.
Baylor managed only 19 yards before being injured, and Tyler was held to 29.
Bentley, above, completed 18 of 27 passes, for 174 yards, with a game high 8 to Kuithe, below, for a game high 76 yards.
Zeriah Beeson had a team high 4 catches for Oregon State, for 37 yards, and Tyjon Lindsey had 3 catches, also for 37 yards. Nolan connected with 9 different receivers.
Oregon State got notable performances for linebackers Avery Roberts and Omar Speights. Roberts was in on a game & career high 21 tackles, including a game high 10 solos, and Speights was in on 13, including 7 solo.
Roberts was anything but satisfied though.
“My worst game of the season,” Roberts said. “Too many missed tackles, too many missed assignments.”
Nolan also expressed frustration despite a decent first game.
“I left a lot of stuff on the field,” Nolan felt.
Utah, which improved to 1-2, breaking a 4 game losing streak that dates back to last year’s Pac-12 Championship game, notably had no turnovers, reversing the trend in their first 2 game of the season, when the Utes handed over 9 turnovers.
“That’s a physical football team, and we didn’t execute well enough at a high enough level to win the game,” Oregon State Head Coach Jonathan Smith said.
Smith did acknowledge his team’s effort, and the comeback.
“We are going to play the game for 4 quarters, and credit to the defense for getting some stops to give us a chance.”
Oregon State did cover, having opened as 8 point underdogs, a line that increased to 11 when Gebbia was declaerd out, and 14 when word of Jefferson’s unavailability became known.
But once again, Defensive Coordinator Tim Tibesar’s unit produced a career night for an opponent, with tremendous difficulty dealing with runs right through the middle of the defense. Another similar performance next week against Stanford (2-2), who physically dominated Washington on their way to a 31-26 win in Seattle today.
Oregon State saw their 2 game winning streak come to an end, and slid back to 2-3. Had the Beavers won, coupled with Stanford’s win and previously winless California’s 21-17 win over 23rd ranked Oregon in Strawberry Canyon, a win over Stanford coupled with an Oregon win over Washington would have won the Pac-12 North, andput Oregon State in the Conference Championship Game. Instead, the game against the Cardinal is a must win game for the Beavers to avoid a 7th straight losing season, and 9th in 11 years.
(AP photos by Rick Bowmer)