Beavers looking for ninth win on the season against bitter in-state rival Oregon

Redshirt+sophomore+defensive+Akili+Arnold+and+redshirt+senior+defensive+back+Jaydon+Grant+meet+after+a+play+in+last+years+Rivalry+Game+in+Autzen+Stadium+on+Nov.+27%2C+2021.+This+Saturday+will+be+the+first+time+with+fans+inside+Reser+Stadium+for+the+Rivalry+Game+since+2018.

Jason May: OMN Photographer

Redshirt sophomore defensive Akili Arnold and redshirt senior defensive back Jaydon Grant meet after a play in last year’s Rivalry Game in Autzen Stadium on Nov. 27, 2021. This Saturday will be the first time with fans inside Reser Stadium for the Rivalry Game since 2018.

Ryan Harlan, Sports Writer

The Beavers enter this week preparing for their final home game of the regular season against in-state rival University of Oregon Ducks after securing their eighth win on the season in a dominant 31-7 win over the Arizona State Sun Devils.

The Beavers moved up in this week’s Associated Press college football top-25 rankings and the coaches poll to No. 22 in both rankings. The Beavers also moved up two spots in this week’s College Football Playoff rankings to No. 21. 

The game between the No. 21 Oregon State Beavers (8-3, 5-3 PAC-12) and the No. 9 Oregon Ducks (9-2, 7-1 PAC-12) will kickoff at 12:30 p.m. in Reser Stadium, the game will be televised on ABC. 

This matchup between both the Ducks and Beavers will be the most significant rivalry game since 2012, when both teams were ranked in the top-20 in the nation as the Beavers were ranked No. 16 and the Ducks were ranked No. 5 that year.  

The Ducks went on to win the 2012 rivalry game 48-24 over the Beavers in Reser Stadium. The Beavers finished the 2012 season with a 9-4 record ending with a bowl game appearance in the Valero Alamo Bowl. 

The last two matchups between Oregon State and Oregon saw both teams win in their home stadiums.  In the 2021 football season, Oregon State fell to Oregon in a 38-29 loss at Autzen Stadium, but could not complete a comeback even as the Beavers outscored the Ducks in the second half of the game. 

The last time the Beavers won was back in the 2020 football season when quarterback Chance Nolan scored the game winning touchdown on a one-yard run to secure a 41-38 win over the Ducks at Reser Stadium. Quarterback Tristan Gebbia started the game and exited the game late in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury, which caused him to miss the 2021 football season. 

The Beavers are excited to play the rivalry game in front of fans in Reser Stadium against the Ducks after not having fans in the stadium to celebrate the rivalry win during the 2020 season.

“This one is a special one, the 2020 season, that’s a game I will always remember,” offensive lineman Brandon Kipper said. “Beating them here in 2020 was awesome, but having no fans kinda sucked. I think this one is a special one, giving us the opportunity to not only play here in front of our fans but have the opportunity to win our ninth game and to beat them here.”

The rivalry matchup is nothing new for the Oregon State players and coaching staff, head coach Jonathan Smith has been in several rivalry games as both a player and coach for the Beavers. Smith as a quarterback for the Beavers had a 2-2 record against the Ducks in the rivalry game. 

“There’s no question when you’re a player, playing in rivalry games is fun. The passion, I already spoke to that a little bit,” Smith said of his experience. “So there are some great memories there and some painful ones in the game.” 

For the Beavers, the injury situation remains the same as last week as Smith has not ruled out any players yet for Saturday’s game. 

Running backs Deshaun Fenwick and Jam Griffin, wide receiver Anthony Gould, offensive linemen Heneli Bloomfield and Tyler Morano, utility player Jack Colletto, and defensive backs Alex Austin and Jaydon Grant are all currently dealing with various injuries headed into the matchup against Oregon. 

Although there are still several starters and players injured, Smith is optimistic that many of these players will be ready to go by the end of the week and will be able to play on Saturday. 

The Beavers did escape relatively injury-free after their win over Arizona State, but there is only one new injury as tight end Malik Kelley will be out the rest of the season. Kelley suffered an injury late in the game against the Sun Devils.

Tight end Luke Musgrave has likely played his last snap in a Beaver uniform with just two games left in the season. Nolan will likely not play again until spring training camp for Beaver Football as he has not been able to participate in a full practice yet.  

For the remainder of the season, Smith officially named quarterback Ben Gulbranson as the starter for the rest of the season in his Monday press conference, because Nolan was not being cleared to fully participate in practice. 

“I think so, where it’s gone and with Chance’s inability to totally get healthy and back, Ben [Gulbranson] has played solid and I’d be surprised if he doesn’t start the next two games,” Smith said. “He’s gotten better each week, I do think competition is healthy, so whenever when Chance gets healthy again or next year even, Ben is going to have to compete and prove it.” 

Gulbranson through six games as a starter for the Beavers has steadily improved and getting the offense in the right. Gulbranson in the win over the Sun Devils also ran the ball nine times for 36 yards, which is something he has been implementing into his skillset as a quarterback. 

“It felt good to show that part of my game that I’ve been working on the past couple of years,” Gulbranson said. “I really feel confident throwing the ball, but I think if I can add that to my quarterback play it helps show to a defense that I can run the ball and pose a threat to them.” 

For the Ducks, they enter this week also dealing with injuries of their own including one to their starting quarterback, Bo Nix. 

Nix suffered an injury to his right ankle when the Ducks played the University of Washington Huskies. 

Nix’s status for Saturday’s game against the Beavers is unclear, but he will likely be a game-time decision like he was against the University of Utah Utes. The Ducks went on to win 20-17 over the Utes at Autzen Stadium, even with Nix injured. 

Nix in his first year at Oregon through 11 games has thrown for 3,061 yards and 25 touchdowns. Nix also is a threat in the running game when healthy as he has rushed for 509 yards and 14 touchdowns on the season, which is the most any quarterback has rushed for this season. 

Despite the injury to Nix’s ankle, the Beavers will be tasked with slowing down a bevy of offensive and defensive playmakers on both sides of the football. On the offensive side of the ball, running back Bucky Irving and wide receiver Kris Hutson will likely be the focal point of the offense if Nix’s mobility is limited against the Beavers.  

The importance of a win in the rivalry game is not lost on both teams and what it means for the fans, football programs, and both schools. Smith mentioned that even with the significance the rivalry series holds ahead of the 126th meeting between the Beavers and Ducks, the team has been preparing as if it’s just another game week. 

The records and stakes are different for both teams headed into Saturday’s matchup, along with the feeling of pride in winning over a bitter rival.

A win for Oregon would propel them into the PAC-12 Conference Championship game against the University of Southern California Trojans and give the Ducks 10 wins on the season. A win for the Beavers would give the program nine wins for the first time since the 2012 season and knock Oregon out of the PAC-12 Conference Championship.