By T.J. Mathewson
Contributor, 750 The Game
As much as you could feel that energy walking into a rain-drenched Reser Stadium, you could feel it escape like air leaving a balloon as DJ Uiagalelei’s pass sailed over the head of Jack Velling on the Beaver’s final drive. With everything at stake: the final Pac-12 home game, a chance to knock the Huskies out of the CFP, a 17th win in 18 tries at Reser Stadium, and senior day, this one felt more painful than the rest.
Saturday’s loss encapsulated the missed opportunities that separate the good seasons from the great seasons. Washington is having a great one, and Oregon State is tracking for just a good one.
Let me just simplify it to this. In the last four weeks, the Beavers have had four crucial fourth-quarter drives, two against Arizona and two against Washington, that could have catapulted Oregon State into the great category with a touchdown in each game. Instead, the offense which was supposed to be the pillar of what pushed this Beaver program over the top of the Pac-12 mountain, managed just one field goal in four tries.
I thought Jonathan Smith summed it up (unintentionally) on the biggest difference between the two teams on the field Saturday night. “(Washington) just knows how to win,” Smith said of the visiting purple and gold, who are now winners of seven consecutive games decided by 10 points or less in 2023 and 18 games overall.
That begs the question: does this 2023 Beaver team know how to win? The schedule breaks down pretty easily: they’ve won every game in which they held a multi-score lead in the fourth quarter, and lost every game where they didn’t. Washington has played within a score of every single game during the stretch and won them all.
That’s a tough pill to swallow. There’s a multitude of reasons why that is for each team, but on Saturday, I think it boiled down to a pretty simple answer.
Neither quarterback was particularly good on Saturday night. Future Heisman finalist Michael Penix had easily his worst performance of the season in the box score completing just 13 of his 28 pass attempts compared to DJ Uiagalelei’s 15/31.
The Huskies, as they have all season, found a way to make explosive plays and convert big downs with their passing attack. The strike from Penix to Odunze before the half to make it 22-10 Huskies was longer than any pass play the Beavers completed all night. The final third-down throw to Odunze that iced the game matched it. When the Huskies needed a big play, they dialed up the Odunze package. Brian Lindgren, Jonathan Smith, and this Oregon State offense didn’t have anything that easy all game.
The Beavers’ offense completed just one pass of over 15 air yards the entire game, a second-quarter catch from Silas Bolden right before the half on a drive that resulted in the first of two interceptions for DJ U. The junior quarterback was just 1/11 passing the ball past 15 yards and just 6/20 past five yards. That same offense only converted one of their 12 third downs passing the football, and it took until the final drive of the game to do so.
Against a Huskies’ defense that entered Saturday ranked 102nd in third-down defense, big plays through the air were needed, but nowhere to be found.
“At the end of the day, when you play a team like Washington, you have to go out there and execute,” DJ said after the game. “They made some plays there at the end that cost us. We just didn’t execute to a (high enough) level”
Now the Beavers are going to have to swallow the bitter reality of being a double-digit underdog to a great Oregon team in Autzen on Black Friday. If Vegas predicts correctly, Oregon State will be 8-4, and we can label this season correctly: as a disappointment.