Oregon State Football: seven predictions for the 2022 Beavers
Spring ball is over. The dog days of summer are upon us. That means it’s talkin’ season. Time to make predictions that will be laughably wrong and go out on completely unnecessary limbs all in the name of giving Freezing Cold Takes more Twitter fodder.
Here are seven predictions about the 2022 Oregon State Beavers. Please save them for future enjoyment.
The Beavers roll out one of the best offensive lines in football… again
I’d like to start a campaign. Jim Michalczik is a Broyles Award finalist if Oregon State’s offensive line does in 2022 what it did in 2021. He deserves more attention than he gets.
The Oregon State assistant is in his second stint with the program, hired in December 2017 to serve as the team’s run game coordinator and offensive line coach. In the four years the Beaver line has been under his tutelage, Oregon State’s rushing attack has developed into one of the most efficient in football. In 2018, his first year, the Beavers averaged 3.9 yards a carry (97th nationally). In 2019, that number rose to 4.6 (54th). In 2020, the Beavers were at 5.4 (16th). In 2021, the Beavers were at 5.3 (12th).
All the while, Oregon State has had a different running back lead the team in carries each of the four seasons.
Last season, the Oregon State offense was the fifth-most efficient offense in college football. By success rate (50.7%), they were in a class with Ohio State, Coastal Carolina, Western Kentucky, and Mississippi State. And it was largely because of an offensive line that was the best group in the country at opening up yards on the ground for the running game. Football Outsiders tracks line yards per carry, a metric developed to divvy up rushing success between a line and the back, and Oregon State’s 3.3 line YPC average led the country. No team had a better success rate in short-yardage situations than the Beavers, who converted third/fourth-and-2 or less 92% of the time, the only team in the country to break the 90% threshold. Only four FBS teams were stuffed at the line of scrimmage less often than the Beavers.
Center Nathan Eldridge and guard Nous Keobounnam graduate on the offensive line, but tackle Brandon Kipper, guard Jake Levengood, guard Marco Brewer, and tackle Joshua Gray are all back. From the work done in the spring, it looks like Levengood is moving inside to man the center spot and Kipper is sliding in from tackle to guard, where coach Jonathan Smith said he might have a more natural fit. We’ll see how Taliese Fauga, a 6-foot-6 sophomore and projected starter at right tackle, fits into the puzzle but there is zero reason to doubt Michalczik at this point.
Two tailbacks go north of 500 yards on the ground
Why not stick with the rushing attack? If Oregon State thinks it’ll have another strong offensive line (which I’d obviously agree with) and Oregon State thinks Damien Martinez—the freshman tailback who wowed during spring ball—is going to be a guy who can immediately contribute (which I’d also agree with), then a team that ended last season with the 23rd-highest run rate in college football is probably going to once again lean on the running game.
BJ Baylor got 227 carries last season. Maybe there isn’t a tailback on the roster who has proven enough at this point to suggest he can be a 200-carry kind of back, but there are certainly a few options who already look like they can be a 100-carry guy. And Smith said during the spring they’ll probably stick with the three-back rotation they used in 2021.
Deshaun Fenwick averaged 5.7 yards a carry last season as the No. 2 in that three-back look. He ran for 448 yards. Slide him up into the No. 1 spot and give him a few more carries and he should be able to clear 500 yards with relative ease. It’s not a hot take to suggest someone can average 5 yards a carry behind this offensive line, or something close to it. I like Fenwick’s talent. Plus, Oregon State backs averaged nearly 3 yards before they were even touched last season.
Now, to Martinez. A mid-year enrollee from Texas, the freshman looks the part, which is a wildly overused cliché, but in this case, it’s wildly true. If a young guy can come in and quickly learn the offense, it’ll allow those physical gifts to shine through. Freshmen are playing all throughout the country, and Martinez getting to go through spring ball should put him on the path toward immediate playing time. As the season wears on, he should grow into more of a defined role. There’s a random 100-yard breakout game in his future this first year.
Tyjon Lindsey ends his Beaver career on a high note
Having covered him as a freshman at Nebraska, I will continue to say only good things about Tyjon Lindsey. Injuries plagued his 2021 season, but they’ve always been a problem. When he’s fully healthy, the former top-50 recruit is a dynamic weapon in the pass game. He had a five-catch, 102-yard, two-touchdown breakout against USC on the road last season, highlighting the potential for electricity in his game.
He had 16 catches last year, 11 the year before that, and 18 in his first season on the field for Oregon State after transferring. With departures from Trevon Bradford, Champ Flemings, and Zeriah Beason, Lindsey feels like a likely starter as we move toward fall camp. As long as he remains healthy, I like him to have a 30-reception kind of senior season.
