The mark of a successful season in sports is winning a good share of the games that are winnable. For the Alabamas and Clemsons and Ohio States and Michigans of the college football world, that means every game on the schedule.
In the second season of the Jonathan Smith era at Oregon State, the list of winnable games seemed short enough to begin with. Two of them are now in and out of the hopper, with an "L" marked in red.
A third game on that list looms Saturday when FCS-level Cal Poly beckons for a 1:15 p.m. contest at Reser Stadium. I think Oregon State will prevail. But before we talk about that, let's revisit the scene in Honolulu late Saturday, where the Beavers frittered away a golden opportunity for victory over Hawaii.
With Jake Luton on target and Jermar Jefferson and Artavis Pierce running efficiently, Oregon State jumped to a 28-14 lead in the second quarter. The OSU defense was competitive and, for a good part of the first half, effective.
The worm turned in the second half, when Hawaii loaded the box to thwart the run and put a defender and a half on Isaiah Hodgins, the Beavers' only dependable receiving threat. Jefferson, who had amassed 104 yards rushing in the first quarter alone, came up limping in the second quarter and didn't seem himself the rest of the way. There were a couple of dropped balls, and suddenly, Luton was throwing risers or rug-cutters that his receivers couldn't get to.
But the OSU defense hung in there, and Hawaii kicker Ryan Heskell — who had hit 15 of 18 field-goal attempts a year ago — helped out by missing his first three tries, two of them with the score tied in the fourth quarter.
The coup de grace came when Smith and offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren gambled with a fake punt on fourth-and-6 from their 34-yard line with the game clock inside five minutes. Daniel Rodriguez's pass sailed over Andre Bodden's head, and with the short field and help from a personal foul penalty by OSU safety Omar Hicks-Onu, the Warriors converted the game-winning field goal in a 31-28 victory.
Smith and Lindgren would have been saluted had they gotten a first down on the fake-punt play; they're wearing dunce caps now. In a tie game that deep in your territory, it seemed a move that was at best risky but more likely unwise. On the back of a couple of questionable in-game decisions in the 52-36 loss to Oklahoma State a week earlier, Smith and Lindgren are absorbing some heat from media and fans alike.
Certainly, there was a bad look to the way the Beavers went down at Aloha Stadium. Too many penalties (nine for 92 yards), although one was an offensive pass interference call on Hodgins that was questionable at best. There were two personal fouls for pushes by OSU defenders along the sidelines that weren't much, but enough to get you 15 yards on the road.
Of more concern was the fourth-quarter sideline altercation involving out-of-control cornerback Kaleb Hayes — who had just sustained an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty — that resulted in Hayes taking a swing at teammate Avery Roberts, who was trying to calm him down after the call. Then, after the game's final play, there was offensive guard Gus Lavaka shoulder-bumping a Hawaii player to the ground, then punching him three times when the Warrior got up and pushed Lavaka from behind.
A disciplined performance it was not for the Beavers.
To make things worse, there were some injuries to key players — center Nathan Eldridge and linebackers Addison Gumbs and Matthew Tago — that could cripple Oregon State's depth through the rest of the season.
All that said, we're two weeks into a long season. The Beavers have plenty of weapons on offense, and the pieces on the defensive side began to fit together a little better against Hawaii. They sacked Warrior QB Cole McDonald three times and, at least at times, tackled better than they had in the opener.
There are still major issues in the secondary, especially at safety, where the three best players — Jalen Moore, David Morris and Jeffrey Manning — missed the Hawaii game due to injury. Three of the cornerbacks who are playing — Jojo Forest, Nahshon Wright and Akili Arnold — are first-year guys. It's hard to be consistent when you get thrown into the thick of it this early.
It would seem Moore, at least, will return for the Cal Poly game. That would help provide some stability on the back end.
Tim Walsh's Cal Poly team provides a unique challenge for the Oregon State defense. Walsh — who called plays for Stan Brock for two seasons as offensive coordinator at Army in the late 2000s — runs the triple-option out of a spread attack. Quarterback Jalen Hamler, a 6-1, 195-pound redshirt freshman, is an able runner when he gets out in space. He's thrown only 25 passes in two games. The Mustangs use the aerial attack only when they have to. It's an offense unlike the Beavers will see again this season.
Cal Poly is a middling Big Sky team, though, and its defense has been unimpressive in its first two games — a 52-34 win over San Diego and a 41-24 loss to Weber State. The Mustangs have yielded an average of 37.5 points and 496 yards total offense in the two games.
With the sky falling around them, the Beavers will turn within and regroup this week. Oregon State's offense will have plenty of opportunity to get into a groove against a defense that won't be as good as that of the first two opponents. OSU's defense can key on stopping the run and shouldn't have to worry about the Mustangs going wild through the air.
I expect Hayes and Lavaka to be suspended. That kind of behavior can't be tolerated. Smith has to set standards now if he wants discipline and conduct to matter in the future.
It shouldn't make a difference in what likely will be the final time the Beavers will be favored this season.
The pick: Oregon State 45, Cal Poly 24
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.