Historic start for Northwest schools, Oregon State braces for USC madness: 10 takeaways from Beavers’ 68-28 rout of Montana State

Oregon State wrapped up nonconference play Saturday night with a 68-28 win over Montana State at Providence Park. Here are 10 takeaways from the Beavers’ romp over the Bobcats:

1. A Northwest uprising

Oregon State, Oregon, Washington State and Washington are a combined 11-1 through three games. The lone loss was Oregon’s 49-3 defeat to No. 1 Georgia. The victories are substantial: top 25 Michigan State, Wisconsin and BYU, and a road win at Fresno State (a game that included four quarters of Jake Haener).

This is a historic start to a season for the four Northwest schools. It’s been 92 years since the foursome were a combined 11-1. The opponents in 1930 were decidedly different: Oregon started 3-0 against Pacific, Willamette and Linfield; the Beavers are 2-1 against the likes of Willamette, Gonzaga and USC.

Even 2000 — considered the gold standard season for Northwest football — doesn’t measure up at 9-3.

2. Best Oregon State offense we’ve seen in 2022

Some will downplay Oregon State’s 540-yard, 68-point performance against Montana State because it’s an FCS opponent. But the Bobcats are better than the average FCS team, and the Beavers made that defense look like cardboard cutouts. The receivers’ routes and catches were sharper — a few drops, but they were early — and Chance Nolan only missed a few throws. Tre’Shaun Harrison and Anthony Gould had breakout games, timely as their confidence is rising heading into the conference season. The running game, a work in progress, was solid, though not spectacular. OSU was 10 of 12 on third down, impressive after going 2 of 10 the previous week against Fresno State. All in all, what was not to like about the offense?

3. Concerns? Oh yeah, there are a few

Three seem prominent. The running game, while solid, doesn’t have the explosive element it’s had the past several years. Deshaun Fenwick had a nice 25-yard run for a touchdown. But through three games, it seems like OSU struggles to consistently hit the 8, 10 and 12 yard runs of the Jermar Jefferson and BJ Baylor eras. Not a huge concern, but worth noting. Another is defending the mobile quarterback. This one is tricky, because Oregon State is unlikely to face an offense or an approach like Montana State’s the remainder of the season. Quarterback Tommy Mellott ran for 135 yards against OSU. Two weeks ago, Boise State backup Taylen Green had a 100-yard game. Still, Pac-12 coaches are watching for any sign of weakness. You can bet they’ll add a few RPOs to test the Beavers and see if they can stop it. Then there’s the kickoff return team, which Montana State worked over to the tune of 190 yards on five returns and one touchdown. Not to mention two missed extra-point attempts. Kicker Everett Hayes is struggling with a lower body injury. If this lingers, OSU has an issue because the Beavers will face better returning teams than the Bobcats this season.

4. No more of that

A lucky bounce bailed out Oregon State on a questionable fourth-and-1 call midway through the second quarter. With Jack Colletto in the game, the Beavers got cute and, rather than giving it to the dependable Colletto, Nolan instead ran a pitch to Damien Martinez. It was an awkward exchange that Martinez fumbled, but immediately recovered because of a lucky bounce. The play resulted in a 17-yard gain, but it could easily have been a turnover.

Next time, just hand it off to Colletto and get a fresh set of downs.

5. Where it ranks

Oregon State’s 68-point performance against Montana State is tied for sixth all-time in program history. Here are the top 10:

77: Nicholls State, 2012

76: Willamette, 1931

75: Chemawa, 1911

71: Columbia, 1929

69: Willamette, 1915

68: Montana State, 2022

68: Rooks, 1921

68: Chemawa, 1921

67: Willamette, 1902

67: Multnomah Athletic Club, 1926

67: Northern Illinois, 1996

6. Musgrave status a USC talking point

With eyes turning to a showdown against top 10 USC this week, tight end Luke Musgrave’s availability becomes an issue. Musgrave was injured late in the game against Fresno State, and did not play Saturday. The 6-foot-6 tight end, who after two games led Oregon State in receiving, has dim prospects of playing against the Trojans. “Slim” was the official term used when I asked Smith after Saturday’s game. Don’t expect to get much more than that this week. It’s in Oregon State’s best interests to keep USC guessing.

7. Playing the scoreboard game

Oregon State and USC’s result against Fresno State is going to be overused comparison this week. The Beavers beat the Bulldogs 35-32, winning on the game’s final play, while USC had a reasonably easy time putting away Fresno State 42-17.

It’s not a great contrast, other than for coaches looking at video to see how their upcoming opponent had successes and trouble against the Bulldogs. USC played at home, Oregon State at Fresno State. That’s a sizable advantage for the Trojans. More important were injuries. OSU faced Fresno State at full strength, whereas the Bulldogs lost one of the West’s top quarterbacks in Jake Haener and perhaps their best defensive player, Evan Williams, to injuries against USC.

8. The water gets deep from here

Coming out of the first three weeks – for the most part, the end of the non-conference season – there are seven teams appearing to have a shot at the two Pac-12 title game berths: Oregon State, Oregon, Washington, Washington State, USC, Utah and UCLA. Utah and USC have a decided advantage, playing in the weaker South division. And conference schedules are far from equal. A case can be made that the Beavers and Cougars have the most difficult schedules. OSU and WSU are the only schools among the top seven that play USC, Utah and Oregon. USC skips Oregon and Washington. The Ducks, who miss USC, play Utah and UCLA at home. Washington might have the easiest schedule, as it misses USC and Utah, although the Huskies play at UCLA, Oregon and Washington State on the road.

We’ll soon know about Oregon State’s Pac-12 title game chances, with USC and Utah up next. A split or sweep of those games, and the Beavers are solidly in the mix.

9. Statistics of notes

Oregon State scored five touchdowns and 34 points in each half against Montana State

The Beavers’ defense did not commit a penalty. Two of OSU’s six penalties were for unsportsmanlike conduct. Get ready for some up-downs this week in practice.

For a second consecutive game, Oregon State did not commit a turnover.

10. Oregon State among the national leaders

Here are statistical categories where the Beavers rank among the top 15:

Red zone offense: T1, 100% (14 of 14)

Punt returns: No. 2, 34.7 ypg

Interceptions: T8, 2.00

Sacks allowed: T10, 0.67

Turnover margin: 11, 1.67

Scoring offense: 13, 45.7

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

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