Luton injury latest blow to OSU
Reflections on Oregon State's loss at Washington State on Saturday, and the bye week ahead …
• OSU officials confirmed Sunday night that quarterback Jake Luton sustained a probable thoracic spine fracture when hit by WSU safety Jalen Thompson while sliding after a scramble in the fourth quarter.
OSU's medical staff is taking Luton's injury on a week-to-week basis, but it's possible he'll miss the rest of the season.
Shame of it is, Luton should not have been in the game at the time of injury. The Beavers were trailing 49-16.
"We're trying to win," was coach Gary Andersen's explanation afterward. "We're trying to play to get the offense better, to win football games. We have an offense that's sputtered trying to score points for a while here. If we can do anything to put them in a position to keep moving forward. …
"We have to keep pressing. Our starters played on defense to the very end for the most part, too. Where we are as a program right now, our kids need every rep they can get."
It's fine that the defensive starters were still playing. Luton is a different story. When the game is out of reach, he needs to be out of there to protect against potential injury. Tailback Ryan Nall, too. Those players are irreplaceable.
To be fair to Andersen, Mike Riley used to do the same thing with his starting quarterback with the game out of hand — with the Beavers far ahead, or far behind. Other coaches do it, too.
Makes no sense. Saturday's injury to Luton is evidence that the risk of injury isn't worth a few extra reps at the end of a blowout.
• The Beavers are on a bye week. With Luton out for at least the next game -- Sept. 30. against Washington -- Darell Garretson wiil be the starter. The 6-foot, 205-pound senior started the first six games before a season-ending ankle injury in 2016.
The backup will be sophomore Conor Blount, who played in four games as a true freshman before a season-ending knee injury.
Against WSU, Garretson ooked good in relief of Luton, going 2 for 2 passing — including a 10-yard touchdown to Seth Collins — and running three times for 15 yards.
But the OSU offense is better with Luton, who is a much more accurate thrower and showed he has good instincts scrambling out of trouble for the first time Saturday. Luton picked up 39 yards on six runs.
• Then there was Washington State coach Mike Leach, who lamented that he didn't leave his quarterback, Luke Falk, in the game to seek a school-record seventh touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.
Falk tied his own single-game record when he threw his sixth TD pass in the final minute of the third quarter. Falk played the first five plays of WSU's next possession, then gave way to backup Tyler Hilinski midway through the final period.
"Nobody bothered to tell me that, so I had no idea (Falk had tied the record)," Leach complained to reporters. "I probably would have let him get it. Maybe (I) would have put him in there … probably would have. Didn't know he was one shy."
Get it, or try to get it?
Actually, Falk had his chance, throwing two passes in the final drive with Wazzu ahead 49-23. But what kind of coach considers running up the score while trying to get his quarterback a record in garbage time?
Then there's the chance that Falk, who was knocked out of the game with a head injury the previous week against Boise State, might get injured again.
Leach wouldn't know class if it hit him on the rear end.
• It was good to see Collins on the football field again.
The junior receiver has had more than his share of obstacles over the past year, including the bout of meningitis that caused him to miss the last two games of the 2016 season and, he said, left him on his "death bed."
Collins recovered but then broke a finger during training camp and missed Oregon State's first three games this season. He made his season debut at Pullman, catching a team-high seven passes for 39 yards and a touchdown.
"Seth has been through a lot," Andersen says. "Whatever anybody thinks they know he went through, you don't know a quarter of it. It was a very hard time for that young man. He fought like crazy to get himself back in this position."
Andersen made Collins one of the game tri-captains along with Nall and linebacker Manase Hungalu.
"I'm proud of Seth," the third-year OSU coach says. "It was a great moment for him to be back on the field and overcome that whole situation. He deserved that."
• Kevin Clune's defensive game plan called for more blitz packages than he'd used in the first three games, when Oregon State totaled zero sacks. The Beavers sacked Falk three times and put a lot of hits on the Cougars' senior signal-caller.
"Our plan was to mix a lot of pressures and looks," Andersen says. "We had some three-man rushes that were effective for the most part. A couple of times, we got there with the all-out blitz. But there's not much more you do against a very experienced quarterback and an experienced line."
A blitz puts more pressure on OSU's defenders in pass coverage, but it's better than rushing three and allowing the opposing quarterback all kinds of time. Eventually, he's going to find a receiver open. It happened far too many times in the first three games.
The next two weeks, Clune gets to draw up a package to try to contain two more of the nation's premier quarterbacks — Washington's Jake Browning and Southern Cal's Sam Darnold. Way easier said than done.
• Late in the third quarter, with the Beavers trailing 35-16, they went for it on fourth-and-1 from the 35. They didn't get it — Nall was stuffed for no gain — but they were absolutely right to go for it.
What did they have to lose?
And really, you have to trust that your offensive line is going to get you enough push to gain one yard with one of the best power backs in the Pac-12.
It didn't happen, but it was the correct decision.
• On the other hand, a couple of OSU decisions at the end of the first half defy logic.
First, after punter Nick Porebski's mishandled snap gave Washington State the ball at the OSU 26 in the final minute, Wazzu had it third-and-goal at the 3. Cornerback Jay Irvine was called for pass interference, which gave the Cougars the ball first-and-goal at the 2. On the next play, Falk hit Isaiah Johnson-Mack for the touchdown with four seconds left.
But by then, OSU's cover guys should have been instructed to do anything — grab, hold, whatever — to the WSU defenders to prevent a catch. The worst that could happen was another P.I. call and another first-and-goal.
Then, the Beavers accepted an illegal substitution penalty on the ensuing kickoff. On the next kickoff, they took a touchback as time expired.
But if you're going to settle for a touchback, why accept the penalty? What harm could it do to run it out and see if magic might happen?