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Cal Football

OSU Preview: The Beavers Aren't Pushovers Anymore

October 29, 2021
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What is going on at Oregon State?

Those loveable Beavers whom other teams would laugh at then beat by three touchdowns are no more. In his fourth year, head coach Johnathan Smith has his team (5-2, 3-1 Pac-12) tied for the lead in the North Division. On Saturday Cal will be hosting an OSU team that is poised to crack the top 25. The Beavers running game is very good, the passing game is pretty good and the defense is good enough.

“I think they have the best offense in the conference, and statistically that will bear out,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said after the Beavers came from behind to beat the Utes last week. “They run the ball better than anybody, they score more points than anybody, convert third downs better than anybody.…Their offensive line is extremely efficient.… They’re well-coached, and they have an identity, and they know exactly who they are and what they want to be.”

Now Cal’s defense is also feeling pretty good about itself after holding Colorado to 35 total rushing yards and three points. But the Beavers are not the woebegone Buffaloes. They lead the conference in scoring (35.1 ppg) and rushing (245.0 ypg).

The primary ball carrier is B.J. Baylor, (5-11, 205), a junior from Wharton, Texas, He is 10th nationally with 830 rushing yards and has topped 100 yards five times this season, including in each of the Beavers’ past four games. He is also first in the conference and 10th in the country with ten rushing touchdowns. 

“He’s a very talented guy,” Cal head coach Justin Wilcox said. “Runs downhill, one cut. He can run through arm tackles and if he gets out in the open field he can go.”

Oregon State doesn’t have much of a passing game because it doesn’t need one. Why throw over somebody when you can run through them? The Beavers are on their second quarterback. It didn’t take Smith long to replace Sam Noyer with Chance Nolan. Exactly one game. 

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Beavers celebrate a touchdown

Nolan, unlike Smith’s previous quarterbacks Jake Lutton and Tristan Gebbia, is not a classic drop-back, stay-in-the-pocket passer. He is more than willing to take off and run. 

In his weekly media session, Smith conceded Nolan was a breed apart from his predecessors, and that carried some risk such as his lost fumble against Utah.  Smith said:  “....in regard to extending it … buying a little bit more time, keeping his eyes downfield. So you run that risk when he extends the play and you buy a little more time.”

Nolan is efficient when he does throw it. He is 92-for-142 for 1,261 yards and 11 touchdowns. His passer rating of 157.90 actually leads the conference. He was 14-of-19 for 208 yards and two touchdowns versus Utah after finishing 18-for-40 for 206 yards and no scores in his previous two games combined.

“He has done an excellent job throwing it,” Wilcox said. “He is kind of doing it all -drop-back game, play-action game. A big part of it is (that) he spreads the ball around to the wide receivers and the backs. He’ll run it in a pass situation and he will run it in some RPOs. He has made plays with both his arm and his feet.

“He is very much in rhythm. He knows when to take his shots. He’ll send it down the field, doesn’t think twice about it. When he decides where he is going to go with the ball he is going to cut it loose. There is not a lot of indecisiveness in his play.”

OSU’s offensive line is one of the best in the country.  The position coach is Jim Michalczik, who at one time worked wonders at Cal. 

“It all starts up front with the O-line,” Wilcox said. “They’re a talented group, all the starters are back. They’re big and physical. The line of scrimmage generally goes forward for them. It’ll be a really, really big challenge for us defensively.”

Three members of Oregon State’s O-line earned spots on the 2020 All-Pac-12 teams, led by senior center Nathan Eldridge, who was a first-team selection.

And they should be even better this week than they were last. Guard Jake Levengood, who did not play against Utah because of an injury, is expected back this week. That was the only missed game by any of the five starters this year.

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Roberts Makes a Tackle

The defense is built around two inside linebackers. Avery Roberts is a candidate for defensive player of the year and Omar Speights is not too bad, either.

“Both those guys are tackling machines,” Cal offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. “ They’ve played a lot of football for the Beavers. They’re steady, nothing really surprises them. They’ve got great instincts. They are two really good inside backers they have.”

Chase Garbers knows what he is up against. “They are pretty much what they were last year,” he said. “Their two inside backers have played a lot of football for them. They have a lot of experience in key spots and obviously, they are athletic in the secondary, pretty long and lengthy.”

The secondary is in a state of flux.  Versatile Jaden Robinson and safety Alton Julian are lost for the year and Jaydon Grant must sit out the first half against Cal because of a targeting call. Cornerback Rejzohn Wright, who has never played safety was forced to duty there last week. Little-used reserves such as Ron Hardge III, Akili Arnold, Ian Massey and Wynston Russell will be pressed into duty.

One of the biggest things the Beavers have going for them is belief in themselves. Having won a few games they are starting to feel the swagger a bit and Smith has noticed it. 

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WR Anthony Gould scores

“I think some of that confidence came from the leadership on the team, the experience we’ve had, the continuity of schemes we’ve had in all three phases that we just continue to get better with that,” Smith said. “And I felt like we’ve got some good players. Some guys that played a lot and some that were going to come on the scene. All of that built into the confidence we could win on Saturday.”

Notes

  • California leads the series 38-35, but Oregon State has won the past two games. 
  •  With a win, the Beavers become bowl eligible for the first time since 2013. Only three times in school history has OSU been bowl eligible by the end of October. 
  • Tight end Luke Musgrave, nephew of Cal OC Bill Musgrave, returned a blocked punt for a touchdown last weekend and was named the Pac-12 special teams player of the week. Teammates Baylor (offensive player of the week) and Nous Keobounnam (offensive lineman of the week) were also recognized by the conference. It marked the first time OSU had three players selected for awards in the same week since 2006.
  • Senior Trevon Bradford is the leading receiver. He has 21 catches this year, six of them last week against Utah.
  • Reserve running back Jack Colletto has carried the ball just 16 times and has five rushing touchdowns.
  • The Beavers have ten interceptions by nine different players. Speights has two, eight others one apiece.
  • Roberts and Speights each had two sacks against Cal last year.

Related:

OSU Offense Doing More With Less

Ultimate Insider Podcast E18- Wilcox on Buffs, Beavers

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OSU Preview: The Beavers Aren't Pushovers Anymore

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