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Oregon State’s Frustrating History Defending Mobile Quarterbacks

On paper Oregon State should beat WSU. But here’s why this game is considered a toss-up

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

It’s no secret to longtime Oregon State football fans that mobile quarterbacks have historically torched the Beaver defense. Mark Banker was the defensive coordinator for 12 seasons (2003-2014) and his defense’s absolutely could not contain athletic quarterbacks. It was frustrating and outright demoralizing at times.

The game that still sticks in my mind is back in 2013 when Eastern Washington’s Vernon Adams Jr. threw for 400+ yards and ran for another 100+ yards in Reser Stadium. Beating a ranked Oregon State team that featured perhaps the best WR/QB duo in school history (Brandin Cooks & Sean Mannion). That embarrassing loss seemed inevitable because Vernon Adams could scramble for a first down almost at will. The defense forced one punt the entire game and that was only because Adams got shaken up and had to come out of the game for a couple of plays. Before I digress anymore, my point stands that athletic quarterbacks have been a problem for the Beavers.

But are mobile quarterbacks still a huge problem for Oregon State football? The most substantial QB rushing performances vs OSU in recent memory are Oklahoma State’s Spencer Sanders (109 rush yards in 2019) and Arizona’s Kahlil Tate (206 yards in 2017). And that Kahlil Tate game was before Tim Tibesar took over as defensive coordinator. I made a list of every game since 2016 that an opposing quarterback rushed for 75+ yards:

  • 2020 ASU - Jayden Daniels (82 yds, 2 TDs)
  • 2019 OSU - Spencer Sanders (109 yds)
  • 2019 Cal - Devon Modster (76 yds)
  • 2017 AZ - Khalil Tate (206 yds, 2 TDs)
  • 2017 PSU - Jalani Eason (95 yds, 2 TDs)
  • 2016 AZ - Brandon Dawkins (88 yds)
  • 2016 STAN - Keller Chryst (83 yds)
  • 2016 MINN - Mitch Leidner (76 yds, 2 TDs)

There’s only three games on that list during the Jonathan Smith era. And this season with the best Oregon State defense in years, opposing quarterbacks are averaging just 13 yards a game on the ground. Idaho’s CJ Jordan rushed for 55 yards against this Beaver team, but it took him 14 carries and Oregon State still managed to keep the Vandals scoreless. Case in point, I’m cautiously optimistic that Oregon State’s days of struggling versus mobile quarterbacks might be a thing of the past.

Many years ago Mark Banker was asked about mobile QBs and he essentially blamed his middle linebacker saying “The big thing is the mobile quarterback hurt us in the ad-lib situation. People in their passing game, by design or by how the routes come out, voided the middle on us, and we’ve been slow to come back up. A lot of that has been on the middle linebacker.”

Linebacker play has not been an issue with Oregon State lately, especially middle linebacker. Avery Roberts and Omar Speights are the strength of this Beaver defense. That defense will certainly be tested against Washington State and Jayden de Laura on Saturday though. The last time Oregon State faced Jayden de Laura he ran for 43 yards and a touchdown in leading his team to a 38-28 victory. His ability to escape pressure and buy extra time for his wide receivers was also particularly damaging.

It’s been a weird year or two for Washington State. Covid, Rolovich’s vaccination status, quarterback controversies and more have been big headlines for the Cougars recently, but they could be turning a new leaf after a convincing win against Cal last weekend. Jayden de Laura hasn’t been as effective with his legs since suffering a knee injury against USC, but looked strong most recently.

This Washington State team isn’t a high-scoring, pass-only team like the Mike Leach teams of old. Against FBS opponents this season they are averaging less than 18 points a game. I do think WSU will be more explosive against Oregon State though, as many of their offensive lulls have come when Jayden de Laura was not playing.

On paper Oregon State should win this football game. The Beavers are surging while Washington State is still struggling to find their identity. The Cougars are only 3.5-point underdogs for a reason though. WSU has been decent against the run this season. Chance Nolan is coming off a career-low 48 yard passing performance (might be the lowest Oregon State’s had since 1994). Can Chance Nolan carry the team offensively, if needed? Can Oregon State stop Jayden de Laura, particularly on third downs? We’ll find out on Saturday, but here’s hoping that the Beavers struggles against mobile quarterbacks is officially a thing of the past.