Here’s what we learned in our Q&A:
UWDP: Quarterback Jake Luton missed the first four games of the Pac-12 season. How has he played since returning? What are his strengths and where does he need to improve? Tell us about the pass protection so far.
Joe Londergan: Luton, when he’s been healthy, has been critical for OSU. He’s definitely not mobile, but he’s definitely the most accurate passer on OSU’s roster. With a completion percentage of 65.2%, he just opens up the possibility that Oregon State will move down the field at the pace that they need to in order to keep up with some of the offenses on their schedule. Remember how I said Luton isn’t mobile? Well, if he was, then he may have been able to get away from the constant onslaught of pressure he seems to get. Luton, Conor Blount, and Jack Colletto have combined to get sacked 33 times this season. So in short, the pass protection very much needs work.
UWDP: OSU has three receivers with over 45 catches this season. How are Isaiah Hodgins, Timmy Hernandez and Trevon Bradford each utilized in the passing game? Who else might be a factor catching the football for Oregon St?
Joe: Bradford is the most versatile. His speed allows him to be a factor in the run game as well. He can even be a deep threat when he needs to be. Hernandez has great yards-after-catch ability. At 6’4”, Hodgins is a big target in the red zone, best exemplified by that huge touchdown catch at the end of the Colorado win. He hasn’t been as prolific as he was last year due to injury, but keep an eye on tight end Noah Togiai as well.
UWDP: Freshman Jermar Jefferson is absolutely lighting things up this year for the Beavers with over 1200 yards, 12 TDs, and a 6.0 YPC average. Did anyone see that coming? What has been the key to his success? Any other running backs UW fans should be aware of? How has the offensive line performed in the running game for OSU?
Joe: Jefferson has definitely been a very pleasant surprise. He’s got great acceleration and some very good vision as a ball carrier. He sees a hole and he goes. He’s definitely a big part of what OSU wants to do moving forward. Also, watch out for Artavis Pierce who has complimented Jefferson with 523 yards and four touchdowns. OSU’s offensive line has shown that run blocking is clearly their strength. Pass blocking is another story, but they’re doing a fairly decent job opening holes for Jefferson and Pierce.
UWDP: How would you rate the special teams and the OSU kicking game? UW has struggled covering kickoffs and punts. Any particularly dangerous return men for Oregon St?
Joe: In the return game, Trevon Bradford has some nice athletic ability. He hasn’t taken one to the house yet, but he’s worth keeping an eye on. On the kicking side, Jordan Choukair has been pretty inconsistent. He’s eight of 14 on the season. The Beavs are sticking with him though. Anything outside of forty yards he has trouble with, which is part of the reason why the Beavs are having issues in the red zone.
UWDP: How has the defense progressed this season? The Beavs are dead last in the Pac-12 surrendering over 45 points per game. They are giving up over 270 yards per game on the ground and through the air; have they looked as bad as those grim numbers indicate? Who are some defensive players to watch for Oregon State?
Joe: In short: pretty much. They’ve only sacked opposing quarterbacks ten times and picked off three passes. We definitely would have loved to see that turnover chainsaw a few more times. While you can blame some of the secondary issues on injuries, the pass rush just isn’t performing nearly as well as they should have been. The linebacker group is probably the one that you want to watch though. Hamilcar Rashed Jr. has 46 tackles this year with a forced fumble. Also, he may not even play this week, but if safety David Morris is out there, he’s absolutely OSU’s best defensive player.
UWDP: What’s the fan consensus on Jonathan Smith in year one as the head coach? It takes time for a coach to get his system in place, but fans are generally not willing to wait. What are the expectations for the rest of 2018?
Joe: I wouldn’t say that fans are overjoyed or anything but they see the difference in how this team is performing now vs how they performed last year. With two games left, I think it’s safe to say that fans don’t expect another win. With what we have seen out of guys like Jermar Jefferson though and excitement over some of the transfers coming in, along with the hope that some of the guys who could have made a big difference earlier in the year are able to remain healthy, I think we’re cautiously optimistic about the next two years or so.
Thanks Joe. For more on the Beavers, be sure to check out Building the Dam.