Oregon State goals still intact, the Chance Nolan roller coaster: 8 takeaways from Beavers’ 17-14 loss to USC

Rewinding the Oregon State Beavers’ Saturday night’s performance at Reser Stadium, where they lost to No. 7 U.S.C. 17-14.

Here are eight takeaways:

1. What it means for season

Oregon State fans have all week to what-if Saturday night’s loss to the Trojans. There are certainly enough situations to chew on. I’ve received plenty of emails and tweets on various subjects. The Beavers, however, had better turn the page by noon Sunday if they want to make something of this season. Outside of a national championship — and who in their right mind ever thought that was a possibility? — everything remains in play, albeit with a reduced margin of error. Another opportunity is just six days away in Salt Lake City, when OSU plays No. 12 Utah at 11 a.m. (PT).

While a win over the Utes would be an upset, it’s not like the Beavers won’t have a chance. OSU was the only Pac-12 team to beat Utah last year. Rice-Eccles Stadium is familiar to quarterback Chance Nolan and many other Beavers, as they took the Utes to the wire in 2020 before falling 30-24.

But let’s say Saturday doesn’t go in favor of Oregon State. The Beavers are 3-2 overall, and 0-2 in the conference. But the following three games are winnable: at Stanford (Oct. 8), Washington State (Oct. 15) and Colorado (Oct. 22). If OSU wins all three, it would be 6-2 and bowl eligible before Halloween. That has happened exactly three times this century: 2000, 2012 and 2013.

2. Play of the game

Even though Jordan Addison’s 21-yard touchdown reception with 1:13 remaining proved to be the game winner, that’s not the play most will remember. It was USC converting a fourth-and-6 near midfield on its game-winning drive that will gnaw at the Beavers for years to come. Quarterback Caleb Williams, as he did all night, miraculously scrambled to get seven yards to keep the drive alive. Once the play broke down, everything had to go right for USC, and it did. Andrew Chatfield just missed a sack. Jaydon Grant had Williams by the legs a few yards short of the first down marker. Omar Speights had Williams teed up. It wasn’t enough. The star of the play wasn’t Williams, but Brett Neilon. The USC center alertly noticed Williams was in trouble, sprinted to his aid and forcefully pushed his quarterback past the first down marker. For that reason alone, Neilon should be Pac-12 lineman of the week.

For those who think officials should have blown the game dead for lack of forward progress, nonsense. Williams was briefly stopped, but not long enough for a legitimate whistle.

3. Live and die by Nolan

It wasn’t Nolan’s best game of the season. It was his worst, in fact. The Oregon State quarterback completed 17 of 29 passes for 167 yards and no touchdowns. Most regrettable were his four interceptions. Afterwards, coach Jonathan Smith explained the interceptions, and by his account, not all were Nolan’s fault. That’s true. But at least two, and perhaps three, were on Nolan. The two interceptions in the first half were awful throws that you could see coming before the ball left Nolan’s hand. The final one, a pick by USC’s Max Williams to seal the loss, was thrown into triple coverage. It’s hard to completely blame that one on Nolan, as it might have been the play call. Not sure why the Beavers were so desperate there. OSU was near midfield, needing about 20 yards to set up a bona fide field goal attempt, with plenty of time and timeouts to use. Why not go for a 6-to-8 yard pass and set up Jack Colletto (we’ll get to him later) for a short yardage fourth down play?

To those, though, who think it’s time for a quarterback change, there’s this: remember Fresno State? That win doesn’t happen without Nolan’s cool demeanor as he rallied the Beavers in the fourth quarter. Or several gutsy performances in 2021. Bottom line: Nolan is Oregon State’s quarterback, but he must get better and more consistent if the Beavers want to achieve their goals this season.

4. Running game still not there

In the days leading up to Saturday, USC looked like what the doctor ordered for Oregon State’s running game. The Trojans didn’t stop any rushing attack through three games. Apparently, they had enough. It wasn’t like Oregon State did nothing on the ground. The Beavers ran for 153 yards and two touchdowns. Jam Griffin had his best day with the Beavers, rushing 12 times for 84 yards and a touchdown. But there was no consistency to OSU’s rushing attack, and outside of Griffin, no explosiveness. One glaring omission was the use of receivers in the run game. The only receiver sweep was a run of 15 yards by Anthony Gould. Silas Bolden, capable in this situation, never touched the ball in the run game.

5. The Jack Colletto factor

Fact is, Colletto didn’t impact this game on offense as much as he should. And that’s more of a credit to USC than an Oregon State oversight. The Trojans were largely good on first and second down, and they gave OSU a few short yardage plays on third and fourth down. The Beavers had just one third down when they needed four yards or less to convert. That was a third-and-2 where, guess what, Colletto ran for a first down. Early on, it appeared Colletto would have his fingerprints all over the game, as he caught a 30-yard pass on OSU’s first play from scrimmage. But other than lining up at fullback numerous times, Colletto touched the ball just one more time the remainder of the game.

6. Small but mighty

Because of a $161 million west side remodel, Reser Stadium’s seating capacity has dropped by more than 10,000 this season. But Reser can still bring it, even at reduced capacity. Saturday’s atmosphere was as electric and loud as it’s been in a decade. It had a decided impact on USC’s offensive performance. The Trojans had to burn three timeouts during the first 19 minutes of the game, which led to two delay of game penalties later in the second quarter.

“It was a tremendous atmosphere,” USC coach Lincoln Riley said. “I gotta be honest. I’ve definitely never been in an atmosphere like that where it’s half a stadium. You’ve got to give credit to their fans. … It was a tough place to play tonight.”

Oregon State must hope Saturday night isn’t a one-off in this regard. The Beavers can use a similar performance from their fans in upcoming games, particularly when they host Washington State and Oregon.

7. Tre’Shaun Harrison can’t put it together

Harrison seems on the edge of becoming an elite receiver in the Pac-12. But the fifth-year senior continues to come up empty in key situations, particularly with dropped passes and untimely penalties. On OSU’s opening drive of the second half, the Beavers moved past midfield, when Harrison dropped a first-down throw from Nolan at the USC 32. If he catches that pass, the Beavers — leading 7-3 at the time — would have had a chance to put significant pressure on USC. Instead, OSU eventually had to punt. Early in the fourth, a Damien Martinez run appeared to give OSU a first-and-goal at the USC 6, but Harrison was flagged for holding. It was a drive killer, and the Beavers eventually missed a game-tying 46-yard field goal.

We’re not necessarily singling out Harrison. But as mentioned earlier, if the Beavers want to achieve goals in which they believe they are capable, seniors like Harrison need to lead the way.

8. There was a receiving positive

Senior Tyjon Lindsey caught five passes for 44 yards, which on the surface doesn’t seem like much. But three of his five receptions resulted in first downs, including twice on third down. Nolan must have liked what he saw from Lindsey, as he targeted him nine times. Three of Nolan’s four interceptions came on pass attempts to Lindsey.

The bigger picture, though, is Lindsey can’t have a game like this, then disappear, as he’s done often during his career. It’s time for Lindsey to show the consistency he promised during preseason camp and start delivering game after game.

–Nick Daschel| ndaschel@oregonian.com | @nickdaschel

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