CORVALLIS — Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith knew this was not going to be easy.
The former Beavers quarterback returned to Corvallis and wrapped up his first season as a head coach with a 2-10 record, dropping eight of nine games in Pac-12 play.
After a stint as quarterbacks coach at Washington under Chris Petersen, Smith took over an Oregon State team that won just one game in 2017 and lost its coach when Gary Andersen surprisingly stepped down in the middle of the season.
Smith’s inaugural season ended with a 55-15 loss to Oregon on Friday. Asked to reflect on his first year, Smith said the Beavers did not go for the quick fix of bringing aboard transfers and instead focused on a deliberate rebuilding process.
“I think we’ve got some optimism,” he said. “I think we’ve got a lot of work to do, just what I knew I was coming into. The staff knew it, and these kids knew it. We’ve got to improve.”
There were some bright spots, including the emergence of Jermar Jefferson, one of the best running backs for the Beavers since Jacquizz Rodgers (2008-10).
Jefferson rushed for 1,380 yards this season, a school record for a true freshman, with 12 touchdowns.
He averaged 115 yards rushing to rank among the top running backs in the nation.
Sophomore receiver Isaiah Hodgins had a team-leading 59 catches for 876 yards and five touchdowns. Senior Timmy Hernandez finished his Oregon State career with 58 receptions for 661 yards and three scores.
“I’d say throughout the season we played with full effort through four quarters, and that was something maybe we lacked a little bit last year,” Hernandez said. “I’m proud of the way these guys came out every week, and put everything they had on the line for us.”
It was another disappointing year for senior quarterback Jake Luton, who again was plagued by injuries. Last season in the fourth game he suffered a thoracic spine fracture against Washington State. This season a concussion and a high ankle sprain kept him out of four games.
Smith said before the Civil War there is a possibility the 6-foot-7 Luton could petition for a medical hardship waiver for a sixth year of eligibility. Luton told The Oregonian that he would be open to returning for another season.
Luton finished with 1,660 yards passing with 10 touchdowns and four interceptions in eight games, including five starts. Conor Blount, his primary replacement, passed for 1,117 yards and seven touchdowns with two interceptions in six starts. Sophomore Jack Colletto also saw playing time.
The Beavers posted their first Pac-12 victory since 2016, a 41-34 overtime victory at Colorado in late October. The win also snapped a 22-game road losing streak dating to 2014. The Buffaloes were in the midst of a slump that cost coach Mike MacIntyre his job before the season’s end.
There was a light moment following the final game against the rival Ducks. Junior linebacker Andrzej Hughes-Murray knocked over a chair by accident — not frustration — after he had wrapped up the postgame press conference.
“Don’t put that down as me running out of here all angry,” he said.
After a team meeting on Monday, Smith and his staff will head out on the recruiting trail. He said a priority is shoring up the offensive and defensive fronts.
While the Beavers’ defense did not hold a conference opponent to fewer than 500 yards of offense this season, Smith said he does not expect to make any staff changes.
“We knew we were going to try to lay a foundation this year,” Smith said. “I think this year is disappointing, for sure. But, there will be some positives if we continue to work and look back on this year and we’ve actually built a solid foundation.”