Under Jonathan Smith, the Oregon State football team has used the mantra of improving each week.
That won’t change this week, even as the Beavers are in position to make a push for their first bowl game appearance since the 2013 season.
“I think we’re doing a good job taking it one game at a time,” senior left tackle Blake Brandel said of the 4-4 Beavers who have won two straight entering Friday night’s key Pac-12 showdown with struggling Washington inside Reser Stadium.
If not for a couple 31-28 losses — to Hawaii and Stanford — early in the season, Oregon State, which is 3-2 in Pac-12 play and is second behind No. 7 Oregon (8-1, 6-0) in in the North Division, might already be bowl eligible.
“I think earlier in the season, especially, I can think of a couple games that we would like to have back,” Brandel said. “But I’m proud of this group for not dwelling on it. There’s been bad games and good games but one thing's for sure, we take each week kind of as itself and I think it’s shown up in the past two (games). I’m excited.”
While senior quarterback Jake Luton would likely agree with all that Brandel said, he is not shying away from acknowledging the magnitude of Friday’s battle with the Huskies (5-4, 2-4).
“I mean, of course we’re only focused on this game but I think it’s a big game,” he said. “I think you’ve got to kind of treat it like that. This is the kind of spot you want to be in if you’re an athlete, a ball player, you want to be in the big games.
“It’s no secret that this is a big game for us coming back at home against a good team. It’s the last month of the year so I think we’re excited.”
It’s been a while since Oregon State has played in a “big” game. The Beavers haven’t been at .500 or above this late in the season since 2014, when they were 5-5 going up against the Huskies with two games left. They finished 5-7 and missed the postseason.
The Beavers come into Friday’s game having won their last two and three of four overall, with the one loss at home to Utah, which is up to No. 8 in the AP poll as well as the College Football Playoff rankings.
The Huskies, meanwhile, have dropped two straight — both at home — to Oregon and Utah. In both games, Washington had double digit leads at one point before struggling in the second half.
After scoring early in the second half in the last two games, the Huskies have scored just 10 points total after those drives, with seven coming in the closing minute last week when they were down 12.
The offensive struggles have been perplexing for UW coach Chris Petersen.
“I don't know. We have to play better in the fourth quarter for sure,” he said after the 33-28 loss to Utah last Saturday. “These teams are good teams for a reason, they pour it on when it matters. They are playing better than us in the fourth quarter.
“I think in the third and the fourth we had two, three and outs, because we had two false start penalties, and then we got an intentional grounding. As soon as you do that against a defense like that, good luck. It was self-inflicted wounds. I don't know what to tell you. That is day one stuff."
Added quarterback Jacob Eason: "We've just got to play four quarters. I don't know. I don't know what the problem is, but we've got to fix it. Part of that's on me being smart with the ball in some situations. I'll take the blame there, move on and learn from it."
The defense has also struggled as the Huskies allowed 21 second-half points to Oregon (14 in the first half) and 14 to Utah (13 in the first half; Utah also scored on an interception return in the second half).
Brandel said that is more a product of the ebbs and flows of a game than anything else he has seen.
“That’s just the game of football,” he said. “I think it’s a game of momentum and sometimes it’s going to go the other way and it just depends on where the pendulum swings.”
Luton agrees and said despite the second-half hiccups, the Huskies are a formidable foe.
“I think that they’re a really good team,” he said. “I think they’ve lost a couple games in a row but against some darn good football teams and they went toe to toe with them and could have easily pulled both of those games out.
“I don’t think that gives us an edge or is any knock on them in any regard. I think they are playing well and were going to have to be ready for them.”
The Beavers, meanwhile, know they need to shore up their tackling after struggling in that area last Saturday at Arizona. The Wildcats extended a number of plays because of the tackling issues.
“We regressed from a tackling standpoint,” defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar said. “Obviously Arizona does a really good job and they’ve got some really skilled athletes that they get the ball out to in space.
“But we feel like we needed to tackle better and that was a major focus this week like it is every week but trying to get those tackles in open field space. We know Washington is going to attack us in similar type of way at times and we’ve got to make those tackles to play better on defense.”