Can Oregon State football survive this difficult stretch? Veterans hope to make the difference
Oregon State has lost consecutive games to USC and Utah. Suddenly a 3-0 season is 3-2 and the Beavers are reeling.
Is this the start of a slide, or a hiccup in what might be a breakout season?
Much of it depends on belief. Not from fans. From the team.
A couple losses, fueled by eight interceptions that provided the bulk of the opponent’s points in losses to USC and Utah, can begin to tear apart a locker room. There’s no more important period for a team’s leadership than difficult times.
And this is a difficult time for Oregon State. Could this season spiral into something forgettable, or is a rebound back to good times just a win away at Stanford this Saturday?
“This is different than previous years, because our expectations are higher,” OSU coach Jonathan Smith said. “These losses mean something.”
Oregon State’s roster makeup favors the Beavers weathering this storm.
There are few teams in the Pac-12 with more longevity in one program than OSU. Of the 22 projected starters, not one comes from the transfer portal during the past year. The Beavers are a veteran-laden team that relies heavily on juniors and seniors, players who have been in the program three, four and five years. And in the case of safety Jaydon Grant, seven years.
Oregon State’s defensive starting lineup has a combined 51 years in the program. Every starter has been in the program at least three years. Isaac Hodgins, John McCartan, Riley Sharp, Kitan Oladapo and Grant have been at OSU at least five years.
The offense is almost as veteran, with the starting unit owning a combined 40 years at Oregon State. The only starter with fewer than three years at OSU is running back Deshaun Fenwick.
There are many veterans backing up the starters, too. Point is, the majority of Oregon State’s roster has spent several years together. On the practice field. In the weight and locker room. In the dining room. On planes, trains and automobiles.
They know one another. They also know enough not to blame each other.
“We can be pissed all we want, but man to man, be pissed at yourself, for your individual effort and your individual performance,” Grant said after Saturday’s loss at Utah. “That’s the only thing you can change. Go back home, watch the film, watch yourself. Be a critic, come back tomorrow and be ready to work.”
That’s the culture Oregon State has built under Smith. The program is bigger than one individual. Things begin to break apart when players stop listening and interacting with teammates and coaches.
Offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren said his experience with fractured teams comes from players who aren’t playing a lot, or not having a lot of success, who then start hearing about it from family or the media.
“I feel like our culture is very strong. From coaches to players, there’s a trust in each other. A lot of the players understand, we’ve got to stick to the process,” Lindgren said.
Kyle White, an Oregon State cornerback who played in 2016-17, has experience from a locker room that cratered from adversity. White said on OregonLive’s “Beaver Banter” podcast that if the 2022 Beavers continue to have “positive morale and are able to be humble,” they’ll get through this.
“That’s the difference between this team and some of our past teams. We just put each other down, whereas this team understands it,” White said. “Jaydon … he’s seen the biggest negatives to the highest points we’ve had in a long time. He’s the person, on top of so many others, that can help bring this team together.”
Smith said when the Beavers gathered Sunday, he saw a team ready to shelve the Utah loss and proceed to Saturday night’s game at Stanford.
“The way I saw them operate Sunday, even in the locker room, they know we’re going to win and lose as a team,” Smith said.
Receiver Silas Bolden said the key to Smith’s program is that he’s built a player-led team. The leaders – and there are many on the 2022 Beavers — get in front of issues before they become problems. Many of current players were at Oregon State in 2018, 2019 and 2020 when Smith’s program was learning how to win.
“There’s an urgency to not feel that way again,” offensive tackle Joshua Gray said. “The veteran part helps because we’ve been through it, and we don’t want to go back there.”
The experiences have provided resiliency to these Beavers, so they don’t overreact to one loss, or even a big win.
“Until you tell us our goals are impossible, our goals are staying the same,” Grant said. “One bad loss, one bad performance, we’re not questioning the type of team we are. We know who we are.”
— Nick Daschel reported from Corvallis.