MOSCOW, Idaho — Oregon State looks in a mirror and sees Idaho.
The ties between the schools are uncommonly close, from their shared history as rural, northwest land grant universities to athletic programs that have seen eras of football competence undercut by long losing spells, and programs that have cross-fertilized each other for decades. The Great Pumpkin, Dee Andros was Idaho’s football coach from 1962-64 and ended his career as OSU’s athletics director, after leading the Beavers’ football team from 1965-70. A couple of decades later, Dennis Erickson, who revived a struggling Idaho football program from 1982-85 and launched a decade of Big Sky Conference dominance for the Vandals, had similar success at OSU between 1999-2002. Current Beavers’ coach Jonathan Smith was Idaho’s quarterbacks coach from 2004-09, and, offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren played quarterback for the Vandals from 2001-03.
Idaho also sent current Seattle Seahawks quarterback Jake Luton to OSU in 2017, following a one-year detour to Ventura College, and the Vandals got back in return Caleb Lightbourn, who punted for OSU last season and is now doing so as a graduate transfer for Idaho.
So even after absorbing a tough 56-14 loss to Indiana a week ago, 1-1 Idaho heads to Corvallis for Saturday’s game against OSU anticipating matching up with a team that isn’t so far removed from itself, with a 1-1 record after a 30-21 loss to Purdue and a 45-27 win against Hawaii.
OSU “is a better offensive team than Indiana,” according to Idaho coach Paul Petrino. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Chance Nolan, who passed for 537 yards and six touchdowns last season, in a breakout game against Hawaii, hit on 21 of 29 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns and rushed seven times for 38 yards.
According to Petrino, Nolan has capable targets in Trevon Bradford, a senior who is ranked 23rd all-time at OSU with 109 catches for 1,273 yards and nine touchdowns, and tight end Luke Musgrave. He caught 12 passes for 142 yards last season, including a notable four receptions for 56 yards against Washington State. Beavers’ running back B.J. Baylor leads the Pac-12 with five rushing touchdowns this season.
Petrino also hailed the Beavers’ performance on special teams so far this year.
The punting game was tough on Idaho against Indiana. The Vandals had a blocked punt returned 4 yards for a touchdown; they gave up an 81-yard punt return for a score; and a second blocked punt led to another touchdown. Idaho quarterback Mike Beaudry also lost a fumble that led to a Hoosiers score. The mistakes are correctable, says Petrino, and without surrendering 28 points on miscues Idaho would have only been down two touchdowns against Indiana, Petrino pointed out.
Petrino singled out defensive lineman Noah Elliss, linebackers Tre Walker, Charles Akanno and Fa’Avae Fa’Avae, and receiver Hayden Hatten as having outstanding games against the Hoosiers. Elliss made four tackles and contributed inside pressure against Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. Walker led Idaho with 11 tackles. Akanno had four tackles and a sack. Fa’Avae had nine tackles, and Hatten caught 10 passes for 94 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Reliable Nick Romano led Idaho in rushing with 20 yards on four carries. He also caught a pair of passes for 18 yards and returned two kicks for 41 yards.
Petrino has said since the start of preseason camp he would use Idaho’s first three games to identify a quarterback starter for the remainder of the season. Heading into Big Sky Conference league play against UC Davis Oct. 2, Beaudry and freshman C.J. Jordan have one final chance to make their case to start against OSU. After a rocky opening against Indiana, Beaudry, a graduate transfer from Connecticut, improved, Petrino said. He finished the day completing 23 of 36 passes for 196 yards and the two touchdowns to Hatten. Jordan only played about a half-dozen downs and was 0-3 on passes.
“This was just not the game for him to play,” Petrino said of his decision to keep Jordan under wraps.
But the Beavers could provide a showcase for Jordan, a Portland product, who played as a prep at Jefferson High in Portland, and across the Columbia River at Vancouver, Washington’s Union High School, where he played in eight games as a senior before getting injured.
“They’ll both play this weekend, and we’ll look forward to them both playing better,” Petrino said of Beaudry and Jordan.
Idaho will be without tight end Connor Whitney against Oregon State. He injured an elbow against Indiana, but it is not likely to be season ending. Roshaun Johnson, who had a lone carry for the Vandals for 4 yards before getting hurt against the Hoosiers, is 50-50 to be available against the Beavers, Petrino said this week.
To pull off an upset against Oregon State, Petrino said Idaho must significantly improve its special teams performance. Then, “we’ve got to stay on the field on offense, give ourselves a chance to win in the fourth quarter.”