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BEAVER NOTES: OSU defense shines in new coordinator’s debut

CORVALLIS — It came early: Trent Bray’s first third-and-long as Oregon State’s defensive coordinator.

It was the first series of Stanford’s possession opening Saturday’s Pac-12 football game at Reser Stadium, and the Cardinal faced third-and-7 from their own 40. For the past several seasons, Oregon State has been hampered by its inability to get its defense off the field in those situations; this fall, the Beavers had been allowing opponents to convert third downs at a 52.8% clip, ranking them 127th out of 130 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

That was one reason OSU head coach Jonathan Smith relieved Tim Tibesar of the defensive coordinator duties last Sunday and named Bray the interim DC. Now it was Bray’s turn to face OSU’s demon.

Stanford quarterback Ari Patu, a freshman pressed into service due to an injury to starter Tanner McKee, looked for wide receiver Bryce Ferrell on the left side. Under pressure from OSU linebacker Avery Roberts, Patu threw incomplete.

And that early success, it turned out, was a sign of things to come, as the Beavers beat Stanford 35-14 to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2013. In its first game under Bray, Oregon State’s defense limited Stanford to 230 yards total offense, including 145 yards through three quarters.

The Beavers also had two interceptions and a fumble recovery and held the injury-hampered Cardinal offense to a 4-for-11 mark on third-down conversions.

“Better energy — 100 percent,” OSU linebacker Andrezj Hughes-Murray said of the difference in OSU’s defensive performance under Bray. “This week he talked about letting it rip, just going out and cutting loose and just playing. And that’s what we went out there and did.”

Smith agreed with that assessment.

“I thought they played with some energy, came out with the mindset they wanted to challenge things tonight,” Smith said. “That was kind of the talk throughout the week and I thought we did. We challenged receivers, we got around the quarterback. And that style of play, we’ve done it this season at times. We created some takeaways, that was a huge thing.”

ON THE MOVE: As Oregon State developed one of the nation’s most productive rushing offenses in the first half of the season, opponents chose to load up their defenses against the run and make the Beavers show they could also move the ball through the air.

In OSU’s losses to California and Colorado the past two weeks, Nolan was a combined 35-for-64 for 498 yards and three touchdowns but was also picked off three times and missed on a number of throws to open receivers.

Against Stanford, Nolan was 19-for-25 for 257 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. That came after OSU’s 75-yard, 16-play opening drive included 12 running plays for 62 yards, capped by Nolan’s 4-yard quarterback draw for a score, which created aerial opportunities against the Cardinal defense.

“When the O-line and the tight ends are blocking their butt off and you do a fake, the linebackers are going to come down and we just had openings for receivers and tight ends,” OSU running back B.J. Baylor said. “That’s what it was. Just having a good running game helped the passing game.”

Baylor rushed for 80 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries, giving him 1,050 yards for the season. For the junior who waited his turn behind Artavis Pierce and Jermar Jefferson to become the OSU starter, it was a sweet moment — and one he shared.

“It feels good,” Baylor said. “But I couldn’t have done it without the O-line and the other positions on the field that are blocking for me so I thank them a lot. But yeah, it feels good.”

LET’S GET STARTED: Over the past five games — and the most recent two games in particular — Oregon State got off to slow starts and found itself playing from behind. In the five-game span, the Beavers had been outscored 41-7 in the first quarter and in the last two games OSU trailed California and Colorado 10-0 at the end of the first period.

On Saturday, Oregon State asserted itself from the outset. After holding Stanford without a first down to start the game, OSU drove 75 yards in 16 plays to take a 7-0 lead.

“I thought the first stop defensively — this crowd was definitely into it, then getting the early score so the crowd had some energy throughout,” Smith said. “Then you play with the lead and it was tight all the way through the first half, so that’s where I go back to the score at the end of the first half and then come back with another one. I thought those pieces were really big.”

Holding penalties stymied the Beavers’ next two possessions, but Oregon State closed the first half with a 63-yard, 10-play drive take a 14-0 lead t the break. OSU then took the second-half kickoff and quickly got a 67-yard pass from Nolan to Trevon Bradford to make it 21-0.

“I think the end of the half was really important because we were kind of sputtering, so it was nice to get in for that score right at the end,” OSU tight end Teagan Quitoriano said. “Then you always want to come out in the beginning of the half and start fast, like we did especially. I think that was big for us, both of those.”

HOME COOKING: Oregon State continued to use Reser Stadium to its advantage, as the Beavers’ victory ran their home record to 5-0 this season. Smith and the Beavers appreciated the boost from the crowd of 35,129.

“They’ve been through a lot and continued to support and come out to the games,” Smith said. “We’ve had some ups and downs since I’ve been here and there’s a lot of work going on. I’ve always felt this was a fan base that was loyal and supportive to be here rain or shine, so we really appreciate them.”

OSU wraps up its home schedule Saturday against Arizona State. With a win, the Beavers would complete their first unbeaten home season since going 6-0 at Reser Stadium in the Fiesta Bowl season of 2000.

EXTRA POINTS: Oregon State ended an 11-game losing streak against Stanford; the Beavers had last beaten the Cardinal in 2009. Stanford now leads the all-time series 59-26-3, including a 23-14-1 record in games in Corvallis … Baylor’s 1,000-yard season is the 17th ever by an Oregon State ballcarrier. Baylor joins eight other Beavers who have rushed for 1,000 yards in a season: Pete Piffer (1965-66), Medford High grad Bill Enyart (1968), Dave Schilling (1970), Ken Simonton (1998-99-2000), Steven Jackson (2002-03), Yvenson Bernard (2005-06-07), Jacquizz Rodgers (2008-09-10) and Jefferson (2018).

Stanford quarterback Ari Patu (11) is brought down by Oregon State defensive linesman Keonte Schad (32) during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021, in Corvallis, Ore. Oregon State won 35-14. (AP Photo/Amanda Loman)