Oregon State isn’t playing for a bowl game when the Beavers square off with rival Oregon in Friday’s Civil War — set for 1 p.m. Friday at Reser Stadium.
Instead, the Beavers (2-9, 1-7 Pac-12) will look to put together four full quarters of execution and effort in an attempt to close out the season with a win over the Ducks (7-4, 4-4).
"I'd truly like to see execution at a high level,” first-year coach Jonathan Smith said. “We're going to play hard, I think we’re going to fight. They're going to make some plays, we're going to make some plays. But for a long period of time, we have to have some higher execution, because that's how you win the game. That's what’s been lacking for us and that’s what I’m hoping to see.”
Offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren echoed those thoughts.
“We always say execute at a high level for four quarters and I don’t know that we’ve done that yet,” he said. “At times we’ve done it and moved the ball and put up some points. Take care of the football, execute at a high level and I think that will give us a chance.”
The Beavers have found success on offense this season, averaging 411.0 yards per game, good for sixth in the Pac-12.
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Running back Jermar Jefferson has keyed the ground game and is averaging 119.6 yards per game. He set the school record for rushing yards in a season by a true freshman last Saturday at Washington and enters the game with 1,316 to go with 12 touchdowns.
"You see a lot of explosive play-makers,” UO coach Mario Cristobal said of the Beavers. “Obviously the back has garnered a lot of attention, and rightfully so, as a freshman he's widely considered one of the best freshmen in the country. The offensive line has done a tremendous job for him.
“There's a lot of carryover from what you've seen in coach Smith's history. He does a great job, great football coach, extremely smart. They scheme you up pretty well. They understand where the holes are, they go after it.
“From Game 1 against Ohio State, coming back like they did against Colorado, they continue to churn out yards and points.”
Lindgren knows the offense has a big challenge ahead against the Ducks, coached by Jim Leavitt. The two were on staff together at Colorado.
“We’ve got to match their physicality,” Lindgren said. “That’s something I know from a Jim Leavitt defense that they are going to pride themselves on playing physical and getting after you. It will be a challenge for our offensive line, for sure, to come out and match their physicality for four quarters.”
Lindgren said Leavitt’s defenses aren’t complex but they are sound in what they do.
“He’s one of the best football coaches that I’ve been around and fortunate enough to coach with,” Lindgren said. “He gets those guys to play extremely hard. Shoot, those years at Colorado we were damn good on defense.”
Oregon State quarterback Jake Luton, who has started the last three games after finally being healthy, said the Beavers don’t have much of an advantage even though Lindgren is familiar with Leavitt.
“We’re going to have to be on our game and be consistent throughout and have to play ball,” he said.
The Beavers want to make sure they finish drives by getting into the end zone.
“We moved the ball and then had to settle for field goals and in the end I think that ended up being a little bit of a difference, too,” Lindgren said of the Washington game where the Beavers kicked three field goals and attempted a fourth. “You can’t go on the road and end up kicking field goals and expect to win.”
Oregon State will have to contend with Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert, who had a big game last year at Autzen. Herbert is third in the Pac-12 at 262.1 yards per game. He has throw for 2,883 yards and 27 touchdowns.
“He can make all the throws plus has good mobility,” defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar said. “So he’s a complete package and a tough guy to defend. Even when you get to him he’s strong enough in the pocket that the first guy sometimes can’t get him down and he can scramble out of there. So he’s a real challenge."
Cristobal is well aware of Smith’s propensity to throw in some trick plays at any time in the game.
Staying disciplined has been a topic of discussion.
“Discipline is at a premium, it always has been,” Cristobal said. “No. 1, that can never change, that always has to be one of the absolute principles and values of what you do. You show them the tape so that you understand. Some other teams might have shown one every now and then (and) maybe not run it. But these guys do, they run it. So don't let your eyes drift.
“Don't take for granted your responsibility has been taken care of. Make sure you go through the echo of the whistle and beyond to assure that we don't get surprised by one of those plays because you saw the kickoff, you saw the fake punt. Those are things that are game-changers, gaining possessions. We've got to make sure that we're on the road playing a conference game we can't give up any possessions."
The Beavers ended an eight-game losing streak to the Ducks with a 34-24 home win in 2016. The Ducks responded with a 69-10 thrashing at Autzen last season.
“It was a bad game last year and it was embarrassing in that regard,” said senior center Sumner Houston. “But like we’ve done a lot this season we flush it and we’re moving forward. This is a new team and we’re going to give it hell.”