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NCAA Football: Southern California at Oregon State Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

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the 2019 Gekko Files: Previewing Oregon State Football

Can Jonathan Smith build a dam around his gushing defense? Will it even matter?

Beaver fans have been put through quite the ringer over the past few years. From the surprise defection of the legendary Mike Riley to the hiring and then mid-year resignation of Gary Andersen to the arrival of Jonathan Smith and a historically bad defense in 2018.

Some would say that it has been hard to watch. That could be true, but only if you are the kind of fan that doesn’t like points. You see, Oregon State happened to lead the conference in the obscure and totally meaningless stat that I like to call “Total Points Index” (TPI). Calculating TPI is rather easy: simply sum together the total points your offense scores with the total points your defense surrenders and ... voila! ... you have your TPI.

Below is your PAC 12 TPI ranking for 2018:

PAC 12 TPI 2018

Team PA PF TPI
Team PA PF TPI
Oregon State 548 313 861
Washington State 303 488 791
Oregon 330 453 783
Arizona 391 376 767
Arizona State 332 389 721
UCLA 409 295 704
Stanford 298 369 667
Utah 272 393 665
Colorado 327 325 652
USC 324 313 637
Washington 229 369 598
California 265 280 545

By way of comparison, Oklahoma led the entire nation (by a lot) in TPI last season with 1,143 points. Impressive, right?

So, there you have it. Oregon State is the Oklahoma of the PAC 12.

I suppose that as deft and impressive as that analysis is, you dedicated readers are probably looking for something a bit more .... errrr ..... relevant. I’ve got an idea. Let’s open the Gekko Files.

The Offense

I suppose that 26 points per game qualifies as a “decent” offense (in comparison Washington had almost exactly the same output in 2018. Weird). But, for the most part, the Beavs were not really good at any one thing despite having some pretty decent players spread around the offense. They weren’t particularly efficient, they didn’t really take care of the ball all that well, and their explosive plays tended to come when games were mostly decided.

NCAA Football: Oregon State at Stanford
Isaiah Hodgins is OSU’s top playmaker.
Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

The culprit keeping the offense down was clearly the offensive line. 48 sacks allowed was awful even after adjusting for the fact that QB Jake Luton may be only slightly more mobile than the Statue of Liberty. They also surrendered a brutal 99 TFLs while only creating enough room for a 3.8 ypc rushing average.

That situation must improve. Unfortunately, I don’t see how it will. The line only returns two players from last year in Gus Lavaka and Blake Brandel. Arizona transfer Nate Eldridge looks like a lock to take over at Center and the talented Brandon Kipper might be ready to take over the LT position. The bright side here is that the Beavs do have upside with this core group of four. But this assumes Eldridge’s health, Kipper’s readiness and Brandel’s successful position change. That’s a lot.

If that line can gel, things might get interesting for the Beavs. Luton returns at QB and, if he can get a pocket, he can do some damage. He has the height (6’7”) and the arm to make throws. However, he can’t survive the punishment he’ll absorb if his line is sieve-like again this year. Former Nebraska starter Tristan Gebbia - a smaller and more mobile player - is going to compete for the starting role this summer. His odds are no worse that 40% of winning that job if you ask me.

Whomever wins that job will have the luxury of throwing to what I consider a legit, upper-echelon receiving corps. 6’4” Isaiah Hodgins (876 yds receiving) is a playmaker on the outside and is complemented very well by Trevon Bradford (6 TDs). Out of the slot, you have blazing speedster Jesiah Irish and Nebraska transfer Tyjon Lindsey ready to make their marks in the conference.

Oh, and I haven’t even yet gotten to a now-healthy TE Noah Togiai and his protege 6’6” true freshman Luke Musgrave. Collectively, this is a deep and versatile receiving crew.

The real star of the offense, though, resides in the running back room. Reigning PAC 12 freshman of the year Jermar Jefferson emerged last season as a true workhorse style running back despite playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in the nation. Jefferson shocked the entire P12 fanbase by putting up crazy good numbers: 1,380 yards, 12 TDs, just two fumbles on 239 carries ... all as a true freshman. While it is certainly true that the conference coaches won’t be surprised by Jefferson this year, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they can stop him, especially if the line - and I would include blocking TE Teagan Quitoriano in that group - can improve at all.

There is more depth at RB. Artavis Pierce is a very experienced senior who is both quicker and a better blocker than Jefferson. Sophomore BJ Baylor had a bit of a breakout spring and is in line to get a chunk of carries as this season goes on.

