Oregon State Football Preview: Week One vs Washington State

In this file photo from October 2018, Jermar Jefferson rushes for a touchdown in a 56-37 loss to the Washington State Cougars. Jefferson and the Oregon State Beavers will be looking to get a win to start the 2020 against the Cougars on Nov. 7, 2020.

Brady Akins, Sports Editor

When the Oregon State Beavers kick off their football season on Nov. 7, they’ll be playing for more than a 1-0 start to the season– they will be looking for their chance at revenge as well.

The Beavers first foe of the condensed 2020 conference-only football season will be the Washington State Cougars, a team with a new head coach and a new starting quarterback, but a team that got the better of Oregon State last season. 

After a back-and-forth battle that included an 11-point comeback by the Beavers in the fourth quarter, the Cougars ended up pulling out a 54-53 win on a last-second touchdown from Washington State’s returning junior running back Max Borghi. But while Borghi’s return will be a point of familiarity for Oregon State’s defense, the Beavers will have to account for a few new faces as well.

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Primarily, Oregon State will be tasked with being the first team to face off against a new-look Washington State offense, led by first-year Cougars head coach Nick Rolovich and true freshman quarterback Jayden de Laura. 

Despite Rolovich’s offense while serving as the head coach of Hawaii in 2019 looking statistically similar to Washington State’s air-raid offense of the same year, with both teams finishing top five in the FBS in passing yards per game and 100th and 129th in rushing yards respectively, the Cougars and their new look team could still present a challenge for Oregon State. 

Between a new coach with a new playbook, and a quarterback in his first start as a college athlete, the unfamiliarity with the Cougars’ new strengths and weaknesses could present a challenge for the Beavers. Especially considering how the presumed strong point of the Washington State offense, the passing game, was a problem for the Beavers defense last year– who gave up the 14th most passing yards of 130 FBS teams last season.

But while the element of surprise could come in handy for the Cougars, Oregon State will have the opposite benefit– that of continuity. Back for the Beavers for the 2020 season are key contributors on both sides of the ball, such as junior running back Jermar Jefferson and senior outside linebacker Hamilcar Rashed Jr. Perhaps most importantly, however, is the return of Head Coach Jonathan Smith and the rest of the coaching staff.

Unlike the Cougars, Oregon State will have the advantage of a head coach in Smith approaching his third season with the team. Players who have been with the Beavers during Smith’s tenure will not have to worry about learning the specific details of the coaching staff’s offensive and defensive schemes all during an offseason that was shortened due to COVID. 

In a match where neither team has played a live game of football in nearly a full calendar year, that schematic familiarity and comfort could give the Beavers an edge that Washington State does not have, especially when that offensive system is one that gave the Cougars fits in 2019.

The primary source of Washington State’s trouble in the 2019 game was Jermar Jefferson, who tied a career-high in single-game touchdowns with four in his outing against the Cougars last season, all while totaling 184 yards from scrimmage, his most of the season. 

With a running back like Jefferson who found success against Washington State one year ago, and a Cougars defense who ranked 91st in the FBS in rushing yards allowed per game and 108th in yards allowed per carry, the Beavers could lean on their starting running back to power the offense against Washington State as he did in 2019, especially considering Oregon State’s new face under center. 

The Beavers starting quarterback for the 2020 season, Tristian Gebbia, will be getting the second start of his college career when Oregon State kicks off on Saturday. The redshirt junior saw his action in a starting role in the final week of the 2019 season, facing off against the 14th ranked Oregon Ducks and throwing for 243 yards on the road in a 24-10 loss.

But despite Gebbia only having one start in college to his name, the former four-star recruit from Calabasas High School in California has seen some action in his role as Jake Luton’s backup last season. As a dual-threat player with skills as a thrower and a runner, Gebbia found the endzone twice through the air and one time on the ground in 2019, adding nearly 350 yards through the air in four total appearances.

Gebbia will be looking for his first win as a college starter, while the Beavers will be hoping to get their first win on opening week since the 2015 season, all against a Washington State team that has not lost to the Beavers in their last six meetings. Oregon State will get their shot on Saturday, Nov. 7. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Reser Stadium.