By T.J. Mathewson
Contributor, 750 The Game
You could really feel the pressure starting to mount in the second quarter. In a span of about four minutes, the Beavers had made a pair of crucial mistakes, a botched onside kick, and a fumble on the first play of the next drive led to two Cal touchdowns and a 17-14 deficit.
The Beavers needed a response, driving all the way down to the California three-yard line facing a fourth down. Oregon State put the ball in the hands of DJ Uiagalelei and trusted the junior quarterback to go make a play. He did, throwing one of his three touchdowns to sophomore tight end Jack Velling, which would push the Beavers ahead 21-17. It epitomized the night for the southern California native, throwing a rainbow to the right spot under the pressure of two free rushers to the front pylon for his TE.
That throw right there, one of two fourth downs the Beavers needed to convert inside the 10-yard line on that drive and one of the five touchdown passes Uiagalelei threw, tying a career-high, kicked off the Oregon State offense on a streak of five consecutive touchdown drives to keep the California offense at arms length in the 52-40 win.
A career night for Uiagalelei was much needed. The junior struggled to find his footing in each of his first two Pac-12 games the weeks prior, in which I declared I was not sold that the Beavers could win by relying on the passing game yet.
I think I’ve changed my mind.
“I was turned up out there, was really feeling it,” Uiagalelei said after the game. “I was in the zone, I had a good time (out there) with my brothers.”
It wasn’t just Uiagalelei responsible for this resurgence. The offensive line did a great job keeping his jersey clean (0 sacks and 2 tackles for loss allowed), Anthony Gould crossed the 100-yard mark for the first time this season and reeled in a pair of highlight-reel catches, Jack Velling caught three touchdowns, the most for a Beaver TE in a game since 1996, and even defensive lineman Isaac Hodgins caught his first career touchdown. For those keeping track, that’s now an offensive and defensive lineman who have found the end zone this season.
“I thought (DJ) was accurate, but guys made some plays for him that really helped with his confidence,” Jonathan Smith said. “I’m happy for him, he’s continued to work, it’s not been a game of perfect, and he certainly hasn’t been, but to go on the road needing our offense to show up tonight, he was a huge part of it.”
If the Beavers hadn’t made such crucial mistakes earlier in the game, they wouldn’t have needed to score 50 to win. In a sense, it was almost a good thing to force this offense into a put-up or shut-up situation in a game they had to win on the road. Unlike the showing two weeks ago in Pullman, they stayed ahead of the sticks, converted big downs, and shouldered the victory.
We’ve now seen this Beaver team win a nail-biting defensive slugfest and hang with a red-hot offense in a shootout while missing as many as four starters on defense at a time. Next week against UCLA leans more toward the former, with one of the best defensive units in the country.
Ready for the challenge? As Uiagalelei says, “We gotta get our butts ready.”