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While the Beavers passing game struggled, the run game and defense stepped up under pressure

The Beavers find themselves with answers and questions after a competitive, disappointing 17-14 loss to the visiting USC Trojans on Saturday, Sept. 24. It was a wire-to-wire contest with the No. 7 ranked Los Angeles based team, with the difference being a quartet of Chance Nolan interceptions.

This loss was a painful one, Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith told the media after the game.

"The crowd made a huge difference, that atmosphere (was) jumping, can't thank Beaver Nation enough for that," Smith said. "Wish we could have come and got it done for them. There's going to be a lot to learn from, so we're going to stick to our process going back tomorrow and take a look at this film and learn from it. This one stings in a big way. But credit to the opponent, those guys are good. They kept battling for 60 minutes and they finished the game."

Now falling from the ranks of the unbeaten, the Beavers (3-1) move further into conference play when they face off against Utah (3-1) on Oct. 1. Here are the takeaways after Oregon State's narrow defeat to USC and what to watch out for heading into next Saturday's game against the Utes.

In the big moment, Chance Nolan faltered

The Oregon State quarterback had been playing progressively better through the first three outings his team had played this season. The best showing came against Montana State, when Nolan erupted for five total touchdowns and going 19-26 through the air for 276 yards. But against USC, Nolan was held in check.

The Trojans defense kept Nolan from being explosive in the first half, limiting the Beavers quarterback to just 96 yards on 9-11 passing and getting a takeaway through the air. In the second half, the wheels came off for the red-shirt junior, who finished the game 17-29 for 167 yards and four interceptions. The final pick came with 35 seconds left in the game when Oregon State needed to score or set itself up in position for a field goal.

Smith thought that the interceptions stemmed from a handful of different areas, but ultimately knew where he wanted to see improvements.

"I thought a couple of times the pocket was getting squeezed on him and errant misses in the middle of the field turns into a turnover," Smith said. "The deep ball to Tyjon (Lindsey) toward the end, we're taking a shot, I think that's a great play by the DB. When we're throwing the deep ball, and again, he got tackled inside the four and kind of flipped the field position there. But we have to protect him better and he's got to make better decisions interior-wise and be more accurate with it."

That deep interception was a symptom of a larger issue for the Beavers passing game. Nolan was just 1-7 when passing deeper than 15+ yards. The big play through the air was gone against the stout USC defense. Had it not been for OSU's own defense, the game might not have been as close.

Speaking of which…

PMG PHOTO: RALEIGH EMERSON - Oregon State football's Sione Lolohea (90) tries to bring down USC QB Caleb Williams (13) during their matchup Sept. 24, 2022, at Reser Stadium in Corvallis.

Oregon State's defense was ready for Caleb Williams

While the Oregon State offense struggled to gain yards at many points in the game, the defense was more than ready for the challenge USC quarterback Caleb Williams and the Trojans offense represented.

Smith and his defense were ready for the challenge.

"Halftime, we go in it was 7-3," Smith said. "But we feel like at some point these guys are going to turn some things on and our defense battled throughout. It was a great effort by our defense. Changing the looks, affecting the pass. Not always sacking him and that guy's a good athlete. Had hands on him a few times, (he) gets out of it. That guy is a competitor. But overall if you told me we were going to give up 17 points, you'd feel pretty good."

The first half saw the Beavers hold Williams to just 6-18 through the air for 64 yards. And while Oregon State did not sack Williams in that time, they were putting pressure on the opposing quarterback while the secondary mauled the USC receivers. The second half was where the Trojans came alive, dialing it in the clutch to put up 14 points in the fourth quarter. But even still, Oregon State's defense did enough to keep the Beavers in the game.

The best example came in the fourth quarter. After USC intercepted Nolan for the third time and took over on their own 5-yard line, Oregon State held them to a 3-and-out, eventually forcing the Trojans to punt the ball away from their own 2-yard line. That punt only went 33 yards and would set up a Jam Griffin touchdown with 4:41 to go in the game.

Jam Griffin you say…

Jam Griffin was OSU's response to Travis Dye

In what became a dual of running backs between Oregon State redshirt sophomore Jam Griffin and USC redshirt senior Travis Dye, it was the visiting back who walked away the victor. However, Griffin made the most of his appearance against a top 10-ranked defense.

Griffin racked up 84 yards on the ground, averaging seven yards a carry and scoring Oregon State's second touchdown of the night. On the year OSU's back has 144 yards and two touchdowns, but this was his biggest stage and he made the most of it. Griffin is already on track to pass his 2020 numbers, 47 carries for 229 yards and two touchdowns.

Smith was pleased with the way his running back performed against the Trojans.

"I thought (Jam) had some good carries," Smith said. "Blocked well on a few of those, but then he's finishing runs and breaking tackles and seeing it. Obviously that touchdown run towards the end was huge. Good player with the ball in his hands, he's gotten better week to week since he's been here."

Griffin was the leading back for Oregon State, but he didn't do his work alone. Deshaun Fenwick also got double digit rushing attempts, netting 29 yards and a touchdown for his efforts. The Oregon State run game was where the Beavers did their best work on Saturday.

Up next

Oregon State (3-1) will face off against Utah (3-1) on the road Saturday, Oct. 1. The Utes are coming off of a 34-13 win over Arizona State.

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