Jonathan Smith optimistic about OSU entering second season as coach
LOS ANGELES — Jonathan Smith wasn’t allowed to ease into his daunting rebuild at Oregon State.
The Beavers lost 77-31 at Ohio State in the 2018 opener, which set the tone for a 2-10 finish to Smith’s first season coaching his alma mater.
Even though Oregon State was predicted to finish last in the North Division in the Pac-12 preseason football media poll, Smith is optimistic about the program’s chances of making significant progress this fall.
It begins with an intriguing opener against Oklahoma State on Aug. 30 at Reser Stadium (7:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1).
“I know guys are excited about it, a night game at home to start the season,” Smith said at the Pac-12 media day event Wednesday. “Great opponent coming from a good distance, and I’ve got a ton of respect for them.
“So yeah, I feel better about this setup than last year’s game. Not that last year’s game wasn’t a good experience for the kids traveling, but to open at home with a fresh start, new season, there’s excitement.”
The two players Smith brought to Hollywood to represent the team — running back Jermar Jefferson and wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins — join offensive lineman Gus Lavaka on the preseason all-conference second team.
Jefferson, who received a late scholarship offer from USC but stuck to his commitment to Smith and his staff, rushed for a program freshman record 1,380 yards and 12 touchdowns. Artavis Pierce (408 yards, four touchdowns) also returns in the backfield.
The 6-foot-4 Hodgins had 59 receptions for 876 yards and five touchdowns last season. Trevon Bradford added 56 receptions for 649 yards and six touchdowns.
“We were fun last year and we’re going to be even more fun this year,” Hodgins said of the offense. “We’ve got some explosive players and there’s not one person you can just focus on and stop our offense.”
The NCAA granted oft-injured quarterback Jake Luton a sixth year of eligibility. The 6-7 senior had 10 touchdowns and four interceptions when healthy enough to play in 2018.
Nebraska transfer Tristan Gebbia will challenge Luton for the starting spot.
“The approach both Tristan and Jake are taking is improving their game. We’re going to let those guys go for a bit in camp,” Smith said. “We need our offense to take a step. We did some things that were good last year, but that needs to get better if we want to win the games we want to win.”
During the 2000 season, Smith led Oregon State to 11 wins, including a 23-13 Civil War triumph over then-No. 5 Oregon and a dominant Fiesta Bowl victory over Notre Dame.
The Beavers are still a long way from returning to that level, which was glaringly obvious during last year’s 55-15 loss to Oregon in Corvallis.
Even though Justin Herbert exited the game in the second quarter with a shoulder injury, Oregon State gave up 392 net yards rushing.
The Beavers were 129th in points allowed (45.7 per game) and yards allowed (536.8). Only UConn’s defense was worse among FBS teams, yielding 50.4 points and 617.4 yards per game.
None of the Oregon State defensive players even received honorable mention all-Pac-12 preseason honors.
“We need to be better in run defense. I mean, our run defense last year was not good, and that needs to improve,” Smith said. “We’ve made some adjustments, whether it’s personnel, growth, tweaked some schemes … I think we’ll be better there.”
OREGON STATE BEAVERS
Coach: Jonathan Smith, second year (2-10 at Oregon State and overall)
Key players: QB Jake Luton, RB Jermar Jefferson, TE Noah Toglai, WR Isaiah Hodgins, DE Isaac Hodgins, DB Jalen Moore
2018 record: 2-10 overall, 1-8 conference
2019 projection: The Beavers are picked to finish sixth (last) in the North Division in the Pac-12 preseason media poll
Nonconference opponents: Oklahoma State, Hawaii, Cal Poly
Plays Oregon: Nov. 30 in Eugene
Full schedule: Aug. 30 vs. Oklahoma State, Sept. 7 at Hawaii, Sept. 14 vs. Cal Poly, Sept. 28 vs. Stanford, Oct. 5 at UCLA, Oct. 12 vs. Utah, Oct. 19 at California, Nov. 2 at Arizona, Nov. 8 vs. Washington, Nov. 16 vs. Arizona State, Nov. 23 at Washington State, Nov. 30 at Oregon
Friday’s preview: Colorado Buffaloes