Beavers 'closer, but not where we want to be'
CORVALLIS — Going into Oregon State's football season, the general concensus was that the Beavers were going to be better than they were in 2018, but it might not show up in the record.
So far, that's true. There's no denying the product in coach Jonathan Smith's second go-around is better than the first. But the Beavers are 1-3 after Saturday's 31-28 loss to Stanford at Reser Stadium, and there was little consolation that it went down to the wire.
"It's closer, but not where we want to be," Smith said after Jet Toner knocked through a 39-yard field goal with one second on the clock to send Oregon State to defeat in its Pac-12 opener.
After a dormant first half offensively, OSU fell behind 21-0 midway third quarter, then came on with a flurry that fell just short of ending a losing streak against Stanford that now stands at 10 games.
Oregon State ruled the statistical battle in first downs (28-18), total offense (501-353), pass offense (337-253) and run offense (164-100). Senior Jake Luton threw for 337 yards — 200 in the second half — and Isaiah Hodgins continued to torment opponents, with 10 catches for 162 yards and a touchdown.
With Jermar Jefferson's sore ankle still an issue, Artavis Pierce ran for 141 yards and two TDs on 16 carries. The Beavers scored touchdowns in their final four possessions, amassing 28 points in the final 16-plus minutes — and still came up short on the scoreboard.
Afterward, a relieved David Shaw paid homage to the vanquished as if he were a public-relations arm.
"I don't know that there's a more improved team in our conference than Oregon State," the veteran Stanford coach said. "Jonathan is doing an outstanding job. The quarterback is well-trained. They've recruited really good receivers. Guys are making plays. Those guys are running fast, they're explosive, they're game-changers. We did just enough to hold on there defensively.
"We had to deal with some adversity caused by the (Beavers) making plays, some adversity caused by us missing things. But we were able to fight back and make enough plays to win the game at the end."
Stanford led 14-0 at the half and 21-0 after junior quarterback Davis Mills — subbing for the injured K.J. Costello — hit Brycen Tremaine for three yards and a score with 6:41 left in the third quarter.
Suddenly, a fire lit under the Oregon State offense. Hodgins made a sensational one-handed grab for an 11-yard TD reception to cut the deficit to 21-7 with 1:21 to go in the period, and the Cardinal were on their heels.
"Our coaches were saying, 'Keep fighting and believe,'" Pierce said. "Once we got in the end zone once, we just started executing after that."
Hodgins went so far to suggest the Beavers were better than the Cardinal (2-3, 1-2), who came in with a three-game losing streak.
"The first half was frustrating for us, knowing that you're better than another team, and that you have a lot of talent," Hodgins said. "And that we could be executing, but we weren't. We went into halftime knowing that we have playmakers, we have skill, but we weren't using it. We came out the second half and just played our game."
Offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren went more to the direct snap and utilized play-action, helping to freeze the Stanford defenders and to free receivers. It also opened up the running game for Pierce.
On their final four drives, mixing the run and the pass, the Beavers advanced 75 yards in 11 plays, 95 yards in eight plays, 75 yards in six plays and 77 yards in 10 plays. Touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown.
"I wasn't happy about it, but I wasn't surprised," Shaw said. "We kept them in front of us through most of the game, but they started hitting some deep crosses. I can't say enough about their quarterback. He made some great throws tonight."
Pierce busted for 36 yards to inside the Stanford 1, then scored from there to tie the game at 28-28 with 1:55 to play. At that point, with the Cardinal out of timeouts, overtime seemed a real possibility. But after Connor Wedington broke the ensuing kickoff 43 yards to midfield, a hush fell over Reser Stadium. Soon, the Cardinal were in field-goal range. Moments later, the Beavers were walking off the field as losers for the 13th time in 16 games in the Smith era.
Oregon State won the battle on offense and defense, but Stanford owned a big advantage in special teams. There was Wedington's kickoff return, Toner's winning kick, a 27-yard Michael Wilson punt return and a 68-yard punt by freshman Ryan Sanborn. On the flip side, there were two failed field goals by OSU's Jordan Choukair — a 38-yard attempt was partially blocked — and a personal-foul penalty by Rashed as Toner kicked a 46-yard 3-pointer, with Rashed vaulting into the Stanford backfield in an attempt to block the kick. The Cardinal accepted the penalty, and turned three points into seven two plays later to take a 28-14 lead with 9:31 remaining.
"(Officials) described it to me that he jumped on the back of another player (to gain leverage), which you can't do," Smith said. "But if you split the gap or jump between the gap, you can do it. I have to see it on (video)."
Oregon State had no turnovers and a reasonable amount of penalties (seven for 56 yards) and played a lot of good defense through the game, especially against the run. Still, the Beavers cost themselves with mistakes. There was Rashed's penalty. There was Luton taking back-to-back sacks to end the first half that took the Beavers out of field-goal range. There were the Cardinal converting several third-and-long situations, most in the first half. Little things added up to big problems.
