Year Three of the Jonathan Smith era at Oregon State begins with promise as the Beavers come off a five-win season, their best since 2014.
For 2020, the recent script has been flipped: It is OSU’s defense that could be leading the way. What was one of the country’s worst defenses during Smith’s inaugural season in Corvallis should have some teeth. It has the Beavers feeling they’re on the verge of a bowl berth for the first time since defeating Boise State in the 2013 Hawaii Bowl.
It’s far from a given, however. The Beavers must retool an offensive line that lost three veterans, including four-year starters Blake Brandel and Gus Lavaka. They’ll also break in a new quarterback after Jake Luton’s graduation.
Previewing Oregon State's Offense for 2020
It will take some doing for Oregon State to match its offense of 2019, which set program records for yards per play (6.0) and fewest turnovers (six).
Spring football was supposed to reveal answers at quarterback, but OSU managed only four practices due to the coronavirus outbreak. The coaches had hoped to get a long look at junior college transfer Chance Nolan, a dual-threat type who is battling redshirt junior Tristan Gebbia for the starting job.
Gebbia has a leg up heading into preseason camp, as he begins his third year in OSU’s offensive system. Nolan, who ran for 1,069 yards at Saddleback JC last year, must make a quick impression in August to bypass Gebbia.
Regardless of who plays quarterback, the Beavers’ offense revolves around junior running back Jermar Jefferson. He ran for a freshman school-record 1,380 yards in 2018, but injuries kept him from hitting his stride last season. Smith wants to turn Jefferson loose as a runner and receiver in 2020.
Oregon State’s passing game will miss Isaiah Hodgins, who declared early for the NFL Draft after amassing 13 touchdown catches and 1,171 receiving yards in 2019. But Beaver receivers, while on the small side, should be impactful. Redshirt senior Trevon Bradford, who missed most of 2019 with a foot injury, had a 56-catch, 649-yard season two years ago. Redshirt junior Tyjon Lindsey, a four-star recruit who transferred from Nebraska in 2018, adds versatility with the ability to run fly sweeps.
The Beavers are likely to use more two-tight end sets in 2020, with junior Teagan Quitoriano and redshirt freshman Luke Musgrave. Quitoriano is a two-year starter who has mostly been used as a blocker, but his receiving skills began to emerge late in 2019.
The offensive line looks different than a year ago, though it’s not without experience. Redshirt junior Brandon Kipper, who started 12 games at right tackle in 2019, moves to the left side. Center Nous Keobounnam is likely to slide over to right guard, while Nathan Eldridge, who started for two years at Arizona, is the probable center.
Previewing Oregon State's Defense for 2020
Oregon State took a step forward in Year Two under defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar. The Beavers appear capable of another one in 2020, perhaps inching toward the upper half of Pac-12 defenses because of returning star power and emerging depth.
The defense’s centerpiece is redshirt senior Hamilcar Rashed Jr., the outside linebacker who set OSU season records for sacks (14) and tackles for a loss (22.5) in 2019. Rashed broke his thumb with two games left in the season but still found a spot on the coaches’ All-Pac-12 second team. The 6'4", 238-pound Rashed is the leader of a deep outside linebacker room that includes Oklahoma transfer Addison Gumbs.
Oregon State’s inside linebacking crew is nearly as strong. Sophomore Omar Speights had a spectacular rookie year with 73 tackles, third among all freshmen nationally. Redshirt junior Avery Roberts, a Nebraska transfer, had a team-high 83 tackles in 2019. The Beavers are looking for big things from Jack Colletto, who also plays short-yardage and goal-line quarterback for the Beavers.
Up front, Oregon State has questions but is gaining talent. The Beavers are hopeful that redshirt senior Jordan Whittley can bounce back from nagging injuries a year ago. A juco transfer in 2019, the 325-pound Whittley was a run-stopping force and someone who could push the pocket on occasion. Junior Isaac Hodgins has started 23 of 24 games at defensive end.
Oregon State’s secondary could be formidable if a few of the offseason signees contribute. There is returning talent, including redshirt juniors David Morris, who has 14 career starts at safety, and Jaydon Grant, son of former NBA star Brian Grant. Junior cornerback Nahshon Wright had a team-high three interceptions last season.
Related: Ranking the Pac-12 Coaches for 2020
Previewing Oregon State's Specialists for 2020
The kicking game has some experience. Sophomore Everett Hayes serves as the placekicker after taking over that job late last season. Senior Caleb Lightbourn, Nebraska’s regular punter for three seasons before transferring in 2019, is expected take over for departing three-year punter Daniel Rodriguez.
With a defense that should keep them in most games, the Beavers’ bowl fate depends on the quarterback position. With 30 scholarship juniors, this is becoming a veteran team, one capable of advancing to the postseason either in 2020 or 2021.