Beavers circle the wagons after opener
FORT COLLINS, Colorado — The Beaver cavalry went down in a heap on a frightfully hot and humid Saturday afternoon at Fort Collins.
But it didn't have to happen.
Oregon State could have been right there with Colorado State instead of on the bad end of a 58-27 pounding.
OSU linebacker Manase Hungalu was wrong when he told reporters that Colorado State's offense isn't of Pac-12 caliber. It is. The Rams will score a lot of points this season — maybe even when they invade Tuscaloosa to square off with No. 1-ranked Alabama on Sept. 16.
Even so, the Beavers traded blows through a competitive first half and should have gone into intermission tied at 24-24, if not for a questionable call that erased a touchdown and left the visitors trailing 24-20.
But the dike sprung a leak in the third quarter, and once the OSU defense took on water, it collapsed. It was a frightening sight to Beaver Nation to see its team wilt and get outscored 24-0 in the fourth quarter.
Colorado State's pass defense was vulnerable on Saturday. The Beavers had all sorts of open receivers in the first half, and since the Rams were keying on the run game, offensive coordinator Kevin McGiven chose to go to the air often.
Quarterback Jake Luton — in his first start for the Beavers after a transfer from Ventura (California) JC — overthrew a wide-open Isaiah Hodgins deep on the first offensive series in what could have been a 72-yard scoring play.
But Luton threw a lot of good balls, completing 18 of 31 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions in the first half.
Yeah, Luton served up three picks in the second half. The first one came when he threw behind Hodgins. A tipped ball went to CSU linebacker Tre Thomas, who went 44 yards for a touchdown. The second interception came on another deep ball after receiver Timmy Hernandez slipped and fell.
Those things happen. Luton — who finished 27 of 47 for 304 yards — is going to be fine.
So will OSU's run game, though the burden is on the offensive line to open more holes for the likes of Ryan Nall, Artavis Pierce and Thomas Tyner.
Tight end Noah Togiai is going to have a big season, and though the receiver contingent took coach Gary Andersen's wrath after Saturday's game — "It felt like we slowed our play at receiver the second half. It made it harder to throw the ball," he said — there are enough serviceable targets.
The defense is another story. Colorado State manhandled OSU's defensive front, especially as things went sideways in the second half. Coverage mix-ups left Ram receivers wide open an embarrassing number of times. Those things shouldn't happen.
The Beavers got little pressure on CSU quarterback Nick Stevens, who was never sacked. That's been the case all too often during the Andersen era. Defensive coordinator Kevin Clune is going to have to find a way to increase the pressure with a mixture of blitz packages from different areas. If the opposing QB has all day to throw, it's always going to create problems for the Beaver D.
Oregon State's self-inflicted wounds included five turnovers, a number that will almost always spell defeat.
"Too many drive-killers," Luton said afterward. "We showed we can move the ball at will when we're clicking, when we're executing the right way. We beat ourselves too many times on drives. We can't put the defense in that position."
Some fans will give up on the Beavers after the humbling beat-down at Fort Collins. That would be a mistake. Washington State opened its 2015 and '16 seasons with losses to FCS opponents Portland State and Eastern Washington. The Cougars went on to post seasons of 9-4 and 8-5.
The Beavers will circle the wagons. There is plenty of resolve in Andersen's coaching quarters and in the OSU locker room.
Sunday was a day off for the Oregon State players. Hungalu called a meeting of the defensive side to convene and watch game video. That's a positive sign that the players are owning up.
The Beavers will pick up the pieces and get ready for next Saturday's home opener against Portland State, which showed its defensive chops in a 20-6 opening loss at Brigham Young.
There is plenty of time to get better. One game does not make a season, which is a decidedly good thing for the men in Orange and Black.