By Steve Gress
Arizona at Oregon St.
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Radio: KICE 94.9-FM
CORVALLIS — Oregon State was dead last in the Pac-12 Conference in total offense last season as the Beavers went 1-11.
They managed just 333.8 yards a game and passed for only 196.2.
Under first-year coach Jonathan Smith and offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren, the Beavers have been an offensive juggernaut over the first three games this season.
Oregon State (1-2) leads the Pac-12 with 1,581 total yards for an average of 527 per game heading into Saturday’s Pac-12 opener against Arizona (1-2) inside Reser Stadium.
The OSU record for most total yards in a season is 6,071, set over 13 games in 2013; that’s an average of 467 per game.
While Lindgren noted Tuesday there are still a lot of games to be played, the Beavers have started well.
Lindgren credits the staff Smith has put together and each coach’s ability to get the players ready — and that players are buying into the new system.
“They are starting to see that, hey, what I’m doing during the week can translate to Saturdays,” Lindgren said Tuesday. “We’ve got a lot of stuff to clean up and we’re not there by any means. But I like the direction we’re heading.”
The Beavers had 459 yards passing in last week’s loss at Nevada, using both Conor Blount and Jake Luton at quarterback. It was the sixth most yards passing in a game in school history.
Luton completed 23 of 35 passes for 284 yards and Blount completed 12 of 20 for 175 yards.
Isaiah Hodgins had 14 catches for 200 yards, and Timmy Hernandez added 11 receptions for 116.
“The guys have done a really good job,” Luton said. “Like I’ve said, the receivers, I just got the ball in their hands. Conor’s done the same and they’re making a lot of plays. I mean I think every quarterback wants to be in an offense that has a lot of success passing and I think we’ve had a good amount of success here in the first three weeks and we’ve just got to keep improving.”
The offensive players are having a lot of fun.
“I’m glad the coaches are putting us in good positions to make plays,” Hodgins said. “They’re kind of giving us the freedom out there in the field to let us be athletic and go do what we came here to do.”
Lindgren said it was not necessarily the plan to pass so much against the Wolf Pack.
“We were struggling to run it and they were kind of loading up the box and doing some things to take away our run game,” he said. “We told the guys with our offense if they’re going to take away one element you’ve got to be ready to step it up in another. And I thought Timmy and Hodge made some plays and the quarterbacks got them the ball.”
It was the best the passing game has looked this young season, Lindgren said.
“It was nice to see because I was a little bit frustrated with the passing game the first two games and it was nice to see us create some explosive plays throwing the ball in the Nevada game,” Lindgren said.
Lindgren said he thought the Beavers were more efficient as far as the quarterbacks making decisions, getting the ball out on time and taking what the defense gave them.
The passing attack came one week after the Beavers ran through Southern Utah for 382 yards, with true freshman Jermar Jefferson going for 238 yards on 22 carries.
Jefferson leads the conference with 130.3 yards per game and six touchdowns. He has two 100-yard games so far and Artavis Pierce, who was injured against Southern Utah, has also rushed for 100 yards in a game and is averaging 129.5 per game. The Beavers hope he returns in a couple of weeks.
So are the Beavers a running team, or a passing team?
“I like to think we’re fairly balanced and we have the ability to do one or the other,” Lindgren said. “I don’t think we’re great at either right now.”
The yards have also led to points as the Beavers are fourth in the conference at 38 points per game. They averaged just 20.7 per game last season, last in the conference.
“I think we’ve improved a ton,” offensive line coach Jim Michalczik said of the work the offense has done since preseason camp began. “Now, are we where we want to be? No.”
Michalczik said the key now is to continue to build off that growth.
“To get really good at something, the first part is easy,” he said. “Then the better you’re trying to get, it gets a little more difficult. … And I think we still have a lot of room for improvement and that’s our goal is to get out here and every day be better and let’s get to where we’re getting pretty good.”