There is a window for Oregon State going into the 2022 season. Are the beavers able to climb through and benefit?
The Pac-12 North is in chaos. Washington, Oregon and Washington State have new head coaches. Stanford isn’t the program it used to be. California hasn’t even shared a conference or division title since 2006.
Oregon State has momentum, coming into the bowl for the first time in eight years. The Beavers appear stable under fifth-year head coach Jonathan Smith. If defense improves under new coordinator Trent Bray and the Beavers get the quarterback right, OSU will become a prominent player in the Pac-12 North.
The courage of an offense that ranked in the top 5 in the conference for rushing, total offense and scoring offense is back. Defense has a new attitude, promising pass rushers and depth in the secondary. There’s trust and consistency, as five of the 10 assistant coaches have been with the team since Smith took control of the Beavers program in 2018.
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Oregon State Offensive Preview for 2022
Though Smith didn’t name a starting quarterback in the spring, Chance Nolan is the likeliest candidate. The fifth-year junior started in 12 games in the 2021 season and rushed for 2,677 yards and 19 touchdowns. What sets Nolan apart from others on the list is his dual threat ability. Able to extend plays with his legs and the occasional run when called upon, Nolan had 286 yards and three points last season.
Senior Tristan Gebbia, who hasn’t played since his hamstring injury against Oregon in November 2020, and redshirt freshman Ben Gulbranson, who was out last season after shoulder surgery, could propel Nolan forward with a strong preseason camp.
The strength of OSU’s offense is its running game. Despite losing first-team All-Pac-12 running back BJ Baylor, the Beavers find themselves deep in the backfield. Deshaun Fenwick rushed for 448 yards and averaged 5.7 yards per carry last season, while Trey Lowe caught 23 passes as third down back. But it’s the additions at running back that’s got Beaver fans talking, especially newcomer Damien Martinez. The 6’0″ tall, 228-pound Texas native looked like Oregon State’s next star running back during spring training after graduating early from high school.
“This boy is a stallion. He was in the whole movie all spring and did great acting,” says Nolan.
The Beavers’ offensive line, one of the Pac-12’s best a year ago, should be impressive again. Brandon Kipper, who has started at right tackle for three years, moves inside to right guard, who is replaced in tackle by Taliese Fuaga. At 6ft 6in and about 330lbs each, the Beavers have a mountain on the right. The left touchline brings back a pair with starting tackle experience against Joshua Gray and guard Marco Brewer.
Leading the receiving corps are junior tight end Luke Musgrave and senior receiver Tre’Shaun Harrison, who finished second on the team in receiving and receiving yards a year ago.
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“If everyone makes a step in their game, I think we could be good,” Smith said of offense.
Oregon State Defense Preview for 2022
Oregon State is restructuring its defense under Bray, who will transition from inside linebackers coach to defensive coordinator in 2022. The energetic Bray isn’t married to the Beavers’ earlier 3-4 pattern as he will mix forward looks and try to put pressure on the quarterback.
“He’s been here for a couple of years and the connection he had with the players, knowing his energy and competitiveness was one of the reasons we hired him,” says Smith.
The Beavers are noticeably better around the edges, with Florida junior John McCartan and Andrew Chatfield Jr. leading the way. The OSU defensive line, which includes starter Simon Sandberg two years older, is hoping to get a boost with the return of Isaac Hodgins. As a three-year starter, Hodgins missed the 2021 season with a broken foot.
Where OSU could see a significant upgrade was in their second division, where they added a second assistant coach in Anthony Perkins during the offseason. The Beavers improved in passing coverage during spring training. They’ll need a boost as OSU had one of the worst pass defenses of the conference in 2021.
The Beavers return to their cornerbacks with Alex Austin and senior Rejzohn Wright. Also back is Nickel’s Jaydon Grant, who is entering his seventh year of college at 28 starts.
Leading Oregon State’s defense is junior inside linebacker Omar Speights, a two-year starter who had 89 tackles last season.
See also: Pac-12 Football Predictions for 2022
Oregon State Specialists preview for 2022
The Beavers are in good shape here as punter Luke Loecher and placekicker Everett Hayes return from solid seasons. Loecher averaged 47.1 yards per punt, which would have ranked in the top 10 nationally, but he did not qualify with 31 punts in 13 games. OSU opponents rarely did much with kickoffs, as Hayes had 52 touchbacks on 74 kickoff attempts. The Beavers will have new faces among their kick and punt returns, with jobs likely to be split between speedsters Anthony Gould and Jesiah Irish.
If Oregon State gets the QB right, this offense could be just as productive as it was a year ago. The Beavers’ defense has the staff to increase their big-play ability. At the very least, expectations are of a return to the bowl scene. If OSU gets the season off to a fast start — not a given since it hasn’t won an opener since 2015 — the momentum could lead to a Pac-12 North title run.
National ranking: 46
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