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Beaver notes: Defense didn't take advantage of opportunity

CORVALLIS – It had the look of a terrific defensive opportunity for Oregon State.

The Beavers knew that when Washington State came to Reser Stadium to open the pandemic-delayed Pac-12 football season, the Cougars would be starting a true freshman at quarterback, under a first-year coaching staff. Then, Saturday afternoon, WSU announced its best running back wouldn’t play due to an unspecified injury.

So

The quarterback, Jayden de Laura, passed for 227 yards and a pair of touchdowns and ran for another 43 yards and a score. And with Max Borghi out, senior Deon McIntosh carried 18 times for 147 yards and a touchdown.

Those were key factors in Washington State handing Oregon State a 38-28 loss on a cold night.

“It’s definitely not to our standard,” OSU defensive back Jaydon Grant said. “Not to the standard we set for ourselves and not to the standard that our coaches are expecting us to play to.

“It’s not about how we prepare, it’s not about the game plan. It’s about the 11 guys who are on the field at that moment going out and executing, and tonight we just didn’t execute. We had a good game plan, our coaches put us in the right position to succeed, and we just didn’t make the plays.”

Oregon State’s defense made big strides toward the end of last season but took a step back in the 2020 season opener, and part of that was not getting pressure on de Laura.

“We tried to get home (to the quarterback), the ball’s coming out quickly sometimes,” OSU head coach Jonathan Smith said. “Then they have a good O-line, they protected him well. And the quarterback saw pretty well and he did extend the plays; he’s a pretty good athlete. He broke contain a few times and we couldn’t get home.”

De Laura completed 18 of 33 passes with one interception – by Grant on a long throw into the end zone – for those 227 yards and a score in his first collegiate game.

“I watched him a little bit, his high school team out of Hawaii,” Grant said of viewing video of de Laura, who prepped at St. Louis School in Honolulu. “He’s a guy who’s mobile, he trusts his receivers and he’s been in that same offense in high school. I thought he picked us apart in the secondary so hats off to him.”

When the Cougars went to the run, the Beavers were often in position to cut down a WSU runner but couldn’t turn contact into a tackle.

A prime example came on WSU’s final drive of the first half with the game tied 7-7. On second-and-4 from the OSU 39-yard line, McIntosh was hit by a Beaver in the backfield for what could have been a loss; he spun away from the contact and ran for a 14-yard gain. The Cougars went on to score for a 14-7 halftime lead.

“You get in these open spaces where there’s a lot of one-on-one tackles against some athletes, it’s not easy,” Smith said. “But there’s no question we needed to tackle better.”

Smith was asked if what he’d seen in practice gave him concern in that area heading into the opener.

“It’s the first game,” Smith said. “You can’t live tackle every rep in practice throughout fall camp. It’s a big piece; we emphasize it. I do think we practiced well. We did scrimmage a few times. The first scrimmage, I thought we tackled really well; the second one there were some things. Again, you saw the offense move it in the second scrimmage so it’s a balancing act there. it’s the first game; we’ve definitely got to work to improve it.”

FITS AND STARTS: The defensive lapses might have been overcome if Oregon State’s offense engaged in a scoring battle like last season’s 54-53 Washington State win in Pullman. But the Beavers productivity was streaky rather than sustained, eventually putting OSU in a 28-7 deficit midway through the third quarter.

Oregon State went three-and-out on its first thee possessions of the game as Washington State took a 7-0 lead. In those three possessions, quarterback Tristan Gebbia was 0-for-4 passing.

“He could have played a little bit better early on, but it’s not just on him,” Smith said. “We could have protected him a little better, too. That’s really on an offense: You’re playing 11-man football and you need all 11 guys playing at a high level to move the ball and score a bunch of points and we weren’t doing that early on.”

Gebbia had a pair of completions on OSU’s next possession, then guided the Beavers on a 15-play, 93-yard drive to tie the score at 7-7; he was 5-for-5 on that drive, including a 7-yard pass to Trevon Bradford for the score.

Washington State took a 14-7 lead by halftime but Oregon State would have the ball to start the second half. The Beavers then came out after intermission and went three-and-out on their first two possessions; WSU scored after both of those to put OSU in a 28-7 hole it couldn’t climb out of.

“The offense starts with me, and I can’t come out and start slow like that,” Gebbia said of how each half began. “You go down by a couple scores and it’s not helping the defense by going three-and-out had making them be on the field more often than they have to.

“Like I said, it starts with me and I’ve just got to get back in the film room and get back to practice and get better. That’s all there is to it.”

Even with his periodic struggles, Gebbia finished 34-for-48 passing for 329 yards and a touchdown.

“He got playing better in that second half when we got almost into a desperation mode, we got ourselves behind and started playing,” Smith said. “And he gave us a chance at the end; it just wasn’t nearly enough.”

Another productive Beaver was running back Jermar Jefferson, who carried 21 times for 120 yards and three touchdowns.

“He ran well,” Smith said of Jefferson. “He ran hard. When he got going a little bit in the first half, a couple of those drives got killed by a penalty he’s been working hard and he’s a good back.”

ATMOSPHERIC CONDITIONS: With fans barred from attending games this fall, Saturday night was the first chance to experience a game in an almost-empty stadium. There was crowd noise played over the sound system, the public address announcer providing information, and even the third-down chainsaw sound effect – but no band and no cheerleaders. And the only fans were life-sized cardboard photos placed in several sections of seats at field level.

“It was definitely different,” Smith said of the atmosphere. “We missed Beaver Nation, and they impact the games. Fans at home (stadiums) impact the games. But it’s what we’re dealing with and everyone is dealing with it in our conference. Again, I’m back to, these guys are excited about the opportunity to play, even though it’s not exactly the same. They’re excited to be able to play, six, seven games yet.”

ODDS AND ENDS: The win was Washington State’s seventh straight over the Beavers; the Cougars lead the all-time series 55-47-3 the Nov. 7 start to the season was the latest in Oregon State’s modern football history, and the first to start after September since opening the 1927 season against California-Davis on Oct. 1 the seven-game schedule is the fewest games the Beavers might play in a season since that 1927 campaign, when they went 3-3-1 OSU is now 16-5 in home openers since 2000 Oregon State has one Rogue Valley player on its roster: redshirt junior Bryce Bramscher, a tight end from St. Mary’s.

Washington State wide receiver Travell Harris (1) runs from Oregon State's Omar Speights (36), Simon Sandberg (96) and Isaac Hodgins (99) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Corvallis, Ore., Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Amanda Loman)