CORVALLIS – Oh, how the landscape has changed for the Oregon State football team.
It’s about time.
A week after hitting rock bottom in a 47-6 drubbing at Colorado, the Beavers turned in their best performance of the season Saturday in a 47-44 overtime victory over California at Reser Stadium.
Not only did the Beavers (2-3, 1-1 Pac-12) snap a 12-game Pac-12 losing streak dating back to the 2014 season, but they are no longer the worst team in the conference.
BOX SCORE: Oregon State 47, Cal 44, OT
OK, when the dust settles OSU may find itself in the Pac-12 North basement. But for the moment, reeling Oregon (2-4, 0-3), which was blown away Saturday by No. 5 Washington at home, 70-21, has that distinction. The Ducks have lost four games in a row, have perhaps the worst defense in college football, and are searching for answers that may not arrive anytime soon.
But I digress.
This column is about OSU’s resurgence, even if it was for just one game. It had been nearly two years since the Beavers’ last conference win, back when Mike Riley was in charge of the program. So what if they squandered a 34-17 third-quarter lead and needed overtime to win. That makes the victory more special and should boost confidence.
With momentum on the Golden Bears’ side after they came all the way back to tie the game on a 29-yard field goal with five seconds remaining in regulation, OSU did not wilt in overtime. The defense held Cal (3-3, 1-2) to a field goal, and OSU junior quarterback Darell Garretson scored the game-winning touchdown on a 16-yard run.
“Can you grow from that?” second-year OSU coach Gary Andersen said. “You absolutely should grow from that moment.”
A crowd of 34,066 showed up at Reser and the orange-clad student section was filled from beginning to end. It was fitting that Garretson ran to the their section behind OSU’s bench after the game-winning score.
Garretson did his best work running the football. He completed just 13 of 24 passes for 85 yards with two interceptions, including a pick six, but ran for a career-high 105 yards and two TDs.
Did he ever dream about sealing in overtime win with his legs?
“I always thought it was gonna be passing or something, something really cool like that,” Garretson said. “Running was pretty sweet. I don’t think anything tops that.”
Credit Andersen for staying with Garretson after pulling him the last two weeks in favor of freshman walk-on Conor Blount. Andersen dismissed any notion of a quarterback controversy.
The real story of Saturday’s game was the Beavers’ rushing attack, which amassed 474 yards, a school record for a conference game.
Sophomore running back Ryan Nall had the look of a future NFL back, displaying a combination of power and speed for 221 yards on just 14 carries and three TDs.
Garretson compared Nall’s 15.8-yards per carry average to “some stuff I play on Madden (video games).”
“This guy absolutely, completely went off,” Garretson said.
Nall, who had an 80-yard touchdown run on the first offensive play of the third quarter, and a 62-yard jaunt late in the quarter, left early in the fourth quarter with a foot injury. He hopes to be back for next Saturday’s home game against Utah.
“Hats off to these guys,” Nall said of the offensive line. “They did a great job blocking for me the whole game, especially that long (80-yard) run. It just split wide open.”
The defense also played a major role.
OSU gave up 317 yards on the ground and four rushing touchdowns, but they limited national passing leader Davis Webb to just 113 yards in the air – more than 300 yards less than his average coming into the game.
Senior cornerback Treston Decoud did an excellent job on Cal wide receiver Chad Hansen. The Pac-12’s leading receiver was limited to four catches for 16 yards and was a non-factor.
“He’s a great player, man,” Decoud said. “And I feel like I’m a great player. It was a good matchup and I’m glad we came out on top.”
Let’s not label OSU as contenders in the Pac-12 North. But the Beavers cleared a major hurdle with their first conference win in the Andersen era.
He stopped short of calling it a defining moment for the program
“It’s a good moment,” Andersen said. “So now we’ve gotta understand that’s what you're supposed to do is win football games.”
Who knows, maybe there will be more wins ahead in the coming weeks.
Don’t forget, the Civil War is in Corvallis, and the way things are going OSU might be favored.
ghorowitz@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6726 or Twitter.com/ghorowitz. The Statesman Journal is a KGW News partner.