As I write this article, it’s Halloween (you’ll read this Nov 1st) so I have to talk about the team in orange and black, the Oregon State Beavers!
The upstart program under head coach Jonathan Smith is very well an upstart program. For the first time in years, the Beavs can be considered a formidable opponent in the Pac-12. Entering this week’s matchup against Arizona, OSU daunts a 2-2 conference record and stands 3-4 overall. For traditional powerhouses, this may be considered unacceptable; for the Beavs, it’s a step in the right direction. This column is going to examine what’s happening in Corvallis this year.
Sixth-year senior quarterback Jake Luton is quietly putting together an amazing season. His stats currently read 1,602 yards, 16 touchdowns, and one interception.
The production is awesome but his leadership is invaluable and a huge factor as to why OSU is winning games. Before the season began, there was a hot debate whether the Beavs should start sophomore transfer signal-caller, Tristan Gebbia. It looks like the coaching staff made the right decision.
Luton has struggled with injuries throughout his college career, but he fought back. He’s lost more games than most players may be able to handle, but his spirit remained intact. He’s probably too old to be considered a college kid, but his youthful exuberance leads the team.
He may not play on Sundays, but this season in Corvallis should never be forgotten. After an apathetic 1-3 start, the Beavs looked doomed to finish in the gutter of the Pac-12 North again. But he responded by throwing five touchdowns and 285 yards to guide OSU to a convincing win against UCLA.
The next game, the Beavers lost by 45 points to Utah… but again, he stayed poised and returned to form the following week against Cal, leading a game-winning touchdown drive with under five minutes left to play. These are games that OSU would’ve lost in the past, but not this year, the senior will not be denied.
As good as Luton has performed this year, a quarterback needs someone to throw the ball to, and that man is Isaiah Hodgins. The wideout has 745 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns in only five games. The junior is emerging as one of the best weapons in the conference and climbing up NFL mock draft boards. He has an outside shot to be a first-round pick come selection day.
There is nothing that necessarily stands out in terms of athleticism; he just has an uncanny knack to get himself open; he is comparable to a Doug Baldwin-type of receiver. Other wideouts such as Michael Pittman Jr. for USC and Laviska Shenault Jr. for Colorado may be more noteworthy names, but Hodgins is on their level.
He’s the go-to man in the red zone, on third downs, and whenever Luton feels like taking a chance. If it wasn’t for him, OSU would have no real threats and their offense would be much easier to contain.
Cornerbacks who line up against him should be shaking in their cleats.
By the Numbers
Even though Luton and Hodgins do most of the heavy lifting for OSU there are some other players who’ve made important contributions to the team.
Running Back Artavis Pierce is having a fine season. He’s run for 583 yards and five touchdowns. His steady rushing has been a nice balance to the Beavs passing attack. He’s rushed for 80-plus yards in four out of the last five matchups.
The backfield has more than Pierce, they also feature halfbacks Jermar Jefferson and B.J. Baylor.
Jefferson is an electric runner and may be the most explosive out of the group. He has struggled with injuries thus far this year but he could be set to return against Arizona tomorrow. The twitchy back has rushed for 296 yards and one touchdown in 2019.
Baylor has gotten extra touches because of the injury, and he’s taken full advantage of his opportunities. His stats read 170 yards and three touchdowns, on an impressive 6.5 yards per carry. The sophomore also scored the game-winning touchdown against Cal.
I’m not a mind reader so I can’t tell you how this season will affect the Beavs future. But I can tell you how it feels.
It feels like a team that believes, and believing is half the battle.
In past season OSU has not just been defeated, they haven’t competed. In 2018, they lost to USC by 17, Stanford by 31, UW by 21, and Oregon by 40, they finished 1-8 in conference and 2-10 overall.
This year they’ve already eclipsed both these marks with five games left. And even though their schedule only gets tougher from here, they still have the potential to pull off a couple of upsets and get that program-defining win for Smith.
Who knows, they may beat Oregon and knock them out of the College Football Playoff race.