Tale of the box score: Oregon State Beavers vs Washington State Cougars

Jermar Jefferson scores a touchdown against Washington State on November 7th in Reser Stadium.

Thomas Salgado de Almeida Leme, Sports Contributor

The Oregon State Beavers showed their strength but left plenty of room for improvement in their 38-28 opening week home loss to the Washington State Cougars, giving them plenty to work on in order to bounce back next week.

As with most close losses, there were a mix of negatives and positives to look at on the stat sheet, but the final score line marks one crucial improvement that Oregon State will need to make in the coming weeks. The defense surrendered 38 points on defense, a number they allowed only four times in 2019. Considering that standard, those 38 points were a step back on paper– but are even worse in context.

Washington State was starting a true freshman in Jayden de Laura at quarterback, had one of their most experienced offensive players in junior running back Max Borghi out for the game, and were playing their first game under new coach Nick Rolovich who was implementing a new offensive system for the team. 

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For a Beavers defense that was much improved last season, having allowed 45.7 points per game in 2018 and 32.5 in 2019, another step in the right direction on defense could have been expected under the Cougars’ uncertain circumstances.

The issue came in part because of Oregon State’s inability to dominate at the line of scrimmage. The Beavers were only able to sack de Laura once all game, and that came in the fourth quarter. 

Oregon State’s struggles to rush the passer might have come as a surprise considering last year’s performance of senior outside linebacker Hamilcar Rashed Jr, who was tied for third in the nation with 14 sacks in 2019, yet finished without a sack or tackle for loss against the Cougars.

Beyond the pass rush, big holes were often opened up for the Cougars running backs which they were able to take advantage of for big gains throughout the night. This was especially apparent during the 44-yard touchdown run by Travell Harris on the first play of a late fourth-quarter drive that sealed the game for the Cougars. 

Harris’ game-clinching score was one of five runs of 15 or more yards that Washington State was able to gain though, and the team averaged 7.6 yards per run for the game. This is a step back for an Oregon State team that held opponents to 4.3 yards per rush last year. 

Between the Cougars starting a freshman at quarterback and being without Borghi at running back, the noticeable roster turnover for the Cougars may have actually helped Washington State, as game-film on the team’s two biggest stars on the night, de Laura and Borghi’s replacement in Deon McIntosh, was hard to come by. 

Whether due to the roster turnover or the rust from not having played a live game in nearly a full year, the Beavers defense will have some areas to clean up heading into their Nov. 14 game against the Washington Huskies. Luckily for Oregon State, the offense fared better even after a slow start.

On the other side of the ball, the Beavers scored seven points in the first 40 minutes of the game before managing 21 points in the final 20 minutes. Those first-half struggles could be chalked up to rust and the inexperience of the team’s new 2020 starters, including junior quarterback Tristan Gebbia, but the 28 point performance was a step backward for an Oregon State team that had not scored fewer than 30 points in a season opener since 2017. 

One of the Beavers’ issues came on the offensive line, which lost three starters from last year’s team. Gebbia was sacked four times on the night and faced pressure from a Cougars’ defense that also ended the night with five tackles for loss. 

That effort from the Cougars defense often forced Jermar Jefferson to be stuffed at the line of scrimmage for minimal gains. Although he was the most explosive player on offense for Oregon State, scoring three of the Beavers’ four total touchdowns, Jefferson was stopped for gains of one or fewer yards six times in the game, while his backup BJ Baylor was also held to a one-yard gain on his only rush on the night.

Struggles in the running game, in addition to high pressure on Gebbia, contributed to the Beavers failing to sustain drives, with five of the team’s 12 possessions ending in three and outs, three of which came in the first quarter. The lack of longer drives kept the Beavers’ offense from finding their momentum, contributing to the team’s first four possessions ending in punts. 

However, even in defeat, the Beavers put together plenty of positives to build on for the following week. The defense played well against the pass, allowing less than 230 yards through the air while taking advantage of a deep pass by de Laura to get an interception. If the Beavers can keep containing teams through the air while improving in stopping the run, the defense could take a step forward. 

On offense, there are more positives to be seen. Jermar Jefferson, the 2018 Freshman All-American dealt with an injury-riddled sophomore year, but had a strong return to form against the Cougars. Even amidst struggles to get past the line of scrimmage, Jefferson still picked up 170 total yards and scored three touchdowns. If Jefferson can keep that up, the Beavers will have a consistent threat to put up points in any game. 

Additionally, although the offense as a whole started slow, picking up less than 170 yards and scoring seven points in the first half, the group flashed its potential in the second half to finish with 451 yards and 28 points. Gebbia especially improved from the first to the second half, going from throwing for 90 yards in the first two quarters of the game to finishing with 329. 

One of the highlights from Oregon State’s season opener, one that they will hope to continue going forward in the season, was the team’s ability to avoid mistakes. This included taking care of the ball, as the Beavers did not commit a single turnover throughout the game. This continues a trend from 2019, where Oregon State ranked 12th in the FBS in turnover differential. 

A lack of penalties were a continuation of that mistake-free football as well, as the Beavers committed four penalties for a total loss of 45 yards. Although the game against the Cougars marked Oregon State’s first of the season, their four penalties tied for the third-fewest per game at the FBS level.

A 10-point loss at home to a team with a new coach led by a true freshman quarterback and backup running back left plenty to be desired for Oregon State, but the Beavers still showed flashes of the team they want to be in the future. If those flashes can be expanded upon and the team can clean up the issues, the Beavers can pick up the pieces starting next week in the team’s game against the Washington Huskies. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington.