Versatility On Full Display As DJU Takes Oregon State Offense To A Whole New Level

By T.J. Mathewson

Contributor, 750 The Game

It took one series into Oregon State’s 42-17 win over San Jose State Sunday to notice how different the 2023 Oregon State offense can be with DJ Uiagalelei running the show.

1st Down: Shotgun, Quick out, DJ Uiagalelei to Silas Bolden.
2nd Down: Damien Martinez run to the left.
3rd Down: DJ Uiagalelei QB Draw.

First down, Oregon State.

Pretty simple right? 

While nothing complicated, it highlights all the aspects that Jonathan Smith dreamed of when securing Uiagalelei’s commitment out of the transfer portal. A first down pass out of the shotgun, a run with your best skill player behind the best offensive line in the Pac-12, and when they need it most, utilizing the physical tools of a quarterback who is bigger than nearly every linebacker and defensive back he’ll take on.

That would not — and could not — have happened last year.

It would have been easy for Oregon State to just ride Damien Martinez and a dominant run game to a 3-0 start in non-conference play. They could’ve done it on Sunday, with Martinez averaging 8.1 yards per carry on 18 attempts. The Spartans had absolutely no chance when Martinez’s number was called and were getting blown off the ball by both the first and second-team offensive line for Oregon State.

But Jonathan Smith showed confidence in letting his new quarterback do otherwise. 

“We’re not holding anything back,” Smith said after the game. “(DJ) and this offense can do a lot.”

Take DJ’s first touchdown run, where he called his own number on a quarterback power, running behind a pulling Heneli Bloomfield and Isaiah Newell lead blocking. Then Smith trusted his new QB to lead the offense down the field in under two minutes before the half, punching in his second rushing score of the afternoon. Then on the first drive of the second half, Smith trusted DJ to throw on a fourth-and-three from the opponent’s 24-yard-line, a situation last year in which OSU would almost certainly have given the ball to Martinez or take their chances with a field goal. While they didn’t convert (by about half a yard), the process behind it showed Smith’s confidence in his new man under center.

And that’s only two of the five total touchdowns DJ had in his debut.

His first touchdown pass to Jack Velling is simple, a sharp post route on a third-and-six. Uiagalelei hung in the pocket, spied the safety crashing down on Deshaun Fenwick running a flat route instead of occupying the deep half in what seemed like a miscommunication, and fired a dart into the sophomore’s belly for his first Oregon State touchdown.

The second touchdown pass was a display of the type of arm talent that hasn’t been seen Corvallis in quite some time.  On third and 14 from the SJSU 31, Uiagalelei sat in his best pocket of the day, waited five seconds, and effortlessly threw a flat-footed pass 45 yards to Jeremiah Noga in the left corner of the end zone. Two great things in this play: DJ not bailing out of the pocket when nobody initially comes open, and Jeremiah Noga adjusting his straight-go route after seeing his QB sitting in the pocket and running to the empty corner of the end zone where the ball hit him in stride.

Smith tried to contain a smile after the game as he praised his quarterback for recognizing the pressure and letting the play develop: “That was a big-time play,” he said.

For the third passing touchdown, San Jose State sent a blitz off the left corner of the formation on a second and ten. DJ sees the corner blitz (with a great pickup by Bloomfield), dials in on Anthony Gould one-on-one with a safety running a go route, and well, you can guess who won that battle. All it took was an on-time loft from 28 yards and DJ had his fifth total touchdown of his Oregon State debut.

Not bad for your first game in orange and black.

In his first game back in California since his high school days at St. John Bosco, DJ led an opening drive that took up more than six minutes of game time and ended with a touchdown. He led a two-minute drill right before the half that resulted in a touchdown. He powered home a pair of rushing scores, and had two separate passing touchdowns of 25 yards or more.

In other words — he took the Beavers offense to a whole new level.

“Overall we are looking for balance,” Smith said. “(But) we want to score. We scored here in this game, so that’s the type of offense we want.”

For DJ, the goal was a little bit simpler.

“I’m just trying to have fun,” Uiagalelei said after the game with a laugh. “I had a lot of fun out there with my brothers, it’s fun to be out there to play football again.”

For that DJ Uiagalelei offense, points and fun seem to come with ease.

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.