The Golden Gophers will take their show on the road Saturday, as P.J. Fleck and the gang head to Corvallis for a non-conference showdown with the Oregon State Beavers. The Beavers were drubbed by Colorado State in their opener to the tune of 58-27 and needed a late touchdown to squeak past Portland State, 35-32.
Let’s take a closer look at what makes the Beavers tick.
I’m not quite sure how to grade their offense at this point in the season. After games against Colorado State and FCS opponent Portland State, the Beavers are averaging 31 points per game, 172.5 rushing yards per game, and 269.5 passing yards per game. But Oregon State was outscored 34-7 in the second half against Colorado State and only mustered 154 rushing yards against Portland State. The Vikings outgained the Beavers on offense by 126 yards.
For the third consecutive season, Oregon State has a new quarterback under center. Junior quarterback Jake Luton, who transferred in from Idaho, has had mixed results thus far. The 6’7’’, 234-lb. signal caller has more interceptions (4) than touchdowns (3), but his completion percentage sits at 62.5% after two games. The Beavers seemed to lean on him (47 pass attempts) as the Colorado State game got out of hand and he ended up throwing three interceptions in the second half. Luton had a much stronger game against Portland State (18-for-25, 235 passing yards, 1 TD, 1 INT).
There is also a chance that senior quarterback Darell Garretson — last year’s starter against the Gophers — will see the field. The Beavers are keen to use his mobility and he rushed for 29 yards and one touchdown on six rush attempts against the Vikings.
I was going to peg Jordan Villamin as Luton’s go-to target, but the senior wide receiver all but vanished against Portland State after recording 7 receptions for 77 yards in Week 1. For now, that distinction seems to belong to junior tight end Noah Togiai, who has hauled in 12 receptions for 162 yards and one touchdown through two games. The only other names I’d throw out are freshman wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins (6 receptions, 70 yards, 1 touchdown) and junior wide receiver Timmy Hernandez (3 receptions, 74 yards, 1 touchdown).
Junior running back Ryan Nall, who was just short of 1,000 rushing yards last season, is also active in the passing game out of the backfield, with 7 receptions for 64 yards. On the ground, Nall averaged a staggering 7.7 yards per carry against Colorado State, rushing for 115 yards on 15 attempts with one touchdown. But against Portland State, he was stifled for 59 yards on 16 attempts with one touchdown. Expect sophomore Artavis Pierce to steal a few carries from Nall at running back throughout the game.
The Beavers return starters at left guard and left tackle on the offensive line, and both are sophomores, interestingly enough. The three new starters are all upperclassmen. The group struggled against Colorado State, allowing one sack and six tackles for loss, but bounced back to keep Luton clean against Portland State.
Verdict: The Beavers’ offense can put points up on the board, but they have been wildly inconsistent the first two weeks of the season. If I had to pinpoint a point of emphasis, I would say that the Gopher defense can’t allow Luton to get comfortable. Minnesota is thin in the secondary, and I fear he could pick them apart if the defensive line can’t crank up the pressure.
Things have not gone well for Oregon State on defense.
Through the first two games of the season, the Beavers are allowing an average of 45 points per game, 241 rushing yards per game, and 279 passing yards per game. Colorado State put up 58 points against Oregon State in Week 1, and Portland State ran wild in Week 2 with 291 rushing yards in a losing effort. That’s not ideal.
Last season, the Beavers were a middle-of-the-road defense. Oregon State ranked 49th in total defense, 115th in rushing defense, and 32nd in passing defense, according to S&P+. Obviously, 115th in rushing defense is not middle-of-the-road, but that seems to be the glaring weakness in an otherwise middling defensive unit.
The Beavers returned all three starting defensive lineman -- operating out of a base 3-4 formation — from last season and three of their starting linebackers, including the team’s second and third leading tacklers in senior Manase Hungalu and junior Bright Ugwoegbu. You would’ve expected improvement in the defensive front with that amount of returning experience, but the Portland State game paints a different picture. Even against Colorado State, the Beavers were getting pushed around up front, failing to pressure the Rams’ quarterback.
In the secondary, sophomore safety Jalen Moore is their leading tackler, which is typically never a good sign, in my opinion. Moore has 17 tackles through two games. Opposite Moore is senior safety Brandon Arnold, a returning starter fro the Beavers. The starting cornerbacks — redshirt junior Dwayne Williams and redshirt sophomore Xavier Crawford — have combined for 14 tackles and one pass break-up.
From what I’ve read, missed tackles and blown assignments have plagued this defense through the first two games of the season. With eight returning starters from a season ago, you can probably understand why head coach Gary Andersen seems exasperated with how much this unit has struggled early in the year.
Verdict: Could the Beavers’ soft defensive front be the cure for what ails the Gophers’ struggling offensive line? We’ll see which side takes advantage of the other’s perceived weakness. If Minnesota can get the running game going, that will take some of the pressure of the quarterbacks, and Oregon State will be trouble.
Prediction: Minnesota 21, Oregon State 17. This is far from a sure thing for the Gophers. It’s a road game against a Power 5 opponent, even if the Beavers seem to be struggling out of the gate. If the Gophers’ offense isn’t able to improve upon last week’s uninspired effort, they’ll likely lose this game. But because this feels like a bit of a toss-up, I’ll go the homer route and give the slight edge to Minnesota.