There was perhaps no man in college football with a more unenviable task this past summer than Gary Andersen.
He was in his second year as head coach of the Oregon State football team, and as the first game of the season loomed, it was a legitimate wonder if the Beavers would win a game. They had no discernible talent at any of the skill positions, lost nine in a row to close the season, and allowed nearly 200 points in their final four games.
As far as Andersen was concerned, it was just a rebuilding project, hardly any different than the one going on in Washington, where Chris Petersen has worked his magic to rejuvenate a once-dying Husky program and make it a top-four team.
One question: How believable was Andersen?
Peterson at least had a track record of high-level and fast success. Andersen, while certainly very good everywhere he went, wasn’t as sure a bet.
Quite shockingly, this Oregon State season has been everything Andersen has said it would be — maybe even more.
Has Oregon State lost more games (6) than it has won (2) this year? Yes. Remember, though: This team wouldn’t have shocked a soul if it lost all 12. Even though the Beavers have lost, they have found a way, some way, to hang around long enough to give the Pac-12 the legitimate scare it wasn’t quite ready for.
Cal, and its high-octane offense and gaudy numbers, went down, 47-44, and though it wasn’t exactly a declarative moment for Oregon State, it certainly caught the West Coast’s attention. The very next week OSU challenged Utah, barely losing, 19-14, in a game few expected to be worth watching.
“We’re down a few guys, but that’s another reason I’m proud of this group,” Andersen said after that one. “They kept on fighting.”
Andersen didn’t have guys to lose. His depth at the skill positions was thin as a No. 2 pencil and the man had still found a way to contend.
Saturday night, hosting a resurgent Washington State team, the Beavers did it again. They jumped out to a 21-0 lead when not many could have guessed they were even capable of scoring 21 points at all. Those 21 points, by the way, were the product of a third string quarterback, Marcus McMaryion, who was outplaying the most combustible quarterback in the conference, Luke Falk.
Arguably more shocking was the fact that Falk and the Wazzu offense had been stumped, something not even Stanford, that bastion of defense and physical play in the Pac-12, had managed to do.
“We were able to mix it up,” Andersen said at halftime. “That’s the biggest thing. The defense is communicating well, they’re getting the calls in, getting a little pressure on them. When you play well it’s because your players are playing well.”
It wouldn’t last, though was it really meant to? Nobody can keep Falk and the Cougars bottled up for long, and in the second half the dam broke for the Beavers. Falk threw five touchdown passes and collected 415 yards. It’s a testament to Andersen, however, that there was a dam in the first place. It wasn’t the win they hoped for, but Oregon State is not far away from being relevant in a Pac-12 that’s in flux.
“It’s a crying shame,” Andersen said. “You play them close and you get where you need to be and you have an opportunity to win a game in the Pac-12 and you don’t get it done. That’s a tough one.”
Oregon State will win tough ones rather than lose them in the coming years… at least if the current trajectory continues in Corvallis.