Oregon State seeks to grow after 1-11 season

Mark Znidar

Oregon State linebacker Andrzej Hughes-Murray and offensive lineman Blake Brandel all but pleaded short-term memory loss about last season when they were asked about coach Gary Andersen quitting after six games and the team finishing 1-11.

Who could blame them?

The Beavers were beaten down and beaten up when they walked off the field as 69-10 losers to Oregon in the annual “Civil War” rivalry in the season finale.

“Honestly, last year at the end of the day was last year,” Hughes-Murray said. “This is a new year and these are new players.”

After a few seconds to think about it, Brandel expounded a little more.

“That was a difficult time, and you went out and played the next game on Saturday,” he said. “We rallied around the seniors and made the best of the situation. We couldn’t feel sorry for ourselves. It wasn’t easy, but we learned from it.”

Oregon State will try to reset under new coach Jonathan Smith, one of the school’s all-time great quarterbacks, when it opens against Ohio State at noon Saturday at Ohio Stadium.

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The Beavers are 38-point underdogs. There are 47 freshmen and redshirt freshmen on the roster. They have lost their last three games against Big Ten teams, 48-14 to Minnesota last season in Corvallis, Oregon, 30-23 to Minnesota in 2016 in Minneapolis and 35-7 to Michigan in 2015 in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“People have said that it’s an experience like no other, that it’s really cool to play in front of such big crowds,” Hughes-Murray said of Ohio Stadium. “We’re not going in scared.”

The Beavers will be playing at 9 a.m. Pacific time — or when they are still trying to wake up.

“I’m confident the coaches will get us prepared for the time change,” Hughes-Murray said. “We’re going a day early to get adjusted. But I’m not a morning person. That will be interesting.”

Smith has extensive experience as an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, including four seasons at Washington, but he realizes he will be learning on the job.

There is a lot of work to do. Oregon State was respected nationally through the 2013 season, but has since finished 5-7, 2-10, 4-8 and 1-11.

“I kind of came in with eyes wide open,” Smith said. “I know I’m going to learn a ton and experience it. I’m expecting the unexpected.”

Hughes-Murray gives Smith high marks for getting the players to know one another. There have been outings to a bowling center, a free-throw shooting contest and soccer games.

“The team atmosphere is the most together since I’ve been here,” Hughes-Murray said. “Guys know each other’s names. Last year, we kind of separated at times. Coach Smith has this thing that after a walk-through or practice, he’ll call out a number like 27 or 49, and ask someone to name that player and say something about him. When you know the players around you, you are going to play for one another.”