This was the week Oregon State football coaches expected to see a significant defensive improvement.
Both coach Gary Andersen and defensive coordinator Kevin Clune said the Beavers looked like they were solving their issues after two tough games to start the season.
The Beavers struggled to stay gap solid and assignment sound against Colorado State and Portland State, too often breaking down and allowing big plays.
On Saturday, the Beavers showed some strides in the first half, but there’s still a lot of ground to cover after a 48-14 loss to Minnesota.
The Beavers (1-2) needed to improve greatly in their play against the run, which had been a major problem area.
There was some early success, but the Beavers seemed to wear down against the Gophers (2-0) in the second half and the tackling became sloppy. Minnesota finished with 253 yards and five touchdowns on the ground and had 411 total yards.
“Certain areas, some people began to break down, not wrapping up,” linebacker Jonathan Willis said. “Just a bunch of miscommunications.”
The Beavers did show some promise with gang tackling and swarmed the Minnesota ball carriers at times. However, they could not keep up the pace.
“It just all comes down to executing,” said freshman safety David Morris, who had 17 tackles, including 10 solo. “We have all the tools necessary, we’ve just got to execute.”
Willis was moved back to inside linebacker and thrived, finishing with 12 tackles, eight coming in the first half.
The Beavers didn’t always shut down drives right away, but often made clutch plays to keep the Gophers from scoring.
OSU did it on Minnesota’s first drive of the second half. A holding call moved the Gophers back and the Beavers came with pressure that resulted in a big loss on third down.
But the Beavers faltered on offense, fumbling the ball away for the third time and then going three-and-out on the next drive. The Gophers scored on a 14-yard drive after the fumble. A targeting call on Jalen Moore led to another touchdown.
The offensive letdown in the third quarter put too much pressure on the defense. The Beavers could not move the ball and the Gophers took full advantage, turning a close game into a rout.
“It definitely is tiring, but that’s why we condition,” Morris said. “And I definitely feel like the defense was trying to do that and execute on their jobs and stuff, but other than that, we just need to make opportunities and get the offense back on the field.”
The Beavers were too often their own worst enemy in the second half, allowing Minnesota drives to keep going with penalties.
“Didn’t tackle well,” Andersen said. “Three or four times we were out of drives in the scenario and the situation with the different things we find a way to give them a first down, whether it’s a pass interference, whether it’s a targeting call, whether it’s a personal foul.”
OSU looked solid against the run early, but Minnesota quarterback Connor Rhoda found Tyler Johnson and Johnson sprinted 67 yards for a touchdown. Johnson had broken away from safety Brandon Arnold on the play.
A lost fumble gave the ball right back to the Gophers and they hit two big pass plays to move into the red zone. But the Beavers would not budge when Minnesota tried to run and forced a field goal.
Another fumble and the Beavers were back on the field with their backs 24 yards from the end zone. This time, they could not hold the Gophers out and it was 17-0.
After an 80-yard touchdown drive by the offense, it was the defense’s turn for a takeaway. Bright Ugwoegbu scooped up a fumble and the Beavers took over at the Minnesota 17. Two plays later and it was 17-14.
The Beavers were able to ward off another potential touchdown drive late in the second and the Gophers again had to go with the field goal, this time a 49-yarder for a 20-14 lead.
But the Beavers were not able to keep up the play in the second half.
“The main point is (we’ve got to) make sure everybody on the defense keep their head up and keep fighting,” Willis said. “And working together.”