EUGENE — What a difference a year makes.
When November 26 drew to a close in 2016, Oregon State was celebrating its first Civil War win since 2007 — cause enough for good feeling. But in addition to grinding out that 34-24 victory over Oregon in the rain at Reser Stadium, the Beavers had also beaten Arizona 42-17 the previous week.
Their 4-8 record doubled their win total from the previous season, and OSU went 3-6 in the Pacific-12 after being winless in conference play in 2015.
Sophomore Ryan Nall had bulldozed his way for 155 yards and four touchdowns against the Ducks, seeming to establish Oregon State’s offensive identity as a power running team. Sophomore Marcus McMaryion had supplemented that by establishing himself as a dual-threat quarterback, running for 81 yards and passing for 101 more and a touchdown. Head coach Gary Andersen looked to have the program moving upward and was headed for a contract extension.
Now, as November 26 dawns in 2017, Oregon State is headed into the unknown after Saturday’s season-ending 69-10 loss to Oregon at Autzen Stadium.
Oregon State finished 1-11 overall, its lowest win total since a 1-10 record in 1996 — the year before head coaches Mike Riley and Dennis Erickson guided the program back to respectability. 2017’s only win was a 35-32 squeaker over Portland State, a team that finished 0-11 and competes one division lower on the NCAA ladder.
Six of Oregon State’s losses on the season were by four touchdowns or more. Only once did the Beavers hold a team under 30 points; seven times they gave up at least 40.
OSU was winless in Pac-12 play for the second time in three years. The Beavers came within two touchdowns in losses only twice, in midseason defeats by Colorado and Stanford under interim head coach Cory Hall.
Those games came with the surge of energy the Beavers seemed to receive when Andersen, midway through his third season at OSU, resigned in early October and walked away from approximately $12 million in salary remaining on his contract.
Since then, numerous names have surfaced as possible replacements; reports Friday night had the job going to Beau Baldwin, the former Eastern Washington head coach who spent this season as offensive coordinator at California, but no announcement has been made
Nall, the junior running back from Central Catholic who has been the on-field face of the Beavers the past three seasons, told the Portland Tribune this week he would explore his offseason options, including transferring or declaring for the National Football League draft. McMaryion is wrapping up a successful season at Fresno State, having transferred in August after being passed over for OSU’s starting job.
Suffice it to say this Sunday morning arrives with the Beavers having a lot to clear up heading into 2018 and beyond.
“We’re going to take it step by step,” freshman safety David Morris said. “First we have to find out who our coach is and then we’ll go on from there. All I know is we’re never going to give up, never going to stop fighting. We’re going to come back next season and try to improve and do everything we can. The juniors now who are going to become seniors, they’re going to start taking over and really trying to push us and motivate us and lead us to victories.”
As Morris mentioned, the first step is finding a head coach. Senior linebacker Manase Hungalu — whose career included games under head coaches Mike Riley, Andersen and Hall — had thoughts on that matter.
“Coach Hall came in with the right energy and the right mindset of getting these players to turn around, but we just needed that extra next step of coaching,” Hungalu said. “We needed to be able to demand perfection out of players instead of just telling them to go out there and player your game, do your thing. We need people who actually tell us and demand of us what to do. And that’s how it’s going to work.”
Hungalu pointed to the cases of half the Beavers executing on a play and the other half not, “because they don’t know what the play is, they don’t know what to do on the play,” Hungalu said. “That’s just inexcusable. Then again, the players just have to be able to go out there and take it to another level. They have to be able to do it on their own. They can’t expect to rely on the coaches all the time; you’re out there playing on your own. You have to go out there and perform the way you’re willing to perform.”
Nall, who finished with 41 yards on 14 carries, said his immediate focus is on final exams; he’ll evaluate his future in the coming months. What he’d want to see in the Beavers’ new head coach is someone who stresses going to class and all the aspects of being a well-rounded student-athlete.
“For me and my character, that’s what I would like to see,” Nall said. “Someone who has those qualities as well, make sure it’s not just football. It’s not about the wins and losses, it’s not about recruiting, it’s about turning young men into men and being sure they can be successful when it’s all said and done.”
Nall, Morris and Hungalu said they’d like Hall to remain on the OSU staff if he’s not named head coach. Hall spoke as though is time at OSU were in the past tense, but said that was just putting the 2017 season to rest.
“2017 is dead, over and done way with. So now you push forward into a new birth,” said Hall, whose wife Sarah gave birth to their eighth child this past week. “2018 will not be anything like 2017, and that I can guarantee you.
“For the young guys that are here, the future is bright. That was the last bit of advice I left them with, is that starting in January — some of them said as soon as they get home over break — but to continue to build on the things they have learned over the last six weeks.
“Just by facing adversity, that’s a life-long lesson, something that very few of us are able to experience. Despite the performances, you have to look beyond that.”
PLAYING BOTH WAYS: Earlier this season, Thomas Tyner became one of the few players — if not the only player — ever to score touchdowns for both Oregon State and Oregon. Saturday, he became one of the few to play for both sides in the Civil War.
OSU’s senior running back from Aloha played for the Ducks from 2013-14 before injuries forced him to take a medical retirement. This past offseason Tyner decided he wasn’t through with football; NCAA rules precluded him from returning to Oregon so he transferred to Oregon State.
Tyner got his first carry with 3:21 left in the first quarter, breaking up the middle for 11 yards — OSU’s longest gain of the day to that point. He was booed lustily by the Autzen Stadium crowd, as he was on each of his two subsequent carries on OSU’s first scoring drive.
Tyner finished with 23 yards rushing on eight carries. He could petition the NCAA for another year of eligibility because of his past medical issues; he opted not to talk with reporters after the game.
ODDS AND ENDS: Nall finished the season with 2,216 career rushing yards, good for eighth place on Oregon State’s all-time list of career leaders; he didn’t move up the list Saturday. Nall was held without a touchdown against Oregon, leaving him with 24 rushing touchdowns for his career, good for seventh place on OSU’s all-time list, one short of former Medford High star Bill Enyart and Storm Woods who are tied for fifth place … the 69 points given up tied for most in OSU school history, matching a 69-27 loss to Washington in 2013 in Corvallis. The 59-point margin of defeat was the third-largest ever for the Beavers, trailing a 63-0 loss at Southern California in 1985 and a 61-0 loss to UCLA in 1954 … Oregon State was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct on the opening kickoff of each half.