Gary Andersen packed up his things during the middle of his third season with Oregon State and left Corvalis because he was apparently frustrated with a culture that he couldn’t change. Cornerbacks coach Cory Hall replaced Andersen for the remainder of 2017, but he was unable to make any strides with one of the least talented rosters in the Power 5. The Beavers finished the 2017 season 1-11 and Hall did not get the full-time offer.
In what was likely one of the least attractive major conference jobs, the Beavers hired Jonathan Smith, former co-offensive coordinator with the Washington Huskies. Smith was a logical candidate for the opening having played quarterback for the Beavers back in the early-90s — leading them to a Fiesta Bowl win.
While jumping from job-to-job in the Pacific Northwest early in his career, Smith landed in Boise State with Chris Peterson and took the job as QB coach. Peterson was happy enough with how he performed that he brought Smith to Seattle with him when he left Boise for Washington. Peterson even gave him a promotion to offensive coordinator.
The Huskies struggled during his first two seasons as offensive coordinator, going 8-6 and then 7-6 — and Smith’s offense was under the most scrutiny.
“I told guys, it might not be your fault, but you’re responsible for it, getting that offense up to speed,” Petersen said. “I know a good coach when I see one, and the guy’s a good coach. But at the end of the day, you’re responsible for getting it going.”
And in 2016, Smith got it going.
The 2016 Huskies won the Pac-12 and earned a College Football Playoff berth on the back of their highlight reel offense — which featured QB Jake Browning, Myles Gaskin at RB and two play-makers at receiver in John Ross and Dante Pettis. Although it was technically Chris Peterson’s offensive system that Smith was calling from the booth, he still pulled the right strings. The team finished eighth in the country in points, averaging 41.8 per game; tied for first in the country with 47 touchdown passes and averaged close to 200 yards per game on the ground. Talk about balance.
So, what should the Buckeyes expect from a schematic standpoint on Saturday? It’s likely that Smith has adopted Peterson’s system — even called Peterson’s “brainchild” by our friends over at UW Dawg Pound. Although he’s going to leave the play-calling to new offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren (former OC at Colorado), it should have a similar feel to what he called at Boise State and Washington.
“He has had access to (Washington coach) Chris Petersen, who is one of the best in the business in terms of program philosophy and an overall approach to how you run a program in terms of discipline, managing coaches and so on,” Lindgren says. “That’s unbelievable access. Also, there’s a lot to be said for how (Smith) approached his offenses and game-planning at Washington and Boise State.”
The Beavers will likely run a pro-style offense, with multiple looks. It’ll be part spread, part pistol and they’ll even mix in some trickery. They could either come out in two or three-tight end sets and pound the rock, or they could spread you out. He wants to be balanced, yet unpredictable.
For example, back in 2016 against Arizona State, the Huskies threw the ball 52 times. Then a few weeks later against the Beavers, they threw only 21 times. Smith is going to throw it when the average coach would run it, and vice-versa.
“There might be 20 things where it’s like, ‘If (the defense) gives us this, you’re going to this,’” Petersen said. “That’s different than a lot of college football. A lot of college football is run fast and we’ll catch ’em off guard and we’re going.”
Smith will motion his playmakers and tight ends around the line of scrimmage to make the reads easier for the quarterback — while also getting the skill players into more favorable matchups. The only issue at Oregon State is that they don’t have a John Ross or a legit playmaker to get the ball to in space to make a defender miss and take it to the house.
Overall, Smith has a bright future at Oregon State. However, the talent just isn’t there — at all — to compete with the Buckeyes’ loaded defense. Coming from the Peterson tree, it would be tough to not see success in Corvalis, but it won’t be in 2018. Getting the lesser talented Beavers into “favorable matchups” against the Buckeye defense will be tough — even if it’s a tight end on a cornerback, or a wide receiver on a safety or outside linebacker. The talent discrepancy will be too much on Saturday, and it’s going to be a very tough first game to kick off his head coaching career.