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Beaver notes: Optimism abounds at OSU

CORVALLIS — For an Oregon State football team that showed signs of growth during the 2020 season, finishing with a 2-5 record after Saturday night’s wet, windy 46-33 Pac-12 loss to Arizona State at Reser Stadium was disappointing, to say the least. In three of those losses, OSU had the ball with a chance to win in the final minutes.

“Last year we were competitive in a lot of games but this was really the first year every single game has gone down to the wire pretty much,” said Jack Colletto, the Beaver linebacker who doubles as a short-yardage quarterback. “Two-and-five, although that’s our record right now and it sucks that that’s our record, it could have easily been three more wins if we had just been able to change a few plays.

“That’s the positive thing — we’re so close and if we can put together a really good offseason and come ready to play next year I think the results are going to be a lot different.”

If a 2-5 mark — with wins over preseason Northern Division favorites Oregon and California — wasn’t satisfying, going 7-for-7 was.

Oregon State was the only Pac-12 team to make it through the pandemic-altered season without having a game cancelled; the only change to the Beavers’ schedule was having their game against Stanford moved from Stanford to OSU. The only other conference team to play a full seven-game schedule was UCLA, but the Bruins had a game against Utah cancelled and replaced with a game against California in the season’s second week.

“I’d say we’re blessed to be able to play all seven games, to have seven opportunities to go out there and compete,” OSU quarterback Chance Nolan said. “I think ASU only played three games before us. That was a blessing just to be able to get out there. A lot of guys got a lot of experience. I got experience, a bunch of young players got big-time minutes. It’s been good, you can see them grow as players and take this thing to the next level next year.”

Besides getting on-the-field time, there was a lot for players to take from the season.

“Definitely just dealing with adversity and uncertainty,” Colletto said. “That’s definitely a big thing I’ve tried to focus on this offseason is just trying to grow as an individual, focus a lot on personal growth and all that stuff. And I think a lot of that has definitely helped me through these times.

“People opting out for COVID reasons, sometimes not even knowing if you’re going to play because of all the COVID issues going on — I think that says a lot about the people in the locker room right now and everything they’ve done. They just kept fighting and kept pushing for the love of the game, honestly. And I just appreciate everybody in that locker room.”

The 2020 season presented unique challenges.

“You’re waking up at 6:30 every morning to go get tested for coronavirus — there’s just a lot of things that go into it,” Nolan said. “Not being able to see as many people around town or just not being able to go out and have the whole experience of college. This is my first year of being in college and the whole experience of no fans — it’s a little different, but it’s still football. You get out there and have 11 players on the field and it’s football.”

OSU head coach Jonathan Smith was asked how close the Beavers might be to turning the corner and having their first winning season since 2013.

“I think we’re close, we are,” Smith said. “But I know every season is new. We’re going to have to go back to work. These guys deserve a deep breath, spend some time with family, get into the holiday season and take a few weeks off here.

“But I’m really confident with the culture we’ve created around here that we’re ready to go back to work in late January, early February, get ready for spring ball. We go back and work this way, I’m pretty optimistic about the next season and what we can do.”

COSTLY MISTAKES: Oregon State put itself in a hole with costly turnovers, blown assignments and penalties that helped Arizona State to six of its seven touchdowns. There was a fumble that killed a drive and the next play turned into a 63-yard scoring pass when a defensive back fell down, an interception thrown into double coverage that ended a drive and ASU then converted into a touchdown, a blocked punt that set up a score, a botched fake punt that set up another, penalties for pass interference and a personal foul on third-down incompletions near the OSU goal line that could have forced field goal attempts

What happened?

“I think the elements a little bit,” Smith said. “We had a couple players down that we had some guys who hadn’t played as much. I think any time you’re going to take some chances in a poor-weather game it could go that way.

“And when you say sloppy, I’m thinking about the turnovers and we had a couple busted, missed assignments defensively where they’re ripping off 50-yard runs, I go back again to we’ve got some other guys running out there, missing a few people.”

