SEATTLE — Recently, Washington and Oregon State have been trending in opposite directions.
While Washington has lost two straight games and three out of its last four, the Beavers are on a two-game winning streak. After losing three out of its first four games to start the season, including falling to Hawaii 38-28, Oregon State has strung together victories over Cal and Arizona, respectively.
Oregon State is coached by Jonathan Smith, who was UW’s offensive coordinator from 2014-17 and the quarterbacks coach under UW head coach Chris Petersen at Boise State from 2012-13. At his press conference on Monday, Petersen was asked about Oregon State’s recent improvement — and what the Huskies can expect when they travel to Corvallis on Friday night.
“I think it’s awesome for Jonathan and those guys down there,” Petersen said. “That’s a lot of hard work, and those guys have been building that thing up. Setting their process in place all last year, and now you are kind of starting to see the fruits of their labor. Those kids play hard down there and it’s showing up. That’s why they’re winning. They’re on a two-game win streak.
“I think their offense is … they’re kind of laying in the weeds down there. No one is really talking about those guys. They got a big-time quarterback. They got two excellent running backs. They got maybe the best receiver in the Pac-12. More touchdowns, more yards, more all this stuff than everybody. They got some shifty speed guys as well, so they’re doing a nice job. They’re building their confidence and they’re playing well.”
That receiver is Isaiah Hodgins, who leads the Pac-12 with 63 receptions for 111.9 yards and 12 touchdowns, an average of 7.9 yards per catch. No other receiver in the conference has caught more than nine touchdowns this season. As a whole, Oregon State is averaging 431.0 yards and 33.6 points per game.
There is an added challenge because Petersen and Smith know each other so well. That’s something Petersen noticed during the Huskies’ 42-23 victory last season.
“I thought it was interesting if you really knew what was going on in the game last year, in terms of the things that were called that hadn’t been called all season,” Petersen said. “And then there he comes with all this different stuff. There were some interesting things going on last year.”
Jacob Eason’s mistakes
Quarterback Jacob Eason had thrown three interceptions on the season before the loss to Utah. But against the Utes, he threw two — including one that was returned for a touchdown — and also lost a fumble while attempting to scramble and slide.
“We had a lot of other chances,” Petersen said. “It’s never going to come down to any one guy. The quarterback’s got the ball in his hands every play, and it’s a difficult position. There’s a couple of throws, obviously, he’d love to have back.
“But even with all that being said, we still had some other chances to get things done. We’re talking about in the fourth quarter, on both sides of the ball. I kind of go back, I think he’s learning every game. He’s played well in a lot of them and there’s some learning opportunities that you just can’t get except in the game. It’s his second year of college football playing.”
So far this season, Eason has completed 186-of-285 passes for 2,297 yards, 20 touchdowns and five interceptions. He’s struggled the most with handling pressure in the pocket, as evidenced by his fumble on Saturday. Petersen said that’s been a focus for the coaching staff.
“We don’t get much of that in practice,” Petersen said. “We’re trying to emphasize him staying in the pocket. That’s your game. Step up, not out. So, we’ll keep working on that.”
Clock management and timeouts
Petersen also explained his thought process during UW’s final offense drive against Utah.
The Huskies were trailing 33-21 when they took over with just more than 4 minutes remaining. They eventually scored on a 2-yard touchdown pass from Jacob Eason to Aaron Fuller, but the drive took 19 plays and lasted 3 minutes and 51 seconds. After Utah recovered the onside kick, it was able to run out the clock.
UW had three timeouts heading into that drive. The Huskies burned two of them, calling timeout on 1st-and-goal from the 8-yard line with 1:52 remaining and again on 2nd-and-goal from the 17-yard line with 1:45 remaining.
“We got to score,” Petersen said. “We got to get our best stuff in. It took us until fourth down. That’s not an ideal situation, using 19 plays to score. We’re just eating clock. You only get so many possessions. When you’re done there, you better score. The chance of getting an onside kick is less than 10 percent. Yeah, you got to save the timeouts if you get the ball — if you get it — but you gotta score first or it’s a moot point. We were just taking a lot of time. I thought it was best to use one there. Still didn’t get the onside kick.”
Had UW held on to those timeouts and still scored, it would have had a chance to kick off, stop the clock when the Utes took over and possibly get the ball back.
“If you score,” Petersen said. “We don’t want to call a bad play and waste it and not score. It took us four downs to score.”