The I-5: The Beavers aren't here to be average
On Oregon State's strengths, USC's weakness and Colorado finally getting on the board.
CORVALLIS — Winning sure answers a lot of questions.
Take Oregon State’s two-way showing in its 24-10 win over Washington State — which snapped an eight-game losing streak against the Cougars — for example.
Did consecutive losses to USC and Utah break the locker room after a 4-0 start?
Is Jonathan Smith’s program content being middle-of-the-pack?
After deflating quarterback play drove home the realization that this team wasn’t yet ready to bang with the conference’s elite, it’s time to talk about what the Beavers are, and what they can be. Put simply, Oregon State (5-2, 2-2 Pac-12) is better than it was last season.
And wasn’t steady improvement always the real goal?
Few Pac-12 units have been more consistent than the Beavers’ ground game the past few seasons, and on Saturday that attack — which tallied 207 yards — helped them build, and hold, a two-score lead for much of the evening.
Backup quarterback Ben Gulbranson managed the game just well enough that the media posed Smith with a question of whether he might keep the job once Chance Nolan is healthy.
“I do think we have two guys we can win games with,” Smith said in response.
When the Beavers’ defense played like they did on Saturday, it doesn’t matter who’s back there.
That unit’s been the real treat.
Oregon State's pass rush has been a lightning rod for criticism at times this season for its shortcomings in relief of a secondary with lockdown potential. But with six sacks and nine tackles for loss, it flexed its muscles against the Cougars. And as the dynamo WSU quarterback Cameron Ward raced around and through a disintegrating pocket, the defensive backs ran stride for stride with the speedy Cougars’ receivers, clinging to their hips as if they’d locked them into seatbelts.
They strapped down a Washington State offense — a tough task with its onslaught of papercut passing concepts — and held it to its lowest points output of the season.
Then those same defensive backs ran down secondary coach Blue Adams and showered him with ice-filled gatorade as time expired and the students flooded the field.
Was the win over the now 4-3 Cougars worthy of a field-storming? Perhaps not. But remember, for as much as the Beavers entertained lofty expectations throughout camp, they’re coming off a 7-6 finish last season — their best since 2013. This is uncharted territory for plenty of the fans that were on hand at Reser Stadium, even if the team acts like they’ve been here before.
“We believe in being a blue-collar team and a gritty team,” said Jack Colletto, the do-it-all star who scored a pair of goal line touchdowns out of the wildcat Saturday. “No matter what’s thrown our way we’re able to figure it out and get the job done.”
The next four for OSU: Colorado, Washington, Cal, Arizona State. That feels like 3-1, at worst, and could set up for quite the season finale when the Ducks come rolling into town on Nov. 26.
Trojans perfect no longer
Of course it was Kyle Whittingham’s Utes.
Of course it was the often-overlooked, but never unprepared Utes that knocked off the perfect USC Trojans.
And of course they did it not by containing Caleb Williams and the potent Trojans’ offense, but by outscoring them with gutsier play-calling and more dominating individual performances.
Because why not?
A headline from the Salt Lake City Tribune put it into perspective: “Cam Rising’s legacy-enhancing night pushes Utah football past USC, back into championship mix.”
Rising — who turned around Utah’s offense last season after assuming the starting role several games in — was 29-of-43 for 415 yards and two touchdowns. He added 60 yards and a trio of scores on the ground to cap off a performance that overshadowed Williams’ 381 yards and five touchdowns.
The Utes’ quarterback led his team in rushing and authored the go-ahead 2-point conversion with 48 seconds left, his quarterback-keeper serving as the eventual game-winner.
"We were going to keep the ball in Cam's hands," Whittingham said. "And if we score and time is close to expiring, we were going for two, no question."
He added: “Cam Rising is a competitor, warrior, you name it. He's a champion.”
Not only was Williams not the best quarterback on the field, perhaps for the first time this season USC didn’t have the best skill position player on the field either. Jordan Addison’s seven catches for 106 yards and a touchdown and fellow receiver Mario Williams’ 145 yards were both outdone by tight end Dalton Kincaid.
Kincaid, the second string to the injured Brant Kuithe, delivered a 16-catch, 234-yard masterclass. He wove his way through a Trojans’ defense which finally let their vaunted offense down.
As for the latter half of that headline? The part about Utah being back in the mix? Better believe it.
At 5-2 (3-1 Pac-12) its tied for second in the conference with USC and will soon be joined by the loser of Oregon vs. UCLA next weekend.
Nicely played, Kyle.
Buffs finally snag one
The Colorado Buffaloes are undefeated. In the Mike Stanford era, that is.
In the interim coach’s first game at the helm, the Buffs’ picked off Cal 20-13 in overtime. They narrowly escaped after Cal quarterback Jack Plummer found receiver Mason Starling wide open in the endzone, but in an effort to secure the catch opened the door for a Colorado defender to catch up and knock the ball out.
“My wife was asking me this morning, ‘Why are you not nervous?” Sanford said. “I was like, ‘I just believe. I believe in these players, I believe in the work they’re putting in.’ I had a peace about what we could do today and I also have peace about what we can do going forward.”
The Buffs’ are the final FBS team to earn a win this season.
Remember when that group of highly-touted Oregon alumni, including all those legendary Ducks’ quarterbacks, wrote Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens a letter pleading him to hire someone with local roots?
I think the Ducks are happy with their choice.
Wilcox is 29-31 in six seasons in Berkeley. He’s got two Bowl teams under his belt, but he and his staff’s inability to develop and produce consistent offensive output has rendered his teams’ defensive capabilities mute.
It looked like Wilcox was putting something together when Cal finished 7-6 and 8-5 in consecutive years back in 2018-2019. Now that seems like a high water mark in an otherwise disappointing tenure.
Gameday to Eugene
For the first time since Oregon hosted Stanford in a 38-31 overtime loss in 2018, College Gameday is returning to Eugene.
The Ducks haven’t lost at home since CJ Verdell’s costly fumble squandered their chances against that ranked Cardinal team five years ago. Now, Oregon's biggest home test since that game looms large as No. 9 UCLA (6-0, 3-0 Pac-12) and Chip Kelly fly North.
The No. 10 Ducks broke the nation’s top 10 this week setting up for what will be the first Pac-12 game between a pair of top 10 teams since the 2018 Apple Cup between Washington and Washington State.
5. Oregon State
6. Washington State
10. Arizona State
5. Oregon State
7. Washington State
10. Arizona State
— Shane Hoffmann
This story from The I-5 Corridor is free for everyone thanks to the support of Brian Tovey from Guild Mortgage. For your mortgage needs, get in touch with Brian at ReFiBri.com. Learn more about Brian and why his support is so important to the success of The I-5 Corridor here.