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Know your opponent: Previewing the Oregon State offense

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Jonathan Smith hasn’t locked in his first Pac-12 win yet, but there are signs of life in Corvallis.

NCAA Football: Washington State at Oregon State Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s take a second to journey back to when Justin Wilcox was first hired as the head coach of the California Golden Bears. After an exciting set of hires, there was much speculation about whom Coach Wilcox would bring in as his offensive coordinator. Then, one of the most interesting names out there came up—Jonathan Smith. Once upon a time, there were rumors that Smith was interested enough to come join Wilcox in Berkeley in what shapes up to be one of the bigger what if’s right now for the Cal program. Smith opted to stay at the Washington Huskies with Chris Petersen and ultimately accepted the head coach position with the Oregon State Beavers this offseason.

The results so far for Smith have been as expected, but his team is starting to build a reputation as a fun, explosive offense paired with a very, very poor defense. Yet we are here to talk about offense, so let’s dive into how the Beavers have managed their way to a near top-50 offense in S&P+ so far.

2018 season to date

The Oregon State offense has been exciting so far this season. They have only scored fewer than 24 points in one game thus far and they played Washington State tight at home just two weeks ago. Ironically enough, the defense that had the most success against the Beavers is Arizona, who held down the Beavers to just 14 points in late September.

The Beavers rank 33rd in the country in yards per game, 43rd in total rush yards and 30th in rush yards per game. Jonathan Smith is well-known for his use of misdirection and forcing opposing defenses to make mistakes in order to open up big plays. Oregon State uses screens about as well as any team in the conference and this will force the Bears secondary to play a mistake-free game and wrap up on every single tackle. Just how far the Cal defense has come this season compared to last season against Washington will be fully put to the test this weekend.

A deeper look at OSU’s running back and quarterback: Jermar Jefferson and Conor Blount

The Beavers 2018 season has offered plenty of hope for what is to come in the years ahead as well. Most fans would have probably taken a couple of competitive games and walked away happy with the progress, but the Beavers have a legit contender for Pac-12 Freshman of the Year in Jermar Jefferson. The true-freshman running back has eclipsed 200 yards rushing in two games this season, including a ridiculous 254 against Arizona State three weeks ago. While Cal is looking like a long shot to have one 1,000 yard rusher, Jefferson could underperform the rest of the year and easily surpass that mark. The young running back has quick moves and great vision, which have catapulted him to relevance on a team that prioritizes having a dynamic offense.

NCAA Football: Washington State at Oregon State Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

The certainty at running back gives way to some uncertainty at quarterback. The Beavers started the season with Jake Luton at the helm of the offense, but he hurt his ankle against Ohio State and has played seldomly since. Sophomore Conor Blount has stepped in and played a familiar role for this offense. He averages around 175 passing yards per game and completes over 60% of his passes. Unlike the Cal quarterbacks this year, Blount limits his mistakes and allows the running game to play the star role for the offense. The bright side is he won’t beat Cal scrambling and the Cal defense will certainly enjoy a bit of a break from the dual-threat quarterbacks of the last three weeks.

What to expect come Saturday

What an interesting time for this game to come on the schedule. A game that once looked like a sure-fire win certainly has a few more question marks around Cal’s ability to walk away victorious. The Bears absolutely have to control the line of scrimmage better than they did against the Bruins. If the defensive line gets beat off the line the way they did at home against the Bruins, the Bears will be in for a long night in Corvallis. The good news for Cal fans is that Oregon State isn’t exactly built the same way UCLA is. They run a high volume of screens, misdirection, and other trick plays that force defenses to make mistakes. Outside of a few missed tackles in the last few weeks, the Cal defense really doesn’t make that many big mistakes. The Beavers’ heavy use of the screen game should also give the Cal defensive backs the opportunity to show just how strong they are at tackling on an island.

The Bears can also settle into a match-up that will allow them to stack the box more often and be less concerned with a pass going over the top. Ultimately, if Cal can stop the run, they should be able to key in on a passing game that hasn’t developed the right pieces yet. This looks like a strong opportunity for the defense to bounce back and get their first win on the road. As the last three weeks have taught us, despite how probable that outcome might appear, nothing is guaranteed.

Poll

How many points will the Oregon State offense score against the Cal defense?

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    0–14
    (15 votes)
  • 32%
    15–24
    (46 votes)
  • 46%
    25–38
    (65 votes)
  • 4%
    39–49
    (7 votes)
  • 5%
    50 or more
    (8 votes)
141 votes total Vote Now

(Ed.: I’m already predicting a half-dozen comments about the discrepancy between Oregon State’s offensive points and their final score.)