Beavers reach .500
TUCSON, Arizona — Oregon State has traveled the road to respectability, and it seems like a comfortable fit right now.
The Beavers arrived at 4-4 for the season with a 56-38 whipping of Arizona on Saturday — and with just the right touch of swagger.
Afterward, the Beavers celebrated — but not too much — their third straight road victory as they gathered in a corner of Arizona Stadium to sing the school fight song before a small but stimulated slice of Beaver Nation.
"It's been like that the last couple of wins," said quarterback Jake Luton, who completed 20 of 26 passes for 328 yards and three touchdowns and — of course — no interceptions. "The guys are excited. They're happy. I'm real happy.
"It's great to get a win, but we expect to be here. We expect to come out and win these games. We're happy to be where we're at, but it's not like we won the World Series."
Nope, no dogpiles on the pitcher's mound.
That's not nonchalance; it's reality. Arizona (4-5, 2-4) isn't Alabama. Oregon State isn't headed for the College Football Playoffs. But the Beavers are .500 overall through eight games for the first time since 2013 and, at 3-2, in sole possession of second place in the Pac-12 North behind Oregon.
"We're playing like we're capable of, and we still have more to us, too," senior offensive tackle Blake Brandel said. "In the spring and summer, we all talked about it. We knew what was possible, and it's all coming together."
Oregon State's offense was in full bloom against an Arizona defense playing for coordinator Chuck Cecil — hired on an interim basis after the firing of Marcel Yates on Monday — for the first time. OSU piled up a season-high 31 first downs, 244 yards rushing, 328 yards passing and a season-high 572 yards total offense with — of course — no turnovers.
"I was impressed," low-key second-year coach Jonathan Smith said. "We were really efficient."
Luton was 4 for 8 passing for 56 yards in the first quarter. Over the final three periods, the 6-7, 225-pound senior was 16 for 18 for 272 yards. It doesn't get much better than that.
"Jake managed the game well," Smith said, " and he threw it well."
The game marked the return of running back Jermar Jefferson, who hurt his foot in the second game of a season, a 31-28 loss at Hawaii. The 2018 Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year last played on Oct. 5, carrying five times for nine yards in a 48-31 win over UCLA.
On Saturday, the 5-10, 215-pound sophomore carried 22 times for 105 yards and three touchdowns. He split duty with senior Artavis Pierce, who accounted for 114 yards and a TD on his 15 totes. Together, they rushed for 221 yards and four scores. Keystone receiver Isaiah Hodgins had another big game with seven catches for 150 yards and two TDs, but seven other Beavers caught at least one pass.
Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin has more things to worry about than remembering names of opposing players, but he gave the Beavers their due.
"They got a lot different personnel than they had last year," Sumlin said. "They have two turnovers for the whole season. The quarterback is doing a great job of taking care of the football. The two running backs are excellent.
"They've done a nice job offensively. They don't turn the ball over, and they move it on you."
Oregon State never trailed, driving 75 yards on nine plays for a touchdown on its opening possession. The Wildcats were behind only 21-19 before the Beavers scored two touchdowns in the final 2:31 of the second quarter to take a 35-19 lead into halftime.
The final TD in the first half was a beauty. After a punt pinned them on their 8-yard line with 58 seconds left, the Beavers were going to be content with running out the clock and taking a 28-19 advantage into intermission. But on first down, Pierce busted one 25 yards to the OSU 33.
"You're playing it safe with the ball at first," Luton said. "But if you can make something happen, you can roll with it."
Six plays later, the Beavers were in the end zone on a 23-yard pass from Luton to wide-open tight end Noah Togiai.
They scored first in the third quarter to go ahead 42-19, then stagnated the rest of the period as Arizona crept back to within 42-31.
Luton hooked up with Hodgins for 25 yards and a touchdown with 7:58 left to make the score 49-31, and the win was in the bag.
"The third quarter wasn't great, but it's just, 'Keep pounding away; keep doing your job,' " Luton said. "That's the game of football. You're going to have times through the game where things aren't perfect. You aren't going to score on every drive. You have to be able to come back to the sidelines, regroup and go out there and do your job."
Oregon State won the battle of the trenches when it had the ball. The Beavers' offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage and both pass-protected and run-blocked superbly.
"I always have to watch the game (video) before I know, but that felt like one hell of a game," Brandel said. "(The O-linemen) did a great job up front. Everyone else (on the team) did, too. That might have been our best game of the year.
"What it came down to was us focusing on us. When you do that, it's going to be a good play. Everyone was doing their job and doing it well."
Said Jefferson: "The O-line did a great job, first down, third down, fourth down — whatever. Shout-out to them."
Arizona had its moments on the offensive side, with 33 first downs — six by penalty — along with 378 yards passing and 526 yards total offense. The Wildcats were 14 of 22 on third and fourth down. Oregon State helped out with some sloppy tackling and 12 penalties for a season-high 120 yards.
"We made some stops early in the red zone — held them to three points twice — but we have to play with some more discipline," Smith said. "We continued some drives for them with penalties, and that's a good offense. You're playing with fire when you're helping them out that way.
