Avery Roberts and Omar Speights are relatively quiet leaders who let their play on the field do the talking.
The Oregon State inside linebackers are playing together for the third straight season, and through three games they’re leading the Beavers (2-1) in tackles (Roberts with 25 and Speights 23) heading into the team’s Pac-12 football opener at USC (2-1, 1-1).
They’ve been such the focal points of OSU’s defense in recent years that Saturday’s 42-0 home win against Idaho marked the first time in 16 games that one of the two didn’t tie or outright lead the Beavers in single-game tackles. The last time that happened was the sixth game of the 2019 season, against Utah.
Speights’ six tackles against Idaho (while playing just a half) were one behind team leader Kyrei Fisher, a reserve inside linebacker.
Speights, who is originally from Philadelphia and spent his senior year of high school at Crescent Valley, also had an interception. He’s in his third year with the Beavers. Roberts, from Delaware and in his fourth year in the program after transferring from Nebraska, recorded three tackles. Both were credited with a quarterback hurry.
“They’ve been real productive. They definitely work well together,” Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith said Monday afternoon as he met with the media. “I will say, big picture in our defensive scheme, a lot is filtered for those guys to get tackles. It starts with the D-line being in the right spot and spilling the ball to those two. Two of the toughest guys in practice that work at it, leadership-wise. Football means a ton to those two guys and they do feed off each other.”
They’re friends off the field. While teammates appeared separately for Idaho postgame interviