They came into the game as a 13-point underdog and haven’t won at a Big Ten venue since defeating Minnesota back in 1972. The Oregon State Beavers could have changed perception — and maybe the forecast for the 2016 season — in Game 1, had they only accomplished one little thing.
Take the game.
Minnesota did virtually everything imaginable to hand a win over to Oregon State Thursday in Minneapolis, but somehow the Golden Gophers escaped with a 30-23 win. As far as Oregon State is concerned, everyone is going to say the same thing: It’s just the same old Beavers.
When Gary Andersen took over the Oregon State program over a year ago, he vowed to make this team “tougher.” He wanted to change the Beavers’ label of being a soft team, whether fairly gained or not.
That philosophy translated into some players getting the boot; an upgrade on facilities, including a new weight room; and making everything, including roster spots and playing time, more difficult to come by.
That should translate a tough football team on the field that just outworks an opponent and eventually tires the other guy out.
What we saw at Minnesota was the exact opposite, as it seems nothing has changed from the Mike Riley days — ergo, conservative football that ultimately falls short.
From the play-calling to the missed attempts to make a big stop in a big spot, the Beavers demonstrated every trait they are trying to shed.
Minnesota is hardly a juggernaut and will be hard-pressed to finish the regular season with a .500 record, given the Gophers’ own issues — the worst of which, like critical play-calling and discipline, nearly gave Thursday’s game away.
Minnesota managed to have not one, not two, but three players get ejected over the course of the game for targeting. Two of the players ejected were starting linebackers, which should mean big things for the Oregon State offense.
Instead we saw the Beavers going backwards at times, faced with a lot of third-and-12s only to throw a pass in the flat well short of the first down.
Getting players ejected at an alarming pace wasn’t enough for Minnesota. The Gophers were able to give the Beavers a safety on a bad snap that brought the score within one at 17-16, and the Beavers later parlayed that miscue into a touchdown three minutes later to take a lead.
Oregon State put themselves in prime position to win an important game, but an old bug-a-boo crept up an bit the Beavers in a sensitive area. They couldn’t stop the zone-read, manned by a running quarterback in years past, and in 2016 it appears the same skill-set will continue to vex them.
On a 12-play, 80-yard scoring drive that gave the Gophers the lead for good, the Beavers saw Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner convert three separate third-and-long yardage for first downs to extend the drive. The last one set up a first-and-goal.
With all of Andersen’s talk of becoming a tougher team, when the chips were down, the Beavers forgot how to tackle and watched tailback Rodney Smith pinball himself off defenders into the end zone.
Despite it all, the Beavers were just down one with 13 minutes to go and a field goal would give them the lead once again. Oregon State managed to put itself in Minnesota territory with eight minutes to go, but decided to go ultra-conservative once again and ran the ball four straight times, losing possession on downs.
Minnesota then accomplished what Oregon State couldn’t. Take advantage of the situation to score another touchdown. Even then, the Gophers couldn’t help themselves — they gave the Beavers some hope by going for two with a seven-point lead.
It was risky and not the best decision in the world to be sure. Instead of an extra point to tie it, Minnesota should have made it an eight-point lead and forced the Beavers to go for two in order to tie the game.
As it turned out, none of that mattered — Oregon State never threatened to score. It was just one loss in a game not many expected OSU to be in. In the bigger picture, however, this game was there to be taken, only for old habits to crop up and deny the Beavers a very attainable victory.
Andersen’s program is still new and can be forgiven for the mishaps that occurred in the season opener, but if there isn’t any sign of change that he promised fairly soon, Andersen might be wishing he stayed at Wisconsin.