BY MARK HARRIS via Oregon Sports News
Jonathan Smith led Oregon State to its best year ever in 2000 and capped off the Beavers’ storybook season with a 41-9 Fiesta Bowl victory over Notre Dame, and yet he is making his biggest impact on the program from the sidelines.
In year two of the Smith coaching regime, OSU is overachieving preseason expectations and it is mainly because the Beavers’ former quarterback is the right guy for the job.
The 5-5 Beavers are the surprise of the Pac-12 conference this season and are currently second in the Pac-12 North with a 4-3 conference record, a significant improvement from the 2018 team that went 2-10 in Smith’s first year in charge. That is a huge step forward for a program that had to pick up the pieces after the disastrous Gary Andersen era.
After suffering non-conference losses to Oklahoma State and Hawaii to open the 2019 campaign, Smith and the Beavers have flipped the script with wins over UCLA, Cal, Arizona, and Arizona State.
OSU now just needs to win one more game to go bowling for the first time since 2013. Winning the Civil War will be a tall order, but a road matchup against the Washington State Cougars on Saturday could be an opportunity for OSU to capture the elusive sixth win.
The Cougars are favored by 10.5 points, so an OSU win is certainly not to be expected, but the fact that OSU is even playing for something other than pride this far in the season illustrates what a great job Smith has done so far.
Andersen didn’t exactly leave the program chock-full of elite talent, and yet OSU has a 3-1 road record and the sixth-best scoring offense in the league. That is a sign Smith’s coaching is working.
Smith has quarterback Jake Luton playing the best football of his college career. The sixth-year senior is completing 62.9 % of his throws to go with 2,306 passing yards, 23 touchdowns, and two interceptions.
Since Smith is a former quarterback, he will be labeled a “Quarterback Whisperer,” but the entire OSU offense has flourished under his command. Senior running back Artavis Pierce averages 5.9 yards a carry and has rushed for 790 yards and six scores, while receiver Isaiah Hodgins has torched opposing defenses with 73 receptions, 1,021 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns.
The defense is still a work in progress and games against Utah and Washington exposed the Beavers’ personnel gap with the best teams in the conference, but Smith has led OSU to a .500 mark even with those limitations.
Four new football coaches were hired by Pac-12 schools after the 2017 season, and while the high-profile picks of Chip Kelly, Herm Edwards, and Kevin Sumlin stole all the headlines, it appears Smith may have been the best choice of the bunch.
Sumlin and Kelly have both had rocky starts to their new positions and Edwards has mostly maintained ASU at its previous level, but Smith is the only one to tangibly elevate his program.
He clearly knows how to coach offense and put his players in the best position to succeed. If you need any more proof of that, just look at how well the Washington Huskies’ offense has performed since Smith left as offensive coordinator.
Smith is building a solid foundation in Corvallis, something that has not been done since the early days of Mike Riley.