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Luton passes torch, earns Gebbia's respect

EUGENE — Not long before Oregon State took the field for the 123rd Civil War on Saturday, the Beaver coaching staff let sophomore Tristan Gebbia know he’d be starting at quarterback. Jake Luton, the sixth-year senior who spent much of his career battling injuries, had a banged-up forearm that hadn’t improved throughout the week and was unable to go.

Before kickoff, Luton found Gebbia and offered a few words.

“He’s a great teammate,” Gebbia said of Luton. “He just encouraged me and said, ‘You’re ready, you prepared for this, let’s go get it done.’ I respect him.”

Gebbia earned a lot of respect of his own Saturday, being thrust into a rivalry game in a venue known as one of the nation’s most raucous and turning in an efficient performance in Oregon State’s 24-10 loss to Oregon.

Gebbia completed 26 of 40 passes for 243 yards without an interception against a Duck defense among the Pac-12’s best; he also rushed for 25 yards on seven carries. By the numbers, that matched up well against one of the nation’s most renowned quarterbacks in Oregon senior Justin Herbert, who completed 18 of 30 passes for 174 yards and a score and ran for 22 yards on four carries.

“He’s been getting a ton of reps with the first group and we feel awesome about the guy,” OSU head coach Jonathan Smith said of Gebbia. “And I thought he played valiantly out there, he really did. That’s a tough environment to make your first start and go, and I thought he played well.”

The day he got his first OSU start, Gebbia’s excitement was tempered by disappointment for Luton. After all, Luton, who was having an outstanding final collegiate season, had battled back from a thoracic spine fracture suffered in 2017 and then missed several games in 2018 with an ankle injury.

“I have the most respect for Jake Luton that you can have for a person,” Gebbia said. “To come back off an injury like he did, just the grit that it takes to come back from something like that. Then to come back for your sixth year and work so hard in the offseason and get us so close — I mean, we were so close to that bowl.

“Then to have to sit it out — my heart is broken for that man. I told him I’m sorry I couldn’t get it done for him and that he couldn’t lace it up one more time. But I think he has a bright future ahead of him and I’m so proud to have been in the room with him.”

It turns out visits to Washington State weren’t kind to Luton, as that’s where he suffered both the spine fracture the forearm injury last week. It got more sore as the week went on and in warmups it was clear he couldn’t play effectively.

“It’s tough,” Smith said. “He’s overcome so much and he stayed healthy throughout this year. I’ll give him credit, too - he wasn’t going to put himself out there if he couldn’t help the team, and his situation, playing quarterback, he wasn’t going to help us.”

DEVELOPING DEFENSE: If anyone had said a year ago — or even at the start of this season — that Oregon State’s defense would be responsible for keeping the Beavers in a game at Oregon, you might have put that person in concussion protocol: they must have taken a blow to the head.

But OSU’s defense has developed over the latter part of the season to where it was the big reason the Beavers — a three-touchdown underdog — still had a chance in the fourth quarter to pull the upset and keep their season alive with a bowl bid.

“They scored points so it wasn’t our best,” OSU sophomore linebacker Avery Roberts said. “We didn’t play perfect but we did what we wanted to do: come out and stop the run. A couple plays that hurt us but as a whole we did a pretty good job but we could have did more.”

By game’s end, the defense had helped the Beavers outgain the Ducks 380-365 in total offense. Oregon went into the game averaging 460.2 yards per game.

“I think they’re building some confidence,” Smith said of his defense. “Even in the Washington game (a 19-7 loss), I thought defensively we took a step there playing a physical group on that side and then it’s just continued to carry on. We played the Cougs and gave up a bunch of points (in a 54-53 loss last week at WSU) but we got some turnovers and they’ve got a real belief in what we’re doing.”

Roberts pointed to a basic reason for the improvement.

“Just guys doing their jobs,” he said. “This thing has been going in the right direction for a while now and we’ve been able to see that. We just want to keep going and carry into next season.”

DUCK AND DON’T COVER: Oregon State was hurt by a pair of special teams plays that resulted in 14 Oregon points. First was Mykael Wright’s 98-yard kickoff return immediately after the Beavers had driven to tie the score 3-3 in the first quarter.

“It looked like we had one opportunity to make a tackle and that’s not enough when you’re running down with 10-11 guys,” Smith said. “They’ve got some dangerous returners, we knew that coming in, but that was a big difference in this game.”

The second play was Jevon Holland’s 25-yard punt return early in the second quarter that set up Oregon at the Beavers 39-yard line. Two plays later, Herbert hit Johnny Johnson III for 28 yards and the touchdown that put Oregon up 17-10.

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