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Oregon State’s secondary will need to step up against Ohio State

The Beavers’ return leader in tackles, safety David Morris, is out. Others must step up in Columbus—or things could get out of hand in a hurry.

NCAA Football: Oregon State at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

For the unspeakable to happen on Saturday, the Oregon State Beavers will need to do more than move the ball down the field on offense. They’ll need to stop the Ohio State Buckeyes’ attack of Dwayne Haskins, J.K. Dobbins, Mike Weber and, well, just about everyone else who has the ability to gain yards.

That is a tall task to complete for even the best of teams, but Oregon State is coming off a season that was, undoubtedly, not their best. Looking to start anew in 2018, Jonathan Smith is the new head coach, Jake Luton is back from injury and is leading the offense, and free safety David Morris was supposed to be the key returning tackler on defense.

However, a couple of weeks ago, Morris injured his foot and won’t be ready for Saturday’s contest. Ideally, Morris would have had the responsibility of shutting down the Buckeyes’ receiving corps—which is tough on the best of days. If he were to do that, then Oregon State would have had at least an infinitesimal shot at proving the oddsmakers wrong—one sportsbook, Bovada, has the Beavers as 38.5-point underdogs. On top of that, he would’ve had to keep an eye out for Haskins; if the Buckeye QB takes off, it may have very well been Morris who ended up stopping the play.

Would’ve. Could’ve. Should’ve.

Those are the things the Beavers’ staff—and fans—will now be thinking about as the returning leader in tackles from 2017 will be inactive in, arguably, the toughest game Oregon State plays this season. Morris, a rising sophomore, was one of the very few bright spots last season. Even though he was a true freshman, he played in 11 contests and started in seven of them. On the statistical side, he was tied for second on the team with 75 tackles; and of those 75 tackles, four of them were for loss. He also recorded his first career interception against Pac-12 foe Washington.

After releasing the depth chart earlier in the week, Smith penciled in Jalen Moore and Shawn Wilson as the two safeties for Saturday’s showdown in The Horseshoe. At cornerback, Dwayne Williams and Kaleb Hayes have the green light to be out on the field as starters as well.

There’s a mix of experience within the Beavers’ DB quartet. Williams is a redshirt senior, Wilson and Moore are redshirt juniors, and Hayes is a redshirt freshman. While Williams may have the most starts (11) amongst the four, he’s coming off of a 2017 campaign that ended in injury, causing him to miss the final nine games of the season.

From a production side, though, all is not lost with Morris being out. Moore had just as many tackles as Morris, and had three pass breakups last season as well. Life would’ve been a lot easier for the Beavers if they had their second and third leading tacklers back for Week 1, but they have to make do with what they have.

On Saturday, expect the safeties to be flying around the field. Whether Dobbins or Weber breaks through the defensive line, or if Parris Campbell, Johnnie Dixon, or Terry McLaurin finds space for a reception in the open field, it’ll need to be a team effort by the secondary to stop Ohio State.

For Moore and Wilson, they will need to make contact as soon as possible with ball carriers. Dobbins has the ability to run past you like The Flash; Weber has the ability to run you over like a tank. Letting either rusher get away will lead for either a) a huge rush or b) a touchdown that becomes highlight worthy of Columbus’ evening news programming.

The Ohio State receiving corps will also pose a dangerous challenge. A catch in stride over the middle of the field can be a touchdown for Campbell or McLaurin. Williams and Hayes will have their hands (and legs) full trying to stop the receivers from breaking open in space. Especially with Hayes being a redshirt freshman with zero starts, expect Haskins to be favoring whichever receiver is in his general vicinity.

Keeping their heads above water will rest in the hands of Luton on offense and the secondary on defense. If both do well, then they’ll keep Oregon State within blowout territory. With help from role players, there’s a chance—albeit incredibly slim—that this becomes a game on Saturday.

The Beavers probably won’t get the win, but a strong showing on both sides of the ball will prove that this year’s version of Oregon State football has made great strides from a year ago, and are on the right path to playing bowl season football in the future.