Yesterday, I went to my daughter’s parent/teacher conference. In talking about her abilities and her rankings in percentile, one thing kept getting repeated. “She works really hard.” Now, I will tell you that she was not the top of her class in a lot of areas, and as parents we have some homework to do, but that working hard characteristic that was mentioned in multiple teacher reports made me the proudest.
It reminded me a lot of what we have seen this year from the Beavers. There has not been a plethora of post-game locker room celebrations this year for the men in Orange and Black, but there has been something that is quite obvious on the field. They are playing their butts off.
With roughly 25% of their team missing at least a game or multiple games due to injuries and with whole position groups being comprised of true freshmen, what we saw this season is that Oregon State is a tough out. They are not going to roll over and die and teams better play two good halves against them or they might go home looking for answers from their fan base and coaches as to how they lost to the Beavers.
WSU and Cal both found out the hard way that the trip to Reser Stadium is not an extra bye week like it was last year. Get your gear on and strap it up tight because you are going to need it. Players like Jaylynn Bailey who has terrorized opponents on special teams or Marcus McMaryion who has not let his role on the team define his ability to contribute to the Beavers at a high level when his number gets called.
Players like Devin Chappell who took a detour through Monmouth before his will to play at a higher level brought him to Oregon State. I think of the seniors like Harlow, Bolden, Stanton, Andrews, Saulo, Decoud and Cook who all came from different roles in different classes and yet are leaving OSU as contributors who have all started games and all played their guts out for Oregon State.
I am not going to sugar coat the year. No one in the Valley Football Center or that has gone to watch games at Reser this year is happy with a 4-8 record. And they shouldn’t be. That is unacceptable to the players and coaches who have worked so hard to be better. That being said, in a year where the conference and preconceived notions of who is good and who isn’t got turned upside down, the one constant for the Beavers was that they were going to play hard and be in it to the end.
Only two of their losses were by more than 14 points and five Pac-12 games were still in question heading into the fourth quarter. The Beavers did not magically find a way to go to a bowl game, but they took a team that was largely uncompetitive last year and made them competitive against the best talent they will face all year.
Finally, I want to address the coaching. While many people are staunch believers in this staff, there are a lot of fans like myself that have had a lot of worries.
I am worried about the offensive line and the quarterback situation. I am worried about the offense and recruiting. I am worried about keeping up with the competition.
The thing is, I have not given the staff the credit they deserve for taking a team with some talent deficiencies and making them competitive against teams with no deficiencies. Stanford, UW and UCLA have no shortage of talent. WSU, Cal and Minnesota all have areas of great talent and systems that can take advantage of that talent. But mostly, all of these teams have a system that they adhere to and recruit to that system.
I see OSU doing that. They are not always going for the big names, but rather the big fits for what they do. In that, they have been able to take the players that fit their mold and make them into tough competitors that don’t quit.
I will take one group that I have been critical of as an example. The defensive line has had its struggles. Everyone has been able to run the ball against the Beavers this year and the pass rush has been less than spectacular. But as the season has gone on, I have seen them get more pressure on teams and mostly have just seen a more active group up front.
Rather than planting hands on shoulders and trying to move linemen, the Beaver defensive front is being violent, aggressively attacking offensive linemen with their hands and forcing them to deal with their strength and toughness all game long. In many cases, they are playing with the same ferocious attack in the fourth quarter that they were playing with on the first snap. That is where you can see their hard work and determination. The hallmarks of this staff.
The Beavers have won six games in two years. That is not a stellar two year record, but what I am seeing on the field gives me hope. At the beginning of the year, myself and many other fans wanted to see improvement.
Even with the rash of injuries and youth being thrust into the spotlight early, I can confidently say that the 2016 version of the Beavers was better than the 2015 version. And it is not even close. So as I look to the future, fresh off the heels of a great win on the field, and some renewed recruiting momentum with some wins off the field, I can say that I am finding hope in the future.
Mostly, I am just excited to feel like the Beavers can win every week again. The distance from hoping to win and expecting to win is not nearly as big as the distance from expecting to lose to expecting to win. As the recruiting season unfolds and the 2017 Beaver team takes shape, I am excited to raise my expectations this next fall and to start looking forward to when the Beavers might be playing 13 games rather than 12.