"It's not all bad just because we came up three points short," Smith said. "We made some strides. But to win close games, it comes down to details. Our slow start offensively was detail-oriented, with a couple of missed assignments. Some of the precision was not there in the first half. We regrouped at halftime, made a couple of tweaks offensively, and these guys continued to play. I appreciate their effort. It was a four-quarter game, like we thought it would be.
"We had some guys stand out and play really good football. We have a receiver (Hodgins) who is as good as anybody, a guy who shows up all the time. Defensively, the guys held their own for the most part against a style of play that possesses the ball and makes it physical. I was proud of those guys at times, but it just wasn't enough. It's really disappointing, but we'll get back to work and try to improve next week."
Shaw said Oregon State's "building blocks" are evident, "to where this team is going to be really good." But it might take some more time.
"When you're building something, you can't do it fast," the Stanford coach said. "You see such a difference from last year ... the speed and athleticism, the quarterback play. Defensively, they have size and speed. They're tough up front. If you hold the ball too long, they're going to get after your quarterback.
"They're well-coached, and they play hard, especially here. This is a tough place to play."
It's been tough for the Beavers to win anywhere, though. Losing close games is better than being on the wrong side of a blowout. But only when a few of those "L's" turn into "W's" will the true mark of improvement be evident.
NOTES — Oregon State's next action is 6 p.m. Saturday at UCLA (1-4), a 20-17 loser to Arizona ... The start of Saturday's game was delayed 15 minutes due to an electrical storm moving through the air. OSU officials believe it's the first time in the history of the program a game has not started on time due to weather issues. ... Jefferson carried four times for 17 yards but didn't play after early in the third quarter. "Jermar is toughing it out and got himself ready to go," Smith said, "but (the ankle) was not feeling right for him." ... Pierce was more than up to the task of replacing him, also catching four passes for 46 yards. "I knew I was going to have a load on me today," he said. "I feel like I handled it well." ... OSU was also without senior safety Jalen Moore (hamstring) and freshman wideout/punt returner Jesiah Irish (leg). ... Oregon State advanced to Stanford territory in four of its first five offensive series and had no points to show for it. ... Smith said "we had a conversation" about going for a two-point conversion when Pierce scored to make the score 28-27 with 1:55 remaining. "But we had the crowd into it, we were playing well defensively and we still had (1:55) left," he said. "We felt we wanted the extra period."
Oregon State leads the nation with just one turnover in its four games. The Beavers came into the weekend as one of six teams without a fumble. ... Luton has thrown 140 straight passes without an interception. ... The Beavers had seven tackles-for-loss against Stanford and have 31 this season. ... OSU has lost 10 straight Pac-12 games at home. Their last conference win at Reser: 34-24 in the 2016 Civil War. ... Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard was on hand to watch the game and support OSU nickel back Jaydon Grant, son of former Blazers forward Brian Grant. .... Mills completed 18 of 25 passes for 243 yards and three TDs. He was particularly effective in the first half, connecting on 13 of 15 for 182 yards and two scores. "Davis played like we thought he would when we were going through the recruiting process," Shaw said. ... Mills scored the final Stanford touchdown on a trick play. He lined up at wideout and took a pass in the end zone from tight end Colby Parkinson for an 8-yard score and a 28-14 lead. OSU safety Shawn Wilson was in position to break it up or make an interception, but seemed to slip as Mills rose up and made a strong, leaping grab. ... Cameron Scarlett rushed 24 times for 92 yards to lead Stanford, but nearly half of the yards came on one 45-yard run. "The last three games Cam has played really well — probably been our offensive MVP," Shaw said of the senior from Central Catholic High. ... Rashed on the close loss: "It's frustrating, but we're going to come and attack it at practice (Sunday). We're going to let it marinate, and we're going to keep working. It hurts, but you'll see us 'up' next week."
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Stanford 7 7 7 10 — 31
Oregon State 0 0 7 21 — 28
STAN — Michael Wilson 22 pass from Davis Mills (Jet Toner kick) 1:37
STAN — Colby Parkinson 3 pass from Mills (Toner kick) 1:24
STAN — Brycen Tremayne 3 pass from Mills (Toner kick) 6:14
OSU — Isaiah Hodgins 11 pass from Jake Luton (Choukair kick) 1:21
OSU — Artavis Pierce 43 run (Choukair kick) 12:23
STAN — Mills 8 pass from Parkinson (Toner kick) 9:31
OSU — B.J. Baylor 1 run (Choukair kick) 7:05
OSU — Pierce 1 run (Choukair kick) 1:55
STAN — Toner 39 FG :01
Att. — 32,326
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