A better Beaver secondary
Every defensive back of significance returns from the 2021 squad. Jaydon Grant (71 tackles, six PBUs, two forced fumbles) played the nickel position last season but is expected to play safety in 2022. Healthy, he’ll give the Beavers a really nice three-man rotation, combining with Alton Julian and Kitan Oladapo—the team’s two highest-graded defensive backs last season, per PFF. Julian tore his ACL midway through the year, so there’s a little bit of “wait and see” going on with regards to the early portion of the 2022 season for him. Alex Austin (47 tackles, seven PBUs) is the team’s best corner. He’ll hold down one side of the field and likely take the other team’s best guy every week out. Ron Hardge III looks like the guy at Grant’s old nickel spot, and he’s plenty experienced. At the other corner spot, Oregon State has a veteran in Rejzohn Wright and an up-and-comer in Jaden Robinson.
There are some injury concerns here, but when you want improvement from a group, you want to have the kind of continuity this secondary has.
And Oregon State needs improvement from the back end. On passing downs last year, Oregon State allowed a success rate that ranked 99th nationally. On third downs, opponents converted 50.3% of the time (127th). The secondary was gettable.
The Beavers could stand to find someone who can consistently terrorize the passer from the front seven, which would undoubtedly make life easier on the secondary. Maybe Trent Bray, in his first year as the full-time defensive coordinator, can help with a more aggressive scheme.
One thing looks pretty clear in the back end, though: this should be a better secondary than it was a year ago, and that should give the defense a higher floor.
A pass-rusher emerges
The defense last season had a front seven havoc rate that ranked 115th out of 130 FBS teams. The Beavers just couldn’t create enough plays in opposing backfields. After a 2019 season that saw Oregon State produce more than seven tackles for loss a game, they were below four in 2020 and then just a bit above four in 2021. Bray can help. He’s going to deploy a more modern, multiple, attacking brand of defense that isn’t married to one specific concept or plan of attack. It’s a little “my plan is to attack.”
There are questions along the defensive line, perhaps none bigger than the status of Isaac Hodgins, who continues to recover from a foot injury after missing the entire 2021 season. But maybe there are solid answers at the outside linebacker spot, a position group that seemingly had a strong spring period. Oregon State has the 6-foot-5 John McCartan returning after missing 2021 with a hamstring issue. It has Florida transfer and former blue-chip recruit Andrew Chatfield Jr. stepping into a new role. And it has the 6-foot-6 Oregon native Cory Stover, a fourth-year outside ‘backer who had as good a spring as anyone.
“He’s got a chance to impact the game way more than he ever has,” Smith said this spring, per The Athletic’s Christian Caple. “That’s exactly what you’re looking for—this guy’s been in the program three years, from the state of Oregon, and just kept plugging away. Now, he’s grown into his body and he’s got himself in a position to be a really good player around here for a couple years.”
Is Oregon State going to have an elite pass-rusher? Maybe. Maybe not. But between Chatfield’s addition, McCartan’s return, Stover’s growth, and the changes from Bray, the Beavers should get a least one guy who experiences a breakthrough kind of season.
Oregon State goes unbeaten in the non-conference portion of the schedule
Boise State at home is a nice opener for the Beavers. With the game being broadcast to the masses on ESPN, it’s a chance to show the larger college football public just how seriously Oregon State needs to be taken this season under Jonathan Smith. Smith has the respect of his peers for the job he has done elevating the Beaver program from where it was when he inherited it. This 2022 campaign feels like a chance for him and his coaching staff to take that next step in terms of program perception.
Montana State in Portland should be another win for the Beavers.
Fresno on Sept. 10, however, provides an early-season “prove it” game. Even without Kalen DeBoer manning the sideline for Fresno State, the Bulldogs feel like a solid team going into the new year. They came in at No. 37 in Bill Connelly’s updated SP+ projections, a good three points better than Oregon State on a neutral field. Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener is a big source of optimism. He threw for 4,096 yards and 33 touchdowns last season while completing 67% of his passes, flirted with the idea of transferring, but ultimately decided to stick it out and remain with the Bulldogs.
An interesting potential key in the game: Fresno State plays USC on the road a week after hosting Oregon State. For a program looking to establish itself under a new head coach, Lincoln Riley and Hollywood and USC offer a potential distraction. If Fresno gets caught looking ahead, even if just for a quarter, Oregon State could get an edge and then lean on what it does best.
Going 3-0 to start the season will do nothing in a literal sense for Oregon State’s chances of appearing in the Pac-12 title game, but it would certainly help build some positive momentum toward that kind of run.
The Beavers get to eight in the regular season
Call it “Oregon Steight” or something like that.
Actually, don’t do that. I’ll think of something better.
FanDuel set the Oregon State win total at 5.5. I’m confidently hammering that over.