A look at Oregon State's quarterbacks
CORVALLIS — It's been a trying season for everybody in Oregon State's football program, and that includes the quarterbacks.
Before the season even began, Marcus McMaryion departed for Fresno State. Starter Jake Luton is lost for the season as he recovers from a thoracic spine fracture against Washington State on Sept. 16.
Backup Darell Garretson has persevered in a starting role but has yet to taste victory. His backup, sophomore Conor Blount, chose to redshirt to preserve a year of eligibility, even if Garretson were to go down to injury. Because of that, OSU coaches moved redshirt freshman Mason Moran — who had been switched to safety in spring football — back to the quarterback position as Garretson's No. 2.
It's not been a pretty picture, but Garretson, at least, has made the most of it.
"I'm proud of Darell," says interim head coach Cory Hall as Oregon State (1-9 overall, 0-7 in Pac-12 play) prepares to play host to Arizona State (5-5, 4-3) at noon Saturday at Reser Stadium in the Beavers' home finale. "He's done a good job for us since taking over."
The 6-foot, 205-pound senior from Chandler, Arizona, has completed 91 of 164 passes (55.5 percent) for 1,084 yards and five touchdowns with four interceptions. Four of the TD passes came in last Saturday's 49-28 loss at Arizona.
"I'm getting more confident every week," Garretson says. "I'm getting better going through progressions and reads. I'm getting closer to where I need to be."
But the Beavers' losing season has worn on Garretson. The stats don't really matter, he says.
"I'm more of a team guy," he says. "It's not been the year we wanted to have. From that standpoint — not good."
Oregon State's record, Garretson says, "shocks me. A lot. A lot of things have happened. You have to take the good with the bad and move on."
As the losses have mounted, has it been frustrating?
"It can be, but as a quarterback, you're taught to have a short memory," Garretson says. "Move on to the next game and make it work."
Though Garretson wouldn't wish injury on anyone — especially a teammate — he was thrilled to get the opportunity to play.
"It's exciting when your number is called," Garretson says. "You want to go out and do your best for your teammates. I was ready, because even if you're the backup, you have to prepare like you're the starter."
Hall wasn't sure how it would work out with Garretson — the starter for the first six games last year before a foot injury ended his season — at the reins of the OSU offense.
"We were concerned when Jake went down," Hall says. "We frankly weren't sure how Darell would be.
"But look at what he's done. He has managed the game well. He almost beat Stanford. He really cares. I call him after every game to check on him, to ask, 'What are you seeing out there? What can we do to be better offensively?' I tell him, 'You need to make suggestions, because you're our quarterback.'"
When head coach Gary Andersen resigned at midseason, Garretson was caught off-guard.
"It was shocking to me," says Garretson, who says he has exchanged texts with Andersen in the weeks since. "I didn't think anything like that would happen at the middle of the season. It's weird to me."
With the exception of the first half of the Arizona game, the Beavers have been decidedly more competitive under Hall.
"It's about what Coach Hall brings to the table as far as the energy and his passion for the game," Garretson says.
Garretson is not a prototypical pro-style passer, but he has thrown an increasing number of on-target balls in recent games. He is a good runner who is more in tune with a spread-option attack, but because of the lack of depth at QB, coaches have tried to limit his rushes to keep him healthy.
"I'd like to run the quarterback option more," Hall says. "You can do that if you have depth. Darell is a very good runner. Now that we're down to two games left, we may be able to open it back up some and let him show what he can do."
Garretson will graduate in a few weeks with a degree in sociology. His two-plus years at Oregon State after a transfer from Utah State "have been fun," he says.
"I've met some life-long friends, some really good people," he says. "I got to play with my best childhood friend (former O-tackle Sean Harlow) for a year. That's one of the best life experiences I've had so far. I've learned a lot of lessons from the people I've come across in Corvallis."
Blount, meanwhile, was thrown into the fire quicker than planned as a walk-on true freshman from Waukesha, Wisconsin, a year ago.
"I expected to redshirt and get the hang of things," the 6-1, 205-pound Blount says. "I got thrown in there a little bit early."
Blount was inserted in the third game of the season against Utah and played in four games. He came into August training camp as the Beavers' fourth-string QB, though, ticketed for a redshirt year.
"That was the plan from the spring," Blount says.
But McMaryion left for Fresno State, Luton got hurt, and suddenly, "I was No. 2 there for a couple of games."
Blount was only an injury to Garretson away from being the Beavers' quarterback. He chose not to accept that role, though.
"I decided it was in my best interest to save the year (of eligibility), especially with the head coach leaving," Blount says. "That's where we sit now."
Had Garretson gotten hurt, the team would have needed Blount. Did he have mixed emotions?
"No doubt," Blount says. "I've talked to a lot of people about that, including some teammates. I got their opinion, because it's a team sport. Most of them thought it was the right decision for me. I decided I was going to go ahead and redshirt and keep my year."
Blount says the coaches — specifically, Hall and offensive coordinator Kevin McGiven — didn't try to talk him out of the decision.
"They both were on board with whatever I felt was best for me and was most comfortable with," Blount says.
Rumors have flown in recent weeks that Blount intends to transfer after the season. He says that's not the case.
"They think that because I'm a 'Gary guy,'" Blount says. "But I plan on being back here next season. I came here for a reason. We're not in the spot where we thought we'd be, but I want to be a guy to help turn it around."
For the past month, Blount has quarterbacked the scout team in practice.
"It's been great," he says. "Being with the younger receivers as they go against our first-team defense is a lot of fun. And it's stress-free."