Oregon State was without a number of key players Saturday night. Starting wide receivers Trevon Bradford and Champ Flemings were out due to injury and another starter, Kolby Taylor, had medically retired during the week.

On the other side of the ball, linebacker Avery Roberts, Oregon State’s leading tackler, was out after breaking his arm in last week’s game; starting cornerback Nashon Wright and his backup and younger brother, Rejzohn Wright, were also both out with injuries.

RUSH JOB: When OSU got back within 26-15 by halftime and would get the ball to start the third quarter, it looked like the Beavers were set for the type of comeback they pulled off in four previous games this season. After falling far behind in the first half against Washington State, Washington, California and Oregon, OSU rallied into position to have a chance to win and a big part of that was improving its defense after halftime.

Saturday night, though, Arizona State continued running through and around Oregon State after intermission on the way to 375 yards rushing.

“I think they definitely did a good job mixing things up and doing some things we didn’t necessarily expect,” Colletto said. “The tight ends were down, they started spreading things out a little more and keeping us off-balance. You just have to tip your hat to them — it definitely gives us a lot to learn from watching the tape.”

COLLETTO CRUISES: Continuing as Oregon State’s short-yardage quarterback, Colletto carried for 44 yards and two touchdowns on six carries. A week ago against Stanford he had 32 yards on four carries and the week before that a 40-yard run against Utah.

“He brings an energy to our offense,” Smith said. “We feel confident. When he starts running on the field, I know the O-line is excited about it. I thought we did a good job expanding that package so we’re not running the same play over and over, we’ve got different things to throw at them.”

Before the season, Colletto talked with Smith about continuing the role he’s had the past two seasons.

“I definitely like being on the field a lot more than I like watching the game and I told him I’m willing to do whatever I can to help the team,” Colletto said. “When I was playing quarterback, it was an effective package, so we just stuck with it and expanded it a little bit. I’m bigger and stronger and it’s been a very successful package these past few weeks.”

The Beavers have also added a running threat from the quarterback spot in Nolan. He rushed for 60 yards on eight carries against ASU; some of those were scrambles and some designed plays.

CHANGING WEATHER: Arizona State has gotten an interesting draw over the years when it comes to the scheduling of its games at Oregon State — one that has generally favored the Beavers. Since 2006, ASU has played in Corvallis eight times; only one of those came before November 1, heightening the chance the team from the desert would find rain or cold or both in the Pacific Northwest.

What’s more, four of those games kicked off at around 7:30 p.m. and another at 4:30 p.m. in temperatures ranging from 34 degrees to 59 degrees at kickoff. Until Saturday night, Oregon State had a 4-0 record in those late-season, late-starting games. The Sun Devils flipped the script Saturday night, though, adapting to the conditions to outgain the Beavers 514-474 in total yards.

ODDS AND ENDS: Saturday could have been the final home game for 13 Oregon State seniors; however, the NCAA has said this year does not count against any player’s eligibility so all could return. Smith said the coaching staff has started discussing future plans with those seniors and that will continue in the next few days Jermar Jefferson ran for 103 yards on 24 carries; it was the 15th 100-yard game of his career, fifth-most in OSU history. He now has 2,923 career rushing yards, also good for fifth place on the Beavers’ all-time list freshman quarterback Ben Gulbranson got his first action when he went in for the Beavers’ final possession. Gulbranson completed 6 of 9 passes for 64 yards on a 72-yard drive that ended with freshman Zeriah Beason making an outstanding catch in the back right corner of the end zone to complete a 16-yard touchdown pass on the game’s final play Arizona State now leads the all-time series 30-14-1 but it was only the Sun Devils’ third win in their last 10 trips to Corvallis the Dec. 19 game was not only the latest finish to a regular season in OSU history, it was also later than the 1962 Liberty Bowl, a 6-0 Beaver win over Villanova in Philadelphia that was played on Dec. 15.