From Good To Great, Oregon State’s Pass Rush Has Taken The Critical Step To Contend For The Pac-12 Title

By T.J. Mathewson

Contributor, 750 The Game

Oregon State learned a lot about itself in Saturday’s 26-9 win over San Diego State.

For the first time during the undefeated three-week stretch in the non-conference, the Beavers had to buckle down and muck out a close game vs. a gritty opponent. It’s not ideal, but you see who steps up to bail everyone else out, and I saw a defensive line capable of bridging the gap between a good defense and a Pac-12 Championship-caliber defense.

This is the group I had circled before the season that was going to make the biggest stride, and boy did that show up Saturday. 

Take this play: It’s third and four with 12:02 remaining in the second quarter from the SDSU 42, the Beavers leading 6-0. SDSU QB Jalen Mayden had already had a couple of good scrambles at this point, and this was another situation ripe for another first down from the legs of QB. Oregon State lined up to rush four and drop seven into coverage. If the rush doesn’t get home, there’s going to be a ton of space for Mayden to pick up the first.

Instead, the Beavers’ pass rush gets home with just those four rushers. Andrew Chatfield jukes around the right tackle, throwing a fake inside before going around the edge, and gets one of his two sacks of the afternoon. Chatfield, though, doesn’t get that sack without the rest of the defensive line doing its job. Isaac Hodgins, who leads the Beavers in tackles for loss so far, spins away from a double-team from the LG/C and collapses the inside lanes. John McCartan bullrushes his way around the left side of the formation, taking away any sort of escape plan. Everyone did their job, three different Beavers could’ve gotten the sack on that play, and Oregon State got off the field. 

It was hard to measure what the defensive line was going to be capable of throughout the first two weeks. They decided to contain rather than pressure Chevan Cordeiro down in San Jose in week one. In week two, the Beavers dominated what was a clearly outmatched UC Davis offensive line. Week three though? That’s when we start to see just how improved this unit is.

Let’s step back for a minute and size up the competition that awaits the Beavers on the other side of the week. A grueling ten-week nine-game conference schedule that features six currently ranked teams, with another awaiting should the Beavers achieve their goal of reaching the conference championship game.

Offense was supposed to be a strength of this conference and so far, the numbers are backing it up. Six teams (including Oregon State) reside in the top-20 yards per play offenses, and that group doesn’t include Colorado (40th) and Utah (80th, without Cam Rising). That’s a lot of offensive talent to keep at bay.

The first one to get a stop wins. And I think the Beavers have what it takes to do that.

It’s a small sample (3 games vs. 13 in 2022), but the Beavers have massively improved on their sack rate (10.84 percent, best in the Pac-12) and total (12.0 in three games) from a year ago (4.32 percent, 20.0 total). It’s not just sacks, of course, pressures, QB hits, and TFLs all aim for the same result. The early returns on the 2023 Oregon State defensive line are showing the Beavers added just what they needed to complete their defense. Seven different guys registered at least half a sack, ten different for TFLs. A deep, aggressive, and disciplined unit that affects the quarterback from all three levels.

A tough road test awaits in a week when the Beavers head to the Palouse to face Washington State, a place they haven’t won in ten years (allowing over 30 PPG along the way). They say defense always travels right? Well in 2023, the Beavers have the unit to erase that losing streak and more.

T.J. Mathewson is an Oregon State Beavers football contributor for 750 The Game. He also covers the Beavers for KEJO 1240 in Corvallis and has work featured throughout the season here.