Kerry Says: Beavers have to fight to beat the Cowboys
Oklahoma State's first visit to Reser Stadium on Friday night — the Cowboys and Beavers have never met on the gridiron — could wind up being a memorable one.
Oregon State is champing at the bit to start Jonathan Smith's second season as a head coach in winning fashion. The Beavers are eager to display what they hope will be a still potent offensive attack combined with an improved defense against their Big 12 opponent.
Oklahoma State, meanwhile, wants to prove that last year's 7-6 record is an anomaly after going 10-3 in each of the previous three seasons. Beginning his 15th year, Coach Mike Gundy has enjoyed 13 straight winning seasons, going 9-4 in bowl games. The Cowboys return 12 starters to a 2019 team that is predicted to finish in the middle of their conference race.
The Cowboys have a new offensive coordinator, Sean Gleeson from Princeton. The Tigers averaged an FCS-high 47.0 points per game en route to a 10-0 2018 season.
In a conversation with me last week, Gundy said he hasn't met Smith, though they faced each other in the 2015 Cactus Bowl when Smith was O-coodinator at Washington. The Cowboys beat the Huskies 30-22.
The Beavers, Gundy said, "will be better this year. They're revamping. It takes some time. Like we do, they have to work it at. They don't have the luxury of excessive funds, either. There are some similarities between our two schools based on financial situations."
Giving Gundy the benefit of the doubt, I'm assuming in Oklahoma State's case, he's speaking about when he first came onto the scene as head coach in 2005. That was the year benefactor T. Boone Pickens bestowed a $165 million gift for facilities improvement. That changed everything for the Cowboys, who haven't looked back since.
"(The Beavers) have improved their defense," Gundy told me. "Their quarterback (Jake Luton) is back for a sixth year. We're looking forward to having a good game in Corvallis."
Truth be told, the guess here is the Cowboys — who come in as a 15-point favorite — are expecting to have a good game themselves in Corvallis, at Oregon State's expense.
The Beavers hope their offense will come in rolling, led by the senior Luton, running back Jermar Jefferson and receiver Isaiah Hodgins. Trevon Bradford (foot) has been ruled out of action, but look for transfer Tyjon Lindsey from Nebraska to get targeted more often in Bradford's absence.
Oregon State's top defender — safety Jalen Moore — has been out most of training camp with a hamstring injury and is questionable. D-coordinator Tim Tibesar hopes the Beavers' depth at linebacker will help cover up any weaknesses on what he expects will be a vastly improved defensive product.
OSU is going to win this game. So are the orange and black. That much we know.
What we don't now is how the Beavers' offensive and defensive lines will perform. That could be the key. Oklahoma State has an almost entirely revamped D-line. The Beavers will likely try to establish the run with Jefferson and senior Artavis Pierce. Luton will come out throwing, too, so the Oklahoma State secondary will be tested.
It will be interesting to see how Oklahoma State's quarterbacks do in their first test. Oregon State's D-line — hello, Jordan Whittley — and linebackers must do a reasonable job stopping the run. If you remember, the Beavers yielded a staggering 281.8 yards per game on the ground a year ago. Cut that in half and you've got a chance. And Oregon State's secondary can't let the fleet receiver Tylan Wallace get loose for, say, 10 catches for 150 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
I don't expect a blowout. I won't be shocked if Oregon State pulls off the upset. It's hard to predict it, though, even against an overconfident if reputable opponent with a new quarterback traveling two time zones to play a 9:30 p.m. CT contest.
The Beavers haven't earned our trust yet. Perhaps that will change Friday night.
THE PICK: Oklahoma State 37, Oregon State 27
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