By 750 THE GAME STAFF
The idea of Ben Gulbranson winning Oregon State’s quarterback competition this fall is not exciting in the minds of most Beavers fans.
This was supposed to be DJ Uiagalelei’s big chance to redeem his collegiate career after the former five-star recruit had an up-and-down three seasons at Clemson that ultimately led to his decision to transfer to Oregon State last December.
In Corvallis, DJ knows his skill set will be better amplified by the coaching staff. But head coach Jonathan Smith says his program’s scheme is much more demanding on a quarterback than a typical college offense.
“I obviously don’t know everybody, but from what I heard he experienced at Clemson, we ask quite a bit more,” Smith said in a recent piece by ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg. “Protection, snap count, change the snap count, call the play in the huddle, there’s a lot of mechanics that go into that. We’re not trying to make things complicated. There’s strategy behind it.”
That is where Gulbranson has the edge, at least right now. The returning junior went 7-1 as a starting quarterback last season after Chance Nolan was injured in week five at Utah and did not return to the team. Gulbranson’s experience in running the offense in the way Smith describes gives him a leg up in the competition.
Because of that, Pac-12 Network analyst Nigel Burton said Gulbranson shoudl be firmly in the mix for OSU’s starting QB competition.
“I would not completely write off Ben Gulbranson, I’m telling you,” Burton told John Canzano on 750 The Game. “Listen, the guy went 7-1 as a starter at Oregon State last year. He knows the system better than DJ does. He obviously doesn’t have the physical tools, necessarily, but he throws a good football and he can win at that level. So they know they have that ace in that hole.”
In ten games last season Gulbranson completed 62.4% of his passes with 9 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. His best statistical performances came in consecutive wins in November against Cal and at Arizona State where he went a combined 30-for-44 passing for 325 yards, 3 touchdowns and no picks.
Oregon State’s offense is driven by its running game, led by a strong offensive line unit that returns All-Conference tackles Joshua Gray and Taliese Fuaga, and reigning Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year Damien Martinez at running back. Deshawn Fenwick, Jam Griffin and Isaiah Newell all return behind Martinez and will see significant action in the backfield this fall.
Burton says opposing defenses will not be caught off guard by Oregon State’s run game this year, and as a result, the Beavs receivers will need to step up.
“If I’m coaching against Oregon State, I’m going to load the box, stop Damien Martinez, slow down Jam Griffin, and see the guys who are left — the Anthony Goulds, the Silas Boldens… can they win games for you?”
Gulbranson’s ability to see the game at the line of scrimmage could help Oregon State’s rushing attack stay one step ahead of defenses already keying on their strength.
That said, Smith told ESPN that Oregon State’s passing game has to take a step forward, and is one of the reasons it’s an open competition at quarterback.
“We need to throw the ball better than we did last year, so we wanted to create that competition,” Smith said. “DJ knew the whole time that we had a returning starter and a freshman coming in. Ben hasn’t backed down one bit.”
Burton added that Uiagalelei should have a great chance to win the job, but handing him the keys at this point would be premature.
“I think DJ’s got obviously really a good shot, they didn’t bring him in for no reason,” Burton said. “But again, Beaver fans, I would not write off Ben Gulbranson at all.”
Draftkings has set Oregon State’s win total at 8-1/2 coming off a 10-3 mark last year that included a rivalry win over Oregon and a Las Vegas Bowl victory over Florida.
The Beavers open the season on CBS on Sun., Sept. 3rd visiting San Jose State at 12:30 p.m.