No doubt that there is some upside on this offense. If a leader emerges at QB and all the breaks fall in the right direction along the offensive line, this could quickly become one of the top-half offenses in the league. But right now, all of it is just potential. Sure, there is reason for optimism. But it is still just unrealized potential.

The Defense

In every Gekko File preview, I try to link somewhere to Bill Connelly’s excellent advanced stat driven previews of the PAC 12 team being covered. You can find the Oregon State preview right here. Every once in a while, I come across one of his analyses that is so eye-popping that it would be a disservice to not share it. Connelly’s radar chart of the 2018 Oregon State defense is one such analysis.

Bill Connelly, SB Nation

I would posit that one could have literally zero understanding of any of the advanced stats plotted on this radar chart and still fully comprehend the bigger point: Oregon State was a colossal failure on defense last year.

In fact, per Connelly, the 2018 Oregon State Beavers boasted not only the worst defense in the nation. They were the worst defense ever recorded since these advanced stats started being tracked in 2005.

Yowza.

NCAA Football: Oregon State at Stanford
Jalen Moore is OSU’s top returning tackler.
Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

It would be an understatement to say that Jonathan Smith understands that his defensive output has to improve. The right place to start is the defensive secondary. The healthy return of safeties David Morris and Omar Hicks-Onu along with leading tackler Jalen Moore provides the Beavers with a trio of PAC 12 level defenders to build their big play prevention scheme around. The rest of the secondary, including CB Kaleb Hayes (8 PBUs) and the underrated CB Isaiah Dunn, is comprised of players who were in the rotation at some point last year. At the very least, this unit will have the benefit of experience.

The front seven is a major work in progress. DC Tim Tibesar has attracted five new transfers to help reinforce a group that returns most of their players from a year ago. The linebacking corps will benefit from the arrival of transfers Avery Roberts (Nebraska) and Addison Gumbs (Oklahoma). Gumbs, in particular, is an interesting prospect as an edge rusher who was challenged by injuries at Oklahoma and who was once recruited by Chris Petersen.

Those two transfers will team up with the three best players on the defense in Hamilcar Rashest Jr, Andrzej Hughes-Murray and Shemar Smith to form what truthfully ought to be a competent linebacking corps. There are several young players who all benefited from live fire experience last year helping to round out the linebacking rotation.

The defensive line will be a challenge. Three JUCO transfers are going to be counted on to help provide depth behind enormous NT Elu Aydon (390lbs) and DE Isaac Hodgins. This area will clearly be the Achilles heel of the entire defense unless (or until) some of the new players find their footing and produce. One player to watch is 320 lb JUCO transfer Jordan Whittley.

I think it is inevitable that the Beaver defense will improve. The question is if it can rebound enough to give their offense at least a fighting chance to outscore an opponent. While I can definitely see some improvement in explosive play prevention happening in 2019, I don’t really see how OSU is going to get pressure on QBs or how they are going to keep opposing rushing attacks from staying ahead of the sticks. There just aren’t enough playmakers on the roster to get them over the hump quite yet.

One Breakout Player

DT Jordan Wattley

The JUCO transfer was an unrated player when he committed to Jonathan Smith. While his pedigree might be lacking, his performance in the spring seemed to all but assure that the big man is going to be a main fixture along a defensive line that Smith and Tibesar desperately want to add some beef to. I doubt that we’ll see Wattley collapse lines in the kind of way a player like Vita Vea was able to from the interior. However, if he can simply occupy linemen and keep his backers free to roam, that would be a huge step up for this defense. I suspect he’s going to have some success in that regard.

Projecting the Beavers

Let’s not mince words here: Oregon State will not have a competitive team in 2019. While I very much believe that they will be better than their 2018 version, it remains difficult to see how the Beavers are going to prevent enough points in order to stay competitive in most of the games on the schedule.

As it is, there looks like only one true lead-pipe lock kind of win on their schedule, that being against Cal Poly. Their other two out-of-conference contests include a near-certain loss to Oklahoma State and a long road trip to Hawaii that, at best, is a toss up.

There is likely going to be a win or two in conference, but it will have to be in the form of an upset as the Beavers are sure to be underdogs in every game that they play. If you are looking for one, the October road trip to Cal looks like a fairly decent match-up at least in terms of not having to contend with a dynamic offense. Unfortunately for the Beavs, the other match-up that would have looked good - that being Colorado - is not an opponent for them this season. They miss both the Buffs and USC this year.

Bowl eligibility looks like a dream. Maybe three wins is a reasonable goal this season. But even that is going to require some good fortune for a Beavers team that is still a few years away from having the pieces put in place that will allow them to get back to the post season.

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