CORVALLIS — I don’t know who you rooted for. I don’t know what colors you wore. But I’m certain Saturday’s football game at Reser Stadium gave you whiplash, either way.
It was Oregon State 38, Oregon 34.
You may be wearing a neckbrace while reading this column. If so, I understand. Because the Beavers lost the game — then won it. The Ducks won the game — then lost it.
This rivalry has seen some wild things. A riot broke out, for example, during the 1937 Civil War game. During that melee, OSU fans pelted Oregon fans with ears of corn.
Saturday, the Beavers pelted the Ducks with fourth-quarter TDs.
Did the Ducks blow it? Or did the Beavers seize it?
I followed the winning coach, Jonathan Smith, on the field in the aftermath. He’d just won his ninth game of the season. He got a tub of ice water dumped on him. Then, he shook hands with Dan Lanning, the opposing coach. Then, an ABC television crew wanted to interview him.
Smith straightened up and wiped his brow.
Then, he spoke of resilience and gave credit to his opponent. A security staffer stood nearby. So did Smith’s director of football operations, Daniel Van De Riet.
The guy known as “DVD” leaned in and asked me: “Was that 21 straight points?”
“Wow,” smiling OSU athletic director Scott Barnes said, standing beneath the goal posts.
Oregon did a lot wrong on the way to losing this game. The Ducks had a punt blocked, they botched a second punt attempt, and Lanning decided in the fourth quarter that going for it on fourth down and 1 from his own 29-yard-line was a good idea.
It was a lousy idea.
Especially when you consider Lanning made a similar error from his side of the field, just two weeks earlier in losing to Washington. This time, he wasn’t doing it against a porous defense. He was trying it against the Pac-12’s best run defense, while holding a three-point lead, and with his quarterback hobbling.
Bo Nix was tossed for a one-yard loss.
The play foreshadowed another bad loss — the game itself.
I don’t want to dwell on Oregon’s miscues. But they’re the woolly mammoth in the room. The Ducks led by three scores in the fourth quarter — and lost. If they’re not doing some soul-searching today, I’d be concerned. But the evening and the celebration belonged to the team whose student section wore orange, felt cowboy hats.
Those sherbet-topped ranch hands climbed the railings and stormed the field after the game. They whooped and danced, posing for photographs and shouting things such as: “Can you believe this?!?”
It’s the OSU old-timers I thought about amid the celebration. The fans who endured 28 straight seasons without a bowl game. The same ones who saw Gary Andersen quit on them. Some of those Beavers die-hards sat back, watching the celebration on the field, no doubt, marveling at how much the world has changed.
Ex-Beavers coach Dennis Erickson was in the house on Saturday, too. I bumped into him before kickoff on the sideline. He’s retired and living in Idaho. Erickson pulled me aside and whispered: “You watch today, it’s his time.”
He was talking about Smith.
The former Beavers' quarterback took over a program that had been stripped of talent and trajectory. OSU had the momentum of a vehicle parked in waist-high weeds in someone’s backyard. Smith went 2-10 in his first season. Four seasons later, he’s 9-3.
On Pac-12 Media Day in July, I asked Smith what his goal was for this season. He said: “We want to win ‘em all.”
He won’t like that he didn’t. But is anyone else blown away at how quickly Smith turned Oregon State into a bowl team? Then, a nine-game winner? At how even-keeled he is, win or lose? Smith’s team, no doubt, channeled his level-headed, focused demeanor in erasing that 21-point second-half deficit on Saturday.
What’s next for Smith?
I can’t wait to see.
Oregon is in good hands, too. Lanning will learn from his latest loss. I know Smith learned a lot in his first few seasons, amid some painful outcomes.
I saw the Ducks quarterback, Nix, on the field after the game. He was the last Oregon player to leave Reser Stadium and cross the street to the visiting locker room. He was moving slow and got caught in the throng of celebrating OSU students. UO offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham — arm extended — helped escort his star quarterback through all that grinning, shouting orange.
The students barely noticed him.
Nix and Dillingham wore green and were easy to spot. But Oregon’s path after the game is far less clear. Utah beat Colorado 63-21 on Saturday. The Ducks can still back into the Pac-12 title game if Washington State beats Washington in the Apple Cup on Saturday evening.
If the Huskies win, though, Oregon is out. The Ducks will instead watch Utah play USC for the title in Las Vegas.
Talk about whiplash.
(VIEW: PHOTO GALLERY OF OREGON STATE BEAVERS)
(VIEW: PHOTO GALLERY OF OREGON DUCKS)
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The game followed the script to perfection. It sucked the maximum number of Duck's fans into believing their team was massively better than the Beavers, and then the Beavers, having given up 3 turnovers and suffering very poor officiating, stormed back and slammed the door shut on Duck Dreams. It was SO satisfying a way for the Beavs to win. But hey, Ducks, there is always next year.
Nobody talks about it, but can we all agree the OSU staff is the best in the Pac 12 at developing talent and creating culture? Eight 4/5 star recruits to Oregon's fifty two.