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OSU football: Confident in his team, Smith saw potential for a breakthrough season

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Luke Musgrave

Oregon State tight end Luke Musgrave returns a blocked punt for a touchdown in the third quarter Saturday to give the Beavers their first lead of the game. Musgrave, who also blocked the punt, was named the Pac-12 special teams player of the week.

Jonathan Smith saw before the season the potential for and confidence in his team’s ability to win games, which has led to Oregon State football’s breakthrough this fall.

The Beavers are 5-2 overall and 3-1 in Pac-12 play after last Saturday’s 42-34 home win against Utah, a bounce-back effort after the team went into its bye week off a loss at Washington State.

Smith, OSU’s fourth-year head coach, stresses the importance of understanding how difficult it is to win games. But he had belief in his group.

“I think some of that confidence came from the leadership on the team, the experience we’ve had, the continuity of schemes we’ve had in all three phases that we just continue to get better with that,” Smith said. “And I felt like we’ve got some good players. Some guys that played a lot and some that were going to come on the scene. All of that built into the confidence we could win on Saturday.”

The Beavers, who travel to play California (2-5, 1-3) this coming Saturday, have had some game-changing plays on special teams this season. Tight end Luke Musgrave had one of those highlight moments against Utah when he blocked a third-quarter punt and returned it for a touchdown to give Oregon State its first lead the game.

Musgrave was named the Pac-12 special teams player of the week. Teammates B.J. Baylor (offensive player of the week) and Nous Keobounnam (offensive lineman of the week) were also recognized by the conference. It marked the first time OSU had three players selected for awards in the same week since 2006.

“What those guys did, all three of them played really well,” Smith said, noting he believed Keobounnam, a redshirt senior, played one of his best games in his six years in the program. Musgrave, a sophomore in his third season with the Beavers, scored his first career touchdown.

Smith was asked whether it’s hard to get players to buy into the importance of special teams and have interested in playing on those teams.

“We work on it. In terms of the buy in, I go back to the leadership on this team. I think this team understands that special teams is vitally important,” the coach said. “Guys want to be on the phases of special teams and it’s been solid.”

Smith said the punting unit, with redshirt junior Luke Loecher doing the kicking there, has been consistent. Everett Hayes has been good on kickoffs, and there have been contributions by many players on special teams.

The Beavers had another punt block later in the game, with Cody Anderson getting his hand on the ball and Omar Speights returning it deep into Utes territory. But the play was negated by an Oregon State penalty.

An impact player

Running back Trey Lowe had four touches of the ball against Utah and helped the Beavers make four third-down conversions.

He had three rushes for 53 yards and an 11-yard catch. On the season, Lowe has averaged 7 yards a carry on 25 attempts and has nine receptions for 67 yards.

Smith said he appreciates Lowe’s effort despite the fact that he doesn’t get many chances while playing behind Baylor and Deshaun Fenwick.

“He’s great on third downs because he’s good in protection. He’s been huge this year a couple of times when we’ve had conversions thrown and he pass-blocked,” the coach said. “He’s a great threat to run it on third down. We’re not always throwing the ball when it’s third and six, seven.”

Injuries

Smith said defensive back Alton Julian suffered a long-term injury against Utah and isn’t expected to return this season.

Defensive lineman Simon Sandberg and wide receiver Makiya Tongue missed last Saturday’s game. Smith said each were out for different reasons (not specifying what those were) but they are expected back versus California.

Offensive lineman Jake Levengood sat out the Utah game due to injury but could play this Saturday. Defensive back Jaden Robinson is out for the season with an injury.

Outside linebacker John McCartan hasn’t been able to practice in his return from injury and isn’t close to playing. Defensive lineman Isaac Hodgins hasn’t played this season due to injury, but has not yet been ruled out for the season, Smith said.

Jesse Sowa can be reached via email at jesse.sowa@lee.net or on Twitter, @JesseSowaGT.

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