Beavers look to fix passing game struggles ahead of matchup against Cal

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Rafael Juarez: OMN Photographer

Quarterback Ben Gulbranson shifts the defense on a throw towards the end of the first quarter in a matchup against Washington State on Oct. 15 in Reser Stadium. Since becoming the starter for Oregon State, Gulbranson has tallied totals of 857 yards on a 70-125 completion rate with five touchdowns and three interceptions thrown.

Ryan Harlan, Sports Writer

The Beavers enter their home matchup against the University of California Golden Bears on Saturday, coming off a hard-fought game against the University of Washington Huskies that ended in a 24-21 loss. 

Oregon State previously ranked at No. 24 in the Associated Press college football top-25 rankings last week, and are now unranked once again after suffering their third loss on the season. 

The Beavers did receive three votes in the newest Associated Press rankings, but they were not enough to crack the rankings this week. 

After Friday’s game, the Beavers are also out of the running for a PAC-12 Conference Championship appearance and the Rose Bowl because of their loss to the Huskies. 

Although those goals will have to wait for next season, the Beavers are focused on the opportunities ahead and the process to get to their other season goals. 

“What we try to take pride in is staying focused on a process,” said linebacker Jack Colletto. “I mean if you think about it, if we say we won the game and we’re 7-2, would we practice any different than us losing the game? Ultimately, we’re letting circumstances dictate how we’re going to perform and how we’re going to play.”  

Colletto added that the circumstances of where the Beavers find themselves shouldn’t dictate how they approach game situations going forward.  

The game between the Oregon State Beavers (6-3, 3-3 PAC-12) and the University of California Golden Bears (3-6, 1-5 PAC-12) will take place at 6 p.m. in Reser Stadium and will be broadcasted on the PAC-12 Network. 

The last matchup between California and Oregon State saw the Golden Bears earn an upset win over the Beavers in a 39-25 victory at Berkeley, spoiling the Beavers chances to become bowl game eligible and earn their sixth win of the 2021 season.  

Throughout this season, the Beavers have had consistent production from all positions on the team, but as of late have struggled with being consistent in the passing game, specifically at quarterback. 

The coaching staff and players have noticed the struggles and inconsistencies in the passing game, which were most apparent in the matchup against Washington.  

Head coach Jonathan Smith acknowledged these struggles in his press conference on Monday adding that there were missed opportunities from the offense to make passing plays down the field in Friday’s game. 

“The passing game needs to be given some more opportunities to score more points,” Smith said. “Limited opportunities after digesting it, I mean you get eight total drives, but we got to be able to score more points.” 

Offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren echoed similar sentiments to Smith, mentioning that quarterback Ben Gulbranson must be more consistent going forward. 

Lindgren mentioned that it doesn’t entirely rest on the quarterbacks’ shoulders, rather it’s a group effort to fix the inconsistencies in the passing game.  

“I think it falls on everybody, we talk about that as an offense,” Lindgren said. “It goes down to being solid with protection, being detailed with our routes and the quarterback finishing it and making a great decision and throwing a good ball. We’ve just got to be sharper.” 

When asked what Gulbranson must improve on as a starter ahead of Saturday’s matchup Lindgren mentioned connecting on the deep passes down the field. 

“When he gets opportunities to make plays, particularly in the pass game, then there’s balls we’ve got to hit, I think that changes the story and outcome of that game,” Lindgren said. “I’m not saying that’s all on him, those throws. In those key situations and at this level of football, when you get those opportunities, you don’t get a ton of them, but if guys are open down the field you’ve got to be able to connect on them.” 

Even with these struggles in the passing game, the Beavers are sticking with Gulbranson moving forward as Nolan is still not available for this week against the Golden Bears.   

Nolan’s status of when he’ll return is still up in the air even with the news that he practiced in a limited fashion last week. Nolan hasn’t been on the Oregon State sidelines since entering concussion protocol back on Oct. 1 and didn’t travel with the team to Seattle on Friday. 

Nolan has not been able to participate in a full practice and has yet to be cleared to do so, Smith mentioned that he doesn’t know when he will be cleared.   

“We’ll see how he looks this week in practice, but nothing really different,” Smith said of Nolan’s availability this week. 

The status on other injuries remains the same as tight end Luke Musgrave’s status has not changed and running back Trey Lowe is closer to returning but likely won’t be available on Saturday. 

Kicker Everett Hayes was available for Friday’s game against the Huskies but only saw action for the PAT attempts and no field goals with the high winds in the game. 

According to Smith, it wasn’t because of Hayes’ prior injury rather felt that with the windy conditions in Seattle there wasn’t a guarantee that the field goal attempt would be successful with the weather. 

“He [Hayes] was healthy, if we thought it was the right strategic choice to kick the field goal, we’re going to do it with Everett and have confidence in him,” Smith said. “When you talk to our players, and it’s our brand, it’s not always going to work but we’re going to err on the side of aggression down there.” 

For the Golden Bears, there is a familiar name that the Beavers will recognize on the Golden Bears offense that they’ll look to slow down during the game, which is quarterback Jack Plummer. 

Last year, Plummer faced the Beavers while he was at Purdue University and in that matchup, Plummer led Purdue to a 30-21 victory over the Beavers in the 2021 college football season opener. 

After the conclusion of the 2021 college football season, Plummer transferred to the University of California. Plummer looks to use the familiarity of playing against the Beavers as an advantage for Saturday’s game. 

Plummer through nine games for the Golden Bears has thrown for 2,374 yards and 16 touchdowns on the season. 

“It’s a different day and age, it’s not going to be the last time,” Smith said about facing Plummer again on a new team. “We might’ve played somebody on two different teams, this might be the first time, you definitely know because he’s a quarterback.” 

The stakes for both these teams are different along with different overall records headed into Saturday’s game. 

A win for the Beavers would ensure another winning season with seven wins, while for the Golden Bears a win would snap their five-game losing streak, which they nearly snapped against the University of Southern California Trojans before falling to the Trojans 41-35.