Senior linebacker Jonathan Willis talked midway through last week about how the Oregon State defense needed to start fast against Southern Utah in Saturday’s home opener.
The Beavers were coming off a tough 77-31 loss at then-No. 5 Ohio State and the defense gave up 721 total yards.
The defense was able to do what Willis said was needed, collecting back-to-back three-and-outs to open the game that helped the offense get in a rhythm in what turned out to be a 48-25 win over the FCS Thunderbirds.
The Beavers gave up just seven first-half points — after taking a 38-0 lead — and showcased a bend-but-don’t-break approach.
“I think they did some things better,” coach Jonathan Smith said. “I do think they had some frustrations off last week. There’s a bunch of kids in that locker room that have got some pride. I thought they played with some real effort.”
Linebacker Kee Whetzel said the Beavers kept their defensive calls pretty basic on Saturday.
“I feel like we ran a majority of like the same six calls,” he said. “It was working for us so why change it up or throw anything else in the mix."
He also said the defenders are getting to know the playbook better, which appears to have helped in avoiding some of the miscommunication players said took place at times in the opener.
“I think, obviously, just knowing the playbook that way you don’t have to think about it too much when you are on the field is going to help you play faster,” Whetzel said.
The Beavers lead 41-7 at the half, but instead of closing the game, they allowed the Thunderbirds to stick around.
Oregon State gave up 195 total yards in the first half, but allowed 169 in the third quarter when Southern Utah outscored the Beavers 9-0.
“Yeah, we were crisp in the first half but I would say that we’ve definitely got some stuff we can improve on in the second half,” linebacker Andrzej Hughes-Murray said. “I think we’ve got to keep stepping on the gas, I think that’s the big thing for us.”
Added Whetzel: “I think we got a little complacent in the second half and we don’t need to do that. Other opponents will take more advantage of that than Southern Utah did so we’ve got to be careful with that.”
It wasn’t just the defense that seemed to let up in the second half. The offense rolled up 454 yards in total offense in the first half but had just 195 over the last 30 minutes.
“We’ve got to mature as a group,” Smith said of the team in general. “We’ve got to come out at halftime and what we were doing in the third quarter we weren’t real happy with. We’ve got to be able to finish better than that.”
Quarterback Conor Blount, who didn’t play in the second half after completing 15 of 22 passes in the first for 226 yards and a touchdown, echoed those sentiments. Jake Luton, who was recovering for a concussion played the second half.
“That was two quarters of football so obviously you want to come out and play four quarters and that’s what coach Smith preaches to us, that’s what football is,” Blount said. “You can put up a good half but if you get lackadaisical and come out in that second half and don’t finish that game, you can be in for a dog fight. It was nice to go into the half with that lead but at the end of the day it’s four quarters for a reason.”
Oregon State, which ended a 12-game losing streak on Saturday, hits the road to take on a Nevada team coming off a 41-10 loss at Vanderbilt. The Wolf Pack won their opener 72-19 over Portland State.
Saturday's win was nice, but the Beavers know they can’t be satisfied.
“It obviously gives us a really good boost in confidence,” Blount said. “But that’s a different team. That’s a team that we’re going to have to prepare the exact same for like Week 1, prepare for all 12 the exact same. It’s good confidence but you erase the slate and you start fresh every single week.”
Oregon State leads the Pac-12 in rushing with 556 yards on 84 attempts through two games, an average of 278 yards and 6.6 per attempt.
Oregon is second with 508 yards, good for 254 a game.
The Beavers also have the top two individual rushers in Jermar Jefferson and Artavis Pierce.
Jefferson, thanks to a 22-carry, 238-yard performance on Saturday, leads the conference with 285 yards and 142.5 per game.
Pierce who was injured in the second quarter Saturday, is second at 259 yards and 129.5 per game. Smith did not have an update on Pierce on Saturday.
The duo has combined for seven touchdowns — Jefferson had all four of his against Southern Utah.