Oladapo, veteran Oregon State secondary in for biggest test against USC
Few units are more experienced than the back end of Oregon State’s defense. In Corvallis this weekend, their test is the conference’s most explosive — and thrown together — offense: USC.
On Sundays, Oregon State’s Kitan Oladapo tends to feel it most in his neck and shoulders. All those tackles. All those hits from the night before.
To counter, he’s spends the days leading up to Saturday games prehabbing, dedicating the days to icing and cupping, fully aware it won’t be until Thursday that he’ll start to feel close to 100 percent again.
It’s a routine the safety from Happy Valley has grown into with time.
“Being an old head now, it’s more taking care of my body, less going out and having fun,” he said. “When you grow up, you just realize that sometimes you just got to sacrifice your free time for the better cause.”
Oladapo isn’t exactly an old head, per se, but the fourth-year junior is one of the longest-tenured Beavers. He’s a seasoned piece of a secondary that returned 10 players and a defense that’s no longer an afterthought to its offensive counterpart.
“It builds confidence. When you play confident, you play fast,” he said of the familiarity amongst the defensive backs. “When you know what the other guy's gonna do, you trust your teammates. I think it's definitely been an advantage to us that we want to build on the rest of the season.”
On Saturday, Oladapo, and all that experience on the backend is in for the biggest test it’s seen in some time. Under the lights, Reser Stadium will play host to a case study of built vs. bought.
No. 7 USC brings with it a NIL-funded, star-studded offense constructed through the transfer portal, guided by dynamo play-caller Lincoln Riley and quarterback Caleb Williams, steered by wide receiver Jordan Addison and ushered by former Oregon running back Travis Dye.
It’s everything Jonathan Smith’s team isn’t. Or, at least, hasn’t been to this point.
The Beavers thrive off continuity. For what they lack in star-power, they make up for in institutional knowledge and homegrown talent. There’s no flash. And last season, that was enough. OSU ripped a flailing USC team 47-27 in what now looks like a turning point for Smith’s Beavers.
This Trojans team is different, however.
The hope is that OSU’s 3-0 start signifies that this team may be, too. Especially in the secondary where Oladapo and fellow walk-on safety Jaydon Grant are handling a majority of the on-field calls on OSU’s defense.
You’d be hard pressed to find a better walk-on duo back there and few Beavers have a more acute understanding of coach Smith’s regime. It’s apparent in the results: After Grant was named Pac-12 defensive player of the week after Week 1, Oladapo’s 15 tackles and a sack against Fresno State earned him the award in Week 2. The duo are the first Beavers to earn the honor in back-to-back weeks since the 9-4, 2008 season when Stephen Paea and Greg Laybourn were recognized.
“[Oladapo is] one of my favorite stories on the team from when he started as a freshman, what he’s done on and off the field, developed, turned into one of our leaders, a voice, and a really good player,” Smith said.
Oladapo helped Central Catholic to a state championship in 2017 and walked on with the Beavers ahead of the 2-10, 2018 season. After playing cornerback in high school, he redshirted and made the move to safety.
“Maybe I was a little scared of the fight at first but once I grew into it, I think when I started blitzing, and then like dropping into hooks and I was like, ‘This isn't actually not bad,’” he said. “It's kind of fun.”
While Oladapo has flashed in space, streaking downhill towards the ball — which he prides himself on — he’s still got things to clean up in coverage on the back end. But just like his Beavers this season, he made enough big plays, at the right moments, to push them over the top.
“This culture and the program has come a long way since I've been here,” he said.
“More player-led. More accountability.”
OSU faces an offensive gauntlet Saturday. The Trojans average 50 points per game and Williams, the Oklahoma transfer, has been spectacular. The Heisman candidate has thrown for 874 yards, 8 touchdowns and no interceptions through three games and is completing nearly 75 percent of his passes.
And he reminds Oregon State defensive coordinator Trent Bray of someone.
“His ability to throw and athleticism, probably [Marcus] Mariota,” Bray said. “Just a guy who can beat you with his legs and beat you with his arm. Probably the first one that comes to mind.”
If you remember correctly, Mariota put 48, 36 and 47 points up against the Beavers. And, frankly, Williams might just be good enough to do that, too.
But for an Oregon State secondary that’s ranked 17th in the nation by PFF in pass coverage, it’s just another week to prove they have the chops to hang with an incendiary passing attack.
Because even though he’s a self-described old head, Oladapo and these Beavers are still learning some new tricks. They’re 3-0 for the first time in eight years, punctuated by that Week 2 win at Fresno State. USC is no Fresno, but these don’t seem to be the same Beavers.
“Old Beavs teams, we used to not win those close games,” Oladapo said. “I definitely see us taking steps in the right direction.”
— Shane Hoffmann
The I-5 Corridor is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.