By T.J. Mathewson
Contributor, 750 The Game
The Beavers emerge out of their bye week 6-1, and ready to go for the final Pac-12 Championship. How did the Beavers grade out position by position over the first eight weeks? Let’s hash it out.
It’s hard to poke a hole in what this coaching staff has done up to this point. Hats off to Jonathan Smith for keeping his team together after the early loss to Washington State to then rattle off three huge wins in a row, of them ranked, and have his team positioned just outside of the top ten. The culture here in Corvallis is something remarkable. His fourth-down decision-making has come in volume (2.3 attempts a game) and efficiency (converting 71 percent, 31st nationally). He and Brian Lindgren have pushed the right buttons on offense to build one of the most balanced attacks in the country, while showing confidence in an 18-year-old Aidan Chiles to get meaningful snaps against real competition. Trent Bray has had to work around some tackling issues and injuries with his defense but still has the unit inside the top 50 in yards-per-play. The biggest thing in all of this? Keeping these players focused and motivated will the conference realignment cloud looming over their heads.
DJ Uiagalelei has been everything the Beavers have needed at quarterback. The junior’s play the last two weeks has brought a level of explosiveness and balance the Beavers haven’t had. Seriously, DJ ranks in the top ten nationally amongst quarterbacks in total yards-per-play (passing+rushing) so far, that’s remarkable. Uiagalelei’s elevated play against UCLA and California is a sign of more things to come. The only knock on the junior’s grade is the performance in the loss to Washington State. Aidan Chiles has been thrust into the bright lights as a true freshman and hasn’t blinked. He’s thrown a touchdown in each of the last two games and looks more comfortable by the week. Jonathan Smith said they want to get him into the game and in rhythm with this offense in any way they can, and it’s paying off. This offense can do some real damage down the stretch of this season with their QBs leading the way.
Running Back: A
The tandem of Damien Martinez and Deshaun Fenwick has silenced any doubt that the group would be too thin without the now-departed Jam Griffin. Both RBs have improved their YPC from a season ago and stayed healthy throughout the first eight weeks of the season. I really thought we would see more of redshirt sophomore Isaiah Newell behind these two, but the Beavers haven’t needed it, nor have they needed either of the walk-ons. 195 YPG and 5.2 YPC as a unit earns an ‘A’ from me.
Wide Receivers: A-
Silas Bolden and Anthony Gould have taken huge steps in the 2023 season. Bolden’s playmaking ability/deep ball prowess and Gould’s knack for big catches in the medium-depth area of the field have offset the lack of size on the outside. Both are on pace to set career highs in catches, receiving yards and touchdowns once the season concludes. The third receiver battle has been a fun one, with Jesiah Irish grabbing a good chunk of those plays, with Jeremiah Noga and Rweha Munyagi Jr. right behind him.
Tight Ends: A
What Jack Velling is doing this season is what most people dreamed that Luke Musgrave could do if he stayed healthy the entire 2022 season. Velling reeled in five touchdowns in the two games against California and UCLA. With another TD reception, Velling will pass Tim Euhus and Joe Newton with the most TD receptions by an Oregon State TE in the last 17 seasons. The sophomore rounds out the size and explosiveness factor on this offense. Speed on the outside, size in the middle, bullies in the trenches. Jermaine Terry, who I thought was going to have a decent role in this offense, has caught just two balls all season because of how good Velling has been. How do you take him off the field?
Offensive Line: A-
This hasn’t been the best version of this group so far, part because of performance, part because of injury. The Beavers have gotten big contributions from Tanner Miller and Grant Starck in multiple spots while Jake Levengood and Taliese Fuaga nurse injuries. While they haven’t been perfect in protecting the quarterback (32nd in sack percentage), especially in the loss to WSU, this line is the glue that holds together a top-15 scoring and top-10 efficiency unit.
Defensive Line: B
Let’s start with the positives: they can get to the QB more. The Beavers have doubled their sack percentage from a year ago (rankings 35th nationally) and have the depth to rotate two different units of rushers onto the field. Isaac Hodgins, Andrew Chatfield, Joe Golden, and Stone Lolohea have all set personal bests for TFLs. The bad? They’ve really gotten gashed on the ground the last two weeks. The Beavers gave up almost 300 yards on the ground to UCLA, and have served up over 5 YPC over the last three weeks of play. It’s not all on the defensive line, but when the numbers are that extreme, everyone gets to share the blame.
The tackling on the second level of the defense has been pretty poor all season, and the linebackers are right in the center of it. Easton Macarenas-Arnold and Calvin Hart have taken a majority of the snaps in the middle, with Melvin Jordan and John Miller mixing in. Mascarenas-Arnold has forced a pair of key interceptions, but it just cannot overshadow the deficiencies of getting guys on the ground. Three poor performances in four conference games.
Defensive Backs: B-
Tackling aside (common theme??), the grade of this group comes down to the chemistry of the unit on the field. Jaden Robinson has been a stud when he’s been on the field, Ryan Cooper Jr. has been steady in the slot, and the after that it’s been a whole mix of guys. Josiah Johnson and Noble Thomas got a good chunk of playing time vs Cal, Jermod McCoy has seen the field a ton as a true freshman. Both Kitan Oladapo and Akili Arnold (two INTs) have been great on the back end. There’s a ton of talent in this room, but haven’t quite seen them play to the ceiling yet.
Special Teams: A
Atticus Sappington entered this year with questions about how consistent he could be from distance. All he has done is male 8/9 field goals, 4/5 from 40-49 and a long of 48. Luckily for him, the offense has been so good in plus territory that they haven’t needed his services as much as you would’ve thought. Silas Bolden returned a punt for a touchdown against UC Davis, marking the Beavers only special teams score of the season. Oregon State hasn’t allowed a special teams score.