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Quarterback Jake Luton is Oregon State’s key to staying in the game with Ohio State

The senior signal-caller will need to move the Beavers down the field if they hope to pull off the upset.

NCAA Football: Oregon State at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

For the Oregon State Beavers, the 2018-19 season is a reset. Last year, the third (and final) season of the Gary Anderson era came to an early close after a 1-5 start, and the end result of the season was a very, uh, not good 1-11. A Week 2 win against FCS Portland State was all that the Beavers could build their win column with.

With a new coach in Jonathan Smith, who enters the season in his first year as a head coaching, he’s got a tall task in going to Columbus, Ohio to face the Ohio State Buckeyes. While the Pac-12’s OSU returns seven starters on offense, none are as important as Jake Luton.

Luton is the 6-foot-7 senior quarterback, and enters this fresh season with four career starts. In 2017, he started in the first four games before getting injured in game five against Washington State; the injury, a broken bone in his spine, sidelined him for the rest of the season. If he’s looking for redemption, then he’s got his shot against the Buckeyes on Sept. 1.

According to Bovada, an online sportsbook, the Buckeyes are cast as 38.5-point favorites. If Oregon State wants to get anywhere close to making Saturday’s game a contest, then they’ll need the very best from their Marysville, Wash. signal-caller.

In the 135 passes he’s thrown, Luton (pronounced Loo-ten) completed 83 of them. That 61.5 percent completion rating also includes four touchdowns—and four interceptions. But don’t let the low quantity of passes fool you: Luton has played a lot of college football. In 2014, he saw action on the field as a redshirt freshman for the Idaho Vandals. Then in the 2016 season, he set single-season and career passing marks as a transfer at Ventura Community College. His success there made him a top-50 JUCO recruit, according to ESPN, which then helped land him in Corvallis, Ore.

Things haven’t gone well for Oregon State as a whole in the past few seasons, but picking up Luton from Ventura CC was a bright spot, as he has the ability to air it out.

Fortunately for Luton, he’ll have some help on the receiving end. The top two receiving leaders from last year are back in tight end Noah Togiai and wideout Timmy Hernandez. Togiai was a redshirt sophomore last season, and started in 11 games. He led the Beavers in receiving yards (461) and catches (34) en route to being named All-Pac-12 Second Team by the Associated Press. Hernandez saw the field in all 12 games last season, and started in seven of them. He was four catches behind Togiai for the team lead, and pulled in 357 yards worth of receiving. Expect Luton to utilize Togiai on short distance plays toward the sideline, and Hernandez down the field.

While Ohio State loses a chunk of experience on the defensive side of the ball, compounded with the fact that Ryan Day will also be in his first game as a head coach, the game of on-field experience may the difference maker in whether or not the bus needs to be warmed up at halftime, or if the Scarlet and Gray fans in the stands are nervously sweating out the fourth quarter in what is shaping up to be a humid Saturday in The ‘Shoe.

To put it bluntly: Oregon State will need to score points to even make this game entertaining. This isn’t going to be a Tressel-ball like game where the first team to 21 is going to win. No, the Beavers will need to build up a great deal of points in the boxscore to make the Saturday matinee entertaining. The offense cannot repeatedly stall out, and has to—at some point—rely on the passing game if faced with second and third down situations from the parking lot. Luton is a journeyman who has not only found his place in a Power 5 conference, but has found himself in the starting role.

Expectations aren’t high for the Beavs this season, but that makes them a little bit more dangerous. If they know they have nothing to lose, then why not go for broke down field? A bowl game was the expectation last season and it didn’t happen. Now riding an 18-game road losing streak, what’s the worst that can happen? Especially when they have a new coach in Smith.

But, Smith played QB at Oregon State from 1998-2001, and has big game experience. He was a walk-on, and then went on to start 38 games for the Beavers. In the midst of all that, he was named captain twice, and guided his alma mater to a surprising Fiesta Bowl win in 2001—blowing out Notre Dame, 41-9.

He’s probably taught Luton a thing or two about the QB position. If Luton’s been picking up the habits from that Fiesta Bowl run of ‘01, then things could get interesting on Saturday in Columbus... or not.