Mountain West Football: First Look At The Oregon State Beavers
Both Boise State and Fresno State will square off with the resurgent Beavers in non-conference play this season.
We’ll find out how real Oregon State is.
After ending their 2021 season in the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl against Utah State, the Oregon State Beavers will get a double dose of Mountain West football action in hosting Boise State to open 2022 and then hitting the road to face Fresno State a week later.
The Beavers were one of last year’s most feel-good stories, the culmination of a years-long rebuild in which they took down USC and Utah, among others. With the element of surprise behind them at this point, Oregon State will take the best shots from two of the Mountain West’s top contenders this fall.
Location: Corvallis, Oregon
Series History: Oregon State leads the all-time series against Boise State, 5-4, but they trail Fresno State in that series by a 8-5 margin.
2021 Record: 7-6 (5-4 Pac-12)
Head Coach: Jonathan Smith (fifth year, 16-28 overall). Oregon State isn’t the hardest job in college football, but it’s definitely not the easiest one, either. It’s to Smith’s credit, then, that he picked up the pieces left behind by Gary Andersen and went about the slow process of bringing the program back to respectability.
2021 marked the Beavers’ first winning campaign in eight years and they did it on the strength of a powerful offense that knew how to run the ball and a defense that knew how to protect its home turf. Now comes the hard part: Can the Beavers sustain their success in a wide-open division?
Omar Speights, LB
Speights wasn’t a first-team all-conference pick last year like linebacker mate Andre Roberts, but he was still good enough to warrant an honorable mention after collecting 89 tackles and five tackles for loss. Now that Roberts has moved on, Speights will be counted upon as the main anchor in the middle of the Beavers defense.
With @omarspeights, you're in good hands 😏
— Oregon State Football (@BeaverFootball) September 18, 2021
Deshaun Fenwick, RB
Fenwick mostly played second fiddle to B.J. Baylor last year, but he had some opportunities to shine last year and proved he might have what it takes to step into a lead role. He ran for 127 yards in a close loss to Washington State and finished the year averaging 5.78 yards per carry with four touchdowns. Listed at 6-foot-2 and 231 pounds, at the very least he’ll be no fun to try and tackle.
That's it. That's the tweet. pic.twitter.com/Nwm9x6GaJL
— Oregon State Football (@BeaverFootball) October 9, 2021
Alex Austin, CB
Austin played his way into the starting lineup during the shortened 2020 season and improved enough to be considered Oregon State’s best cornerback by the end of last year. He had 47 tackles, seven passes defended and two interceptions in 2021 and is still just a redshirt sophomore, so big things could lie ahead for the Long Beach native.
Luke Musgrave, TE
The Beavers always seem to have unheralded tight ends with a knack for making timely catches and Musgrave is no exception. Playing alongside Teagan Quitoriano last season, he grabbed 22 balls for 304 yards and a touchdown; with a dearth of experienced hands around him this fall, he could be in line for more targets per game.
Isaac Hodgins, DE
If the surname sounds familiar, that’s because former Oregon State star Isaiah Hodgins is his brother. Isaac has been able to make a name for himself, too, though he missed all of 2021 after suffering a broken foot. With 30 career starts to his name and 9.5 tackles for loss and five sacks in that time, he can still be an impact player if he makes it back to 100%.
The Beavers made their mark last year with an offense that led the Pac-12 in yards per play (6.43, which was also a program record) and finished in the top 25 nationally by points per drive and available yards percentage. The offensive line was a finalist for the Joe Moore Award and they could boast the Pac-12’s rushing champion. Things are fine, right?
Well, that rushing champion, B.J. Baylor, is gone along with two of last year’s starters on that line, Nathan Eldridge and Nous Keobounnam. They were also much more careless with the football away from the friendly confines of Reser Stadium, with six giveaways at home and twelve on the road. Starting quarterback Chance Nolan hasn’t yet be guaranteed he’ll continue on as QB1, either, with 2020 starter Tristan Gebbia and redshirt freshman Ben Gulbranson in the mix to compete into fall camp.
However, between Fenwick and Trey Lowe (363 rushing yards, 6.4 YPC), the running game should be in good shape. The offensive line still has plenty of experience, too: Left guard Marco Brewer only made five starts replacing an injured Jake Levengood down the stretch, but Pro Football Focus graded him as the third-best guard in the country (for the record, Levengood was 37th). Tackles Brandon Kipper and Joshua Gray also graded fifth and seventh, respectively, among Pac-12 players at the position.
The passing game’s biggest challenge will be replacing top receiver Trevon Bradford as well as tight end Quitoriano, but Musgrave, Tre’Shaun Harrison (29 catches, 401 yards, 3 TDs), and others should help pick up the slack. There may not be a 1,000-yard receiver in the bunch, but they didn’t need it to be successful last season.
While the offense performed at much the same level whether at home or on the road, the defensive splits were not so kind. On the aggregate, the Beavers ranked 111th in available yards percentage allowed and 99th in points allowed per drive, so their ability to hold on to last year’s gains may depend on how well they rectify last year’s shortcomings here.
Having nine starters back for 2022 will help, but this group struggled to get to the quarterback last year and managed a team sack rate of only 4%, which ranked 120th among FBS teams. A return to form by Hodgins could help, but it might well be a group effort involving everyone from Florida transfer Andrew Chatfield to junior linebacker Riley Sharp (three sacks, most among returners) to redshirt sophomore Cory Stover.
The secondary should improve, too, since it returns intact after finishing third in the Pac-12 with 64 total passes defended. Austin and Rejzohn Wright provide a reliable cornerback tandem; safety Kitan Oladipo (nine passes defended, six tackles for loss) earned an all-conference honorable mention while Alton Julian should be healthy after missing the second half of 2021 with a knee injury.
After last year’s breakout, neither the Broncos nor the Bulldogs will take Oregon State lightly. The upside for both is that they should be well-equipped to take advantage of a Beavers defense with plenty of questions left to resolve, so while neither will run away from OSU, they should be able to come away with victories.
Boise State 31, Oregon State 23
Fresno State 34, Oregon State 28
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