Cal (0-1) is trying to find out all it can about Oregon State, which is 0-2 and will host the Golden Bears in a 12:30 p.m. game on Saturday.
Nick Daschel covers the Beavers for the Oregonian, and we posed five questions about Oregon State's football team to Nick, who was kind enough to answer them.
Here are Nick's responses to our questions:
In your estimation, how good is running back Jermar Jefferson, who is averaging 126.5 yards per game this season?
Jefferson is on a short list for Pac-12 offensive player of the year honors, even though he probably won’t get it because of OSU’s record. Jefferson is the best thing going for the Beaver offense. He looks faster and stronger than his previous two seasons. Both games, it’s taken a couple plays for him to get going. But from there, he routinely rips off gains of 5 to 15 yards most of the time. It seems only a matter of time before Jefferson adds another 200-yard game to his college resume.
How much of a dropoff has there been at quarterback from Jake Luton, who started the past two games for the Jacksonville Jaguars as a rookie, to current starter Tristan Gebbia?
So far, significant. But it’s early. Luton had a big arm, though he didn’t have a burner who could get downfield to routinely make the 40- and 50-yard play. Luton also had Isaiah Hodgins, the best quarterback-receiver tandem OSU has had since Brandin Cooks-Sean Mannion. Whenever OSU needed a play, Luton-to-Hodgins was the go-to move. Gebbia, five inches shorter than Luton and not quite as strong-armed, doesn’t have a Hodgins, at least yet. He’s also working behind an offensive line that lost three senior starters, including two four-year starters on the left side. Gebbia threw for more than 300 yards against Washington State, then only 85 against Washington. It’s too early to write off Gebbia; he’s a noted gym rat who more than puts in the work. But he’ll need to make people forget about the Washington performance, perhaps as soon as Saturday.
Linebacker Hamilcar Rashed Jr. was an AP preseason first-team All-American after having 22.5 tackles for loss and 14 sacks last year, but has no tackles for loss through two games this season. Is there a reason for his slow start?
The most obvious is opponent game planning. Rashed wasn’t even in the starting lineup a year ago for the opener, but he’s no secret now. Teams are running away from Rashed and using extra blockers to ward him off. Some of it is also scheme/opportunities. Washington State uses a quick passing game, so sacks are at a premium against the Cougars. Washington ran the ball like it was running the wishbone. It’s too early to say Rashed is struggling. A year ago, he had a one tackle for loss and no sacks collectively against UW and WSU. But if that’s the reason, Rashed had better get it done this Saturday. A year ago, he had three sacks and four tackles for loss against the Bears..
Who are the standouts on Oregon State’s defense, and how well has the defense performed in the first two games?
Aside from Rashed, watch for defensive end Isaac Hodgins, inside linebacker Avery Roberts and safety/nickel Jaydon Grant. Hodgins, brother of Buffalo Bills’ receiver Isaiah Hodgins, has started all 26 games of his three-year OSU career. Hodgins is among the team’s leading tacklers, and so has been OSU’s best at wreaking havoc in the backfield. Roberts had a stellar performance against Washington, making 15 tackles, including 12 solo jobs. Roberts and sophomore Omar Speights are among the best inside linebacker duos in the conference. Grant, son of former NBA star Brian Grant, is a former walk-on who has become a playmaker. He has the team’s lone interception, and against Washington, had a scoop and score special teams touchdown.
Does Jonathan Smith have the team headed in the right direction, and do you see the Beavers contending for a Pac-12 title anytime soon?
It depends on your perspective. If you’re of the mind that Oregon State has uphill challenges because of history, resources and that 13-ton elephant 40 miles south of Corvallis, then you’d have to say he’s making significant progress. The most noticeable thing about Smith’s teams is their fight and competitiveness. Even when the game gets one-sided they don’t quit. The talent is slowly getting better, particularly through the transfer portal. What does that mean? Oregon State is going to be in most games. Whether they have enough elite talent to finish the job will be the issue, particularly against high-end teams. Now, if you’re of the mind that any Pac-12 team can become a champion, then you’re likely to be disappointed. Could Smith win a Pac-12 title someday at OSU? Sure. He’s a good coach and has a solid staff around him. But at some point, the lack of 4- and 5-star recruits means something. The Beavers don’t have many. Oregon, USC and others have a bunch.
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