The news from Corvallis this week is that freshman QB Ben Gulbranson will make his fourth consecutive start for the Beavers, replacing the injured Chance Nolan. The 6-3, 215 pound passer has led Oregon State to three straight victories, while throwing for 818 yards, 5 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, and completing 61% of his passes. He knows the offense well and has improved in each game. That said, everyone improves when they play Colorado.
The running back rotation relies heavily on three players: Damien Martinez, Deshaun Fenwick, and Jam Griffin. The true freshman Martinez is a one cut and go type of running back and had his career best game last week against Colorado. The physical north-south runner is 6-0 216 pounds, and has over 500 yards and 5 touchdowns on 79 carries, well over 6 yards per carry. When he’s got some momentum he ran really rumble down the field, and averages almost 4 yards after contact per run. He has really turned it on during OSU’s 3-game winning streak running for over 9 yards per carry in those games.
RB Deshaun Fenwick is a physical presence as well, standing at 6-2 and 226 pounds with good lateral agility for that size. He’s turned his 80 rushing attempts into 356 yards and 4 scores and like Martinez, shows good vision. RB Jam Griffin is the second highest PFF-rated running back after Martinez, with the 5-9 sophomore having a really strong season. He is the third leading rusher on the team, but averages more yards per carry (5.6 to 4.4) and more average yards after contact (3.65 to 2.66) than Fenwick. Lastly, reserve linebacker Jack Colletto (AKA the Jack Hammer) is the Oregon State wildcat QB and will nearly always convert on 4th-and-short opportunities or deep in the red zone. His 6 rushing touchdowns - on just 21 carries - lead the team.
At receiver, the main target is the 6-1 Tre’Shaun Harrison. He’s an extremely athletic player who may finally be starting to realize the potential he showed at Garfield High School. He has 477 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns on the year, with an impressive 55% of those yards coming after the catch. The 5-9 Tyjon Lindsey only has 20 receptions but brings a lot of shake and wiggle to the wide receiver rotation. With his size, he is lined up in the slot on almost every play. WR Anthony Gould is versatile for being 5-8 and will line up out wide and in the slot about at roughly the same rate. While he has 3 touchdowns, he has dropped almost 18% of his targets.
While his offense is decidedly more run heavy than it was at Washington, Head Coach Jonathan Smith employs a similar “multiple” approach, designed to create numbers mismatches pre-snap. On the same drive, you will see the pistol formation, I-formation, and shotgun. They will spread teams out with four or five receivers just as likely as they are to go heavy with multiple tight ends. The run plays are almost all zone runs, meaning it’s up to the running back to use their vision and find the right hole. The offensive line is experienced and one of the best in the conference, though they did lose starting LG Marco Brewer for the season in last week’s game.
This offense already relies on the ground game, but the play calling and overall aggressiveness in the pass game has certainly looked different with Gulbranson verse Nolan. Nolan’s average-depth-of-target was over 12 yards, while Gulbranson’s is under 10 yards. Not a massive difference, but Gulbranson is keeping things a bit closer to the line of scrimmage than his predecessor. Oregon State is top-30 nationally in both percentage of their plays being called runs, and percentage of their total yards coming from run plays. They are a power run team and proud of it.
Oregon State is scoring a hair under 33 points per game, powered by an efficient run game. If you had to award offensive MVPs for the season so far, it would be the offensive line and running backs. The injury at quarterback has held them back some, but Smith’s Oregon State teams have always relied upon the system and play calling rather than utilizing a playmaker at quarterback play to score.
The raw yardage numbers are strong - over 190 rush yards a game, 28th in the country - and they rank 48th in expected points added in the run game, an advanced statistic taking into account opponent and game situation. This isn’t an unstoppable ground attack, but they are efficiently generating yards and mostly turning them into points. They don’t generate a ton of yards in the air, and rank just 79th in expected points added when throwing. In a game on Friday expected to be played in a windstorm, the rush first attack may be to their benefit.
Jonathan Smith has assembled a roster littered with former four star talent, looking for a second chance by transferring to Corvallis. For the most part, it’s worked out, with WR Tre’Shaun Harrison, RB Deshaun Fenwick, RB Trey Lowe, and WR Tyjon Lindsay all making the most of their second leases on college football life. Washington’s defense has looked improved against the run compared to last season, but this will the toughest test so far.
How many points will Oregon State score?
This poll is closed
More than 36