"We have to be better with our leverage when we're pursuing the ball. Too many facemasks (penalties). We were OK defensively, nothing more."
Senior Khalil Tate started at quarterback for Arizona but gave way to freshman Grant Gunnell in the second quarter and sat most of the rest of the way. Gunnell connected on 19 of 29 passes for 269 yards and two TDs. The Arizona QBs spread the ball around to a dozen receivers. And running back J.J. Taylor rushed 21 times for 78 yards and two TDs.
"They got threats," said OSU junior linebacker Hamilcar Rashed, who had three sacks to run his season totals to 12 sacks and 17.5 tackles-for-loss. "Tate's a threat. Even No. 17 (Gunnell), he's a threat. They got threats everywhere. Their offense is fast, and we gave them 14 points off penalties. We didn't do the best we could have, but we were able to seal the deal."
Oregon State is two wins away from bowl eligibility, but you won't hear a player publicly say the 'B' word.
"We're just focused on winning, taking it day by day, step by step," said Jefferson, echoing the party line. "That'll come later."
Rashed almost slipped when asked the question, "Are you allowing yourself to think about bowl eligibility?"
Rashed: "Oh y ... uhh, you know, we take it week by week, game by game, play by play. That's all I can say."
Oregon State will be the underdog for the rest of the season. That's reality. Another reality: This is not the OSU team most people expected to see.
"We're improving," Smith said. "These guys are playing with some great energy and coming out with the the expectation that we can win every game. We have four tough ones in front of us."
NOTES — Oregon State's next action is 7:30 p.m. Friday against Washington at Reser Stadium. ... The 56 points were the most an Oregon State team has ever scored against a conference opponent on the road. ... The Beavers had a season-high 385 yards total offense in the first half. ... Linebacker Shemar Smith (ankle) and receiver Kolby Taylor (calf) did not play for Oregon State. ... OSU cornerback Nahshon Wright hurt a leg early in the game and did not return. ... Oregon State has four players from the state of Arizona — Taylor (Chandler), Rashed (Phoenix), center Nate Eldridge of Anthem (and a transfer from UA) and safety Mason Moran (Gilbert). "I took this game personal," Rashed said. "This was a personal trip. I came in here and did what I had to do." ... Arizona holds a 24-16-1 edge in its series with Oregon State, but the Beavers have won 14 of the last 19 against the Wildcats. ... Hodgins is tied for eighth on the school career list in receptions (153), eighth in receiving yardage, (2,046) and tied for fourth in TD receptions (19). ... Brandel, asked what it was like to have both Pierce and Jefferson in the backfield together again: "Dangerous. We do our job, it's going to be a good play."
One of the most important plays of the game came near the end of the third quarter with Oregon State clinging to a 42-31 lead. Daniel Rodriguez's punt went 54 yards, rolling dead on the Arizona 1. The Wildcats drove to the Oregon State 21, but Lucas Havrisik missed a 39-yard field-goal try. The Beavers moved 79 yards in seven plays for a touchdown, and it was over. ... Oregon State seemed to benefit from its bye week of preparation. "Our guys were focused, and the energy was good," Luton said. "Sometimes, there's a tendency to fall asleep on the bye week and go through the motions. That didn't happen. We did a good job, and it showed today." ... Jefferson, on the difference between the Beavers of 2018 and '19: "We're a better team this year energy-wise and in terms of consistency, and our defense got a lot better. We have a great squad this year." ... Oregon State finished with eight tackles-for-loss. The Beavers lead the Pac-12 in that category with 68 this season. ... Brandel started his 44th consecutive game. He now trails only offensive guard Roy Schuening (50 from 2004-07) and linebacker Richard Seigler (49 from 2000-03). ... Redshirt freshman Jesiah Irish had his biggest contribution of the season with a 43-yard reception and an 11-yard punt return. ... Togiai became only the second Beaver to score a TD in each of five seasons, joining James Rodgers on the exclusive list.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Oregon State 7 28 7 14 — 56
Arizona 6 13 12 7 — 38
OSU — Isaiah Hodgins 21 pass from Jake Luton (Everett Hayes kick) 11:28
ARIZ — Lucas Havrisik 23 FG 6:18
ARIZ — Havrisik 27 FG 2:33
OSU — Jermar Jefferson 1 run (Hayes kick) 14:04
ARIZ — Gary Brightwell 38 pass from Grant Gunnell (pass failed) 13:03
OSU — Jefferson 5 run (Hayes kick) 9:02
ARIZ — J.J. Taylor 3 run (Havrisik kick) 5:41
OSU — Artavis Pierce 4 run (Hayes kick) 2:31
OSU — Noah Togiai 23 pass from Luton (Hayes kick) :04
OSU — Jefferson 5 run (Hayes kick) 10:33
ARIZ — Cedric Peterson 35 pass from Gunnell (pass failed) 8:42
ARIZ — Brightwell 11 run (kick failed) 3:20
OSU — Hodgins 25 pass from Luton (Hayes kick) 7:58
ARIZ — Taylor 2 run (Havrisik kick) 4:11
OSU — Tyjon Lindsey 24 run (Hayes kick) 2:15
Att. — 36,939
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