Oregon State Football Offensive Preview

Jermar Jefferson and the Beavs will look to run through a depleted Cal defensive line.

Oh boy, nothing more exciting than writing an opponent preview right after your team laid a big stinkin’ egg against one of the worst teams in the conference, looking completely helpless on defense in the process. Well, time to talk the next offense up!

The good news, at least, is that Oregon State has had some struggles of their own, and currently sits at 0-2. The bad news—after UCLA put up 244 rushing yards on Cal, mainly after missed tackles—is that OSU is actually pretty good at running the ball. They’ll be led by Jermar Jefferson, who has been tearing up the Pac-12 since he was a freshman: Freshman All-American, Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year (2018), and All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention. He was slowed by an ankle injury his sophomore year, but this year he’s back to averaging 5.8 yards per carry with 4 touchdowns in 2 games so far this season. In any other week, I would be really excited to watch Jefferson play.

On the other hand, we know Cal has a very talented secondary, and I find it unlikely that OSU will torch Cal through the air. At least the challenge for next game will be clear.

I’m pretty much always nervous when Cal plays OSU, regardless of how good or bad OSU is expected to be. In 2018, I was nervous about the OSU game because even as a freshman, I regarded Jermar Jefferson as one of the best RBs in the conference. But the 2018 Cal-OSU game is a great parallel to the one this Saturday. Cal was completely embarrassed the week prior by a bad UCLA team—Cal lost, 37-7, and I was both worried about Cal’s ability to score points on offense (because again, UCLA sucks), and because Jermar Jefferson is an absolute stud. In 2018, OSU was missing their best QB Jake Luton (they’ll be missing him again Saturday, but this time it’s because he graduated, and will be busy starting for an injury-depleted Jacksonville Jaguars team instead) and Jermar Jefferson looked as good as I expected for all of 2 carries for 34 yards before he left the Cal game with an injury… and Cal subsequently won 49-7.

Quarterback

OSU has been led their first two games by Tristan Gebbia, a 4-star quarterback that transferred from Nebraska. I’m guessing there’s a Mike Riley connection there somewhere, as linebacker Avery Roberts and wide receiver Tyjon Lindsey also transferred to OSU after Riley was replaced by Scott Frost at Nebraska. Gebbia has a strong arm and can throw a laser, but he’s been otherwise lacking. Against Washington last week (another team with a good secondary), he put up all of 85 yards in the air on 11 for 24 passing. Something else reassuring to Cal fans: he’s a pro-style quarterback, and not the type to extend drives using his feet.

OSU has been taking advantage of a short passing game, and so I don’t really have any highlights of Gebbia, since there aren’t many examples of him taking shots down the field, nor are there many clips of him making throws in tight windows. OSU has been playing it safe through the air, and mainly gaining yards on the ground.

The only time I saw him tested was last week’s final drive against Washington. Here’s him trying to make a difficult throw in a tight window:

He does show some nice arm strength for a throw on the run, but not only did he telegraph this throw into double coverage, it wasn’t even the correct read: he actually had WR Trevon Bradford open at the bottom of the screen (and you’d think that with a minute left in the game and no timeouts, he should be looking to the sidelines anyway). It actually looks like Bradford is the first place he looks, but less than a second after he snap the ball, pressure forces him from the pocket, and he instead tried to throw the ball through a window that’s not there. With a minute left and the game on the line, an incompletion isn’t the end of the world (throw it high for Bradford on the sidelines), but an interception sure is.

I did notice that Gebbia had difficulty identifying his passing lanes. Quarterbacks are usually taught that if someone is in your passing lane, you move on to your next read.

It looks like this pass was intended for Trevon Bradford, who does come open on the rub route across the middle of the field, but Gebbia hesitates for a beat, and then tries to throw it so late to Bradford that he instead bonks his offensive lineman in the back of the helmet.

One thing I do like about Gebbia is that he does have nice mobility in the pocket, stepping up to avoid pressure when appropriate, but his accuracy did suffer when Washington started getting to him:

Despite the acting job by CB Keith Taylor, Gebbia’s ball sailed over the head of his intended receiver for an incompletion. Pro-tip: when DBs intercept throws, they don’t usually hold the ball up in a “can you believe I caught this?” fashion.

Gebbia is a redshirt junior, but he’s in his first year starting. They have been keeping the passing game simple for a reason:

This play is well-defended by Washington, but Gebbia doesn’t make it too difficult for them to guess: Gebbia locks onto his first read and stares him down the whole way.

You might say it’s unfair to take a bunch of clips from the Washington game instead of the Washington State game, but I don’t really find it all that interesting to watch a bunch of 10 yard passes to wide open receivers against a bad secondary. I think the Washington game is far more representative of what we can expect from Gebbia.

Running back

The running game is a different story. Barring injury concerns, I absolutely expect Jermar Jefferson to be an NFL running back. He has an excellent combination of size and speed—and I know I say that a lot, but in this case I mean that he has an NFL-caliber size and speed, which is definitely not something I say a lot. He has excellent vision, he watches as plays develop, he can find the seam, he can run through you, and he can run around you. The only possible knock against him happens to be injury concerns. Without Jefferson, OSU is looking like it’s 2018 again.

Let’s start with my biggest concern after last week’s game. Arm tackles will not bring down Jefferson. If Cal does a poor job attempting to tackle Jefferson, expect him to find the endzone:

Jefferson is a patient runner, and is perfectly content to follow his blockers:

But he also nice vision in seeing where the seam will develop:

And again, did I mention he can run through you? He can also run through you:

I should probably mention here that the backup running back, BJ Baylor, is pretty darn good too. Like Jefferson, he’s another big, powerful running back. You may remember him from last year’s, uh, unfortunate game-winning touchdown against Cal:

Suffice to say, Cal can expect a big dose of some powerful running backs this Saturday.

Receivers

After the departure of Isaiah Hodgins to the NFL, OSU looks a lot thinner at wide receiver. I don’t know the diplomatic way to say this, but they can probably best be described as a “scrappy bunch.” The #1 receiver, Trevon Bradford, is the tallest of the bunch (at least of receivers that have seen the field) listed at 6’0”. Kolby Taylor is 5’11”, Tyjon Lindsey is 5’9”, and Champ Flemings… 5’5”. Consequently, they all play like receivers with a chip on their shoulder, after being snubbed by bigger schools for their lack of size. OSU receiver corps is probably not going to win a lot of jump balls, but they will fight their damnedest for yards after the catch:

Here’s their best receiver, Trevon Bradford, who is probably not happy about being led over the middle like this, but he does a great job hanging onto the ball on contact:

My favorite OSU receiver to look out for is Jesiah Irish, an explosive athlete with the ability to make a play out in space, but he’s yet to record a reception this year. Another player with a lot of explosiveness? The 5’5” 140 lbs. Champ Flemings:

Champ Flemings most often gets the ball on jet sweeps or simple checkdown routes, but he obviously has a ton of speed and elusiveness.

Finally, I don’t really have any highlights for him, but it seems that Gebbia’s favorite target is actually the tight end, Luke Musgrave. He was also on the receiving end of Gebbia’s longest completion, which was this play:

Expect a lot of targets for the tight end this weekend.

Conclusion

We all know that OSU has some bad juju up there in Corvallis. Regardless of their record, OSU always puts up a fight against Cal, winning 14 of the past 21 matchups. The 4-8 Beavers won in 2016 (with Cal as 14-point favorites), and the 5-7 Beavers won in 2019 (with Cal as 11-point favorites). However, Cal snuck by the 1-11 Beavers in 2017 and trounced the 2-10 Beavers in 2018. At the time of this writing, Cal sits at 3.5-point favorites over OSU, which is far closer than it has been historically. This game may very well be the bellwether for the rest of Cal’s season: will Cal struggle against the scrappy underdog team fighting their way out of the Pac-12 cellar, or will they look as strong as we expected them to be in the preseason?

Here’s hoping for the latter.

Go Bears.