A Big day in Corvallis and a sign of things to come
On a day the defense dominated, freshman quarterback Aidan Chiles made his mark.
CORVALLIS — Big Dave Uiagalelei just wanted Oregon State to run the ball.
The father of Oregon State’s newest quarterback, D.J. Uiagalelei, said as much to himself, and anyone who’d listen, after a string of errant passes led to a successful goal line stand late in the Beavers’ Saturday afternoon spring game.
He spent his afternoon walking around the Reser Stadium concourse, right below where several dozen prospective recruits spent the afternoon indulging in food and taking in the event — undoubtedly Oregon State’s largest spring game of the Jonathan Smith era.
Big Dave’s not officially on Oregon State’s payroll, but the program might want to consider opening a part-time recruiting specialist role after the display he put on, rubbing elbows with any and every recruit or family of a recruit that passed by and serving as a proverbial program ambassador.
Mater Dei junior receiver Jack Ressler, a 3-star with several Pac-12 offers, got quite the earful.
Such recruits were aplenty on Saturday.
So were the fans. Five, maybe 6,000, of them partially filled one wing of the still-unfinished stadium. Look, maybe Saturday wasn’t quite the spectacle that the team south of here has turned its spring games into — or the 47,000 who showed up in Boulder for Coach Prime’s Saturday debut — but there was palpable energy here today. Really, I was lucky to find a parking spot in the stadium lot. It took me a few laps of weaving between the respectable number of students who showed up clad in orange ready to soak in the sun and some alcohol on a Saturday.
The football itself wasn’t always pretty, but the former Beavers’ quarterback-turned-head coach has been in the latter of those two roles long enough now to know how to cheer for both sides of the ball. To him, Saturday was just reflective of the standard of defense the Beavers have set.
“Look,” Smith told reporters on the field, “I think we’ve built a defense now that’s very competitive. They're gonna be tough to move the ball consistently on and that's really what you want.”
Despite losing a host of players this offseason who not only helped transform Oregon State into the program it is now (more on that in a minute), but will take some real time to fully replace, given their institutional knowledge of one of the most stirring rebuilds in college football, it’s hard to say these Beavers have a new car smell. The core of this team is patterned after last season’s 10-win display. Smith hinted as much postgame.
But what Smith’s done this offseason is hang a few “Little Trees” air fresheners around the Beavers’ rear view mirror: Uiagalelei, 4-star freshman quarterback Aidan Chiles, and some new faces in a secondary that, while losing three starters, should have a bit easier a time back there behind a defensive line that Smith and his players said is the “deepest” the program has had in at least half a dozen years.
Uiagalelei and returning starter Ben Gulbranson, the two quarterbacks seemingly vying for Oregon State’s starting job, combined to throw less than 70 yards.
It was Chiles who stole the show offensively.
He got by far the most reps of the three passers — albeit with many of them coming against second- and third-stringers — and did the most with what he was given.
He flashed some nice elusiveness in the pocket, escaping a few near-sacks and was the conductor of the day’s biggest play — and, by association, biggest crowd reaction — when he dropped back and delivered a 22-yard dot to the back of the end zone and into receiver Silas Bolden’s hands.
“He’s gifted, man,” Smith said of the freshman quarterback. “It’s almost like you kind of expect it.”
Chiles will be a major talking point throughout the rest of the offseason. The fact that a player who likely won’t meaningfully touch the field next season is eliciting such buzz is another good sign of where this program is heading. There’s enough belief in the current product that fans can start to dream a little bit, look towards the future with an optimistic eye and find a guilty pleasure to place their rooting interests in.
And hey, here on the precipice of a season saddled with as intense expectations as have surrounded the Beavers in a decade, maybe that’s not the worst thing.
This is what Oregon State football is now, even if Big Dave wants to see the running backs tote the rock a few more times.
Give it a few months Dave. Just you wait.
— Shane Hoffmann
Shane Hoffmann is a contributor to The I-5 Corridor. You can also find his work in The Oregonian and SBLive.com