Beavers' defense has much to build on

CORVALLIS — On the defensive side of the football, Oregon State has much to build on.

Sure, the Beavers lost their season opener 30-23 at Minnesota, but they only gave up 280 total yards. And two of the Gophers’ touchdown drives came on short fields after OSU turnovers.

For a team that allowed an average of 37 points and 481.5 yards per game last season to rank 11th in the Pac-12 in both categories, that’s progress.

“Last year we could barely stop the run, we could barely stop the pass,” junior defensive end Baker Pritchard said during practice last week. “It just showed what we can do against a good Big Ten team.”

Actually, it remains to be seen if Minnesota is actually a good Big Ten team. The Gophers were 6-7 overall and 2-6 in conference play last season, but Pritchard is on to something.

OSU had more total yards than the Gophers and took a 23-17 lead into the fourth quarter.

“We know we’re a good team. We felt like we showed that, but we still haven’t shown we can win,” said senior safety Devin Chappell. “We need to make the plays at the end of the game because ultimately that’s what matters. It doesn’t matter to put up a good fight.”

Still, putting up “a good fight” is a lot better than getting blown out, which happened frequently last season for the Beavers in a descent to the bottom of the Pac-12.

OSU, which is coming off a bye week, should get in the win column in its home opener against lower division opponent Idaho State from the Big Sky Conference on Saturday at Reser Stadium.

SATURDAY, SEPT. 17

Oregon State (0-1) vs. Idaho State (1-1)

Time: 2 p.m.

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Tickets: Visit beavertickets.com or call 800-GOBEAVS

Several defensive players made their first career starts at Minnesota, including redshirt freshman cornerback Xavier Crawford, who matched junior inside linebacker Manuse Hungalu with a team-high eight tackles to go along with two pass breakups.

OSU allowed just 130 passing yards to Minnesota, but they failed to sack quarterback Mitch Leidner and gave up four rushing touchdowns.

“Although there’s some things that need to be corrected, you still say that when you look at the one-on-one matchups, we did our job most of the time,” said cornerbacks coach Cory Hall.

If the Beavers continue to win one-on-one matchups moving forward, there’s reason to believe there will be improvement from last season’s 2-10 record and 0-9 mark in the Pac-12.

Finishing games strong is the next step on both sides of the ball.

Trailing 24-23, the Beavers failed to convert on fourth and 1 from the Minnesota 43 with about five minutes left. The Gophers responded with a 57-yard touchdown drive that included several missed tackles. Sophomore outside linebacker Bright Ugwoegbu attributed the missed tackles, in part, to fatigue and “first-game jitters.”

“We just had some mistakes and those mistakes led to big plays for them,”  Ugwoegbu said. “As long as we eliminate those mistakes I think the defense is on the right track.”

The Beavers, who were at back at practice Monday, need to create more negative plays. They failed to sack the quarterback and had just two tackles for loss against Minnesota.

But OSU was in position to win at Minnesota, and that’s a statement they weren’t able to make most of last season.

”If you were on the sideline, the type of atmosphere that it was, you wouldn’t have thought we were losing,” Ugwoegbu said. “We were in it the whole game. We were fighting. We were pushing. We were having fun. It was a different feel.”

You can reach Gary Horowitz ghorowitz@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6726 or Twitter.com/ghorowitz. The Statesman Journal is a KGW News partner.

KGW


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