On Monday, Jonathan Smith described his first game as Oregon State’s football coach as “a great opportunity to go play one of the best teams in the country.”
No doubt, No. 5 Ohio State has the talent and depth to challenge for a national title, even with its head coach — Urban Meyer — suspended for the first three games of the season.
Meyer has come under fire for the way he handled domestic violence allegations against now former assistant coach Zach Smith.
Ohio State players and coaches have said it won't be a distraction when they welcome the Beavers, who open the Smith era, at 9 a.m. Saturday in cavernous Ohio Stadium (104,944 capacity).
Even with the off-the-field turmoil, Smith knows the Buckeyes will be ready to go under the guidance of acting head coach Ryan Day.
Especially playing in the Horseshoe.
“I think it’s an awesome atmosphere to go in to,” Smith said. “And the opportunity, we need to find out where we’re at, so the message is let’s go and compete and play quality football.”
The Beavers’ offense will certainly be facing one of, if not, the best defenses they will see all season, led by junior defensive lineman Nick Bosa, a sure-fire top 10 pick in next April's NFL draft.
“They are probably one of the best defenses I’ve ever seen on tape,” offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren said. “They’re really active up front and they’ve got some first-round draft picks up front, talented secondary and the linebackers run and tackle.”
Added Smith: “It’s just tough to find some weaknesses, I know that. Their ability to rush the passer and tackle, their athleticism shows up really in every position defensively.”
Smith said the Beavers must take care of the football and score points to have any chance at pulling off a monumental upset on the road.
That means senior quarterback Jake Luton, who wasn’t named the starter until Monday morning, will need to make good decisions.
“In camp he’s been really good in that regard, picking and choosing his time to take some chances and then recognizing when it’s not there to not force anything,” Smith said.
A veteran Oregon State offensive line with four returning starters will still have its hands full.
“We’ve got to mix the kind of schemes we’re running whether in the run game or protection,” Smith said. “Jake’s not going to be able to hold the ball every snap and he’s going to have to get rid of it in a timely fashion.
“At the same time, we’re going to need that O-line blocking a little bit, let the receivers get down the field and take some shots.”
Junior left tackle Blake Brandel, who will be making his 25th straight start, said the Beavers are excited for the challenge.
"Obviously they’re a really good team. It’s Ohio State,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for their D-Line but we just have to trust our technique, trust our assignments and keep this guy (Luton) off the ground and we’ll be good.”
Defensively, the Beavers will be facing a new starter at quarterback as sophomore Dwayne Haskins Jr. takes over under center this season. Redshirt freshman Tate Martell could also see some time as the two battled most of camp for the No. 1 spot.
Haskins completed 40 for 57 passes last season for 565 yards, with four touchdowns and one interception. He came on and helped the Buckeyes beat Michigan last season, going 6 for 7 for 94 yards.
“They had enough blowouts last year that he played in a lot more than the Michigan game,” defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar said. “He’s an excellent passer, probably the best passing quarterback that coach Meyer has had since he’s gone to Ohio State. That may change their offense a little bit but I think he’s just a really good player.”
Haskins will have plenty of targets to find in the pass game as the Buckeyes return their top five receivers from last season. The Beavers can expect to see all of them on Saturday.
“They’re all going to play and we have great depth there, which I think makes us really strong,” Day say. “When you have receivers who can roll in and out of plays, that keeps them fresh. We have three captains in the wide receiver group alone, a lot of leadership there. … The plan is early on to play everybody, rotate them, get them in the game, play fast and go.”
If Haskins struggles throwing the ball, he can hand it off to either sophomore J.K. Dobbins or junior Mike Weber.
Dobbins rushed for 1,403 yards on 194 attempts with seven touchdowns last season while Weber had 101 carries for 626 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. Weber was the freshman of the year in the Big Ten in 2016.
“Those guys are really good,” Tibesar said. “They can do it all. They can run the football, they can catch the ball out of the backfield, they can pass protect they can line them up at wide receiver, they can catch the ball. So we’ve got to do a great job of putting ourselves in tackling position and then complete the tackle.”