Last week was a rough one for the Oregon State football program.
There was the drama surrounding USC transfer wide receiver Devon Williams. Oregon State announced that the athlete was signed, sealed and delivered as a member of the Beavers on Wednesday. Two days later, Williams flipped to Oregon.
On Saturday, another shot at a win slipped through the grasp of the Beavers as Stanford hit a game-winning field goal to hold off OSU 31-28.
The Williams situation was strange because not only did OSU tweet out a photo of Williams welcoming him to the team, but the athletic department sent out a press release.
Oregon State also listed Williams on the roster and in the student directory. He reportedly signed a financial aid agreement, but those are non-binding and allow the leeway for a player to switch gears.
The Beavers jumped the gun by advertising what they thought was a recruiting coup and paid the price when Williams not only changed his mind, but chose UO.
Williams called Oregon State’s reaction “a misunderstanding.”
Once it was clear that Williams was joining Oregon, Jonathan Smith would not comment on the player because he was a member of another team.
That might be the right way to handle the matter, but it’s a bad look for the Beavers.
One has to wonder if there’s a problem somewhere within the OSU football program and/or athletic department after the events of last week and the ill-fated communication with Hawaii last year.
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A win against Stanford would have gone a long way to smooth the jagged edges of the Williams situation.
Instead, the Beavers squandered scoring opportunities in the first half and could not get a crucial stop to finish out a second-half comeback.
Like the loss at Hawaii, this was a game the Beavers were more than capable of winning. Stanford had struggled through the previous three games and did not look impressive on either side of the ball.
I said last week that this was a must-win for both teams. Now the possibility of a one-win season has increased drastically for the Beavers. Saturday’s trip to UCLA is another shot for the Beavers, but it’s hard to know which Bruins team will show up. If it’s the one from the second half at Washington State, the Beavers will get a workout on defense.
The Cougars are suddenly looking vulnerable and Arizona has been up and down. But the second half of the season is loaded with some of the top teams in the Pac-12.
The Beavers play Utah, Washington and Arizona State in Corvallis. Maybe they rise up at home to pull an upset. Otherwise, there are road trips to Cal, Arizona, WSU and Oregon.
Would one or two wins this season set back the program? Probably not. There are signs of life on the field. The Beavers clearly have improved on both sides of the ball this season.
But a lack of consistency has been a killer, and the team needs to learn how to win, particularly when challenged late in a game.
The program has been on a downturn since the end of the 2009 season, with an exception or two. It hit rock bottom in 2017 and it's clearly going to take Smith more than two seasons to complete any sort of rebuild.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Smith is on his way to building a better program. How long it takes and how much better remain to be seen.
It will take a major commitment from the athletic department and the university as a whole to bring it to a consistently strong level.
Until that happens, the program will continue to struggle through growing pains while crowds thin and ticket sales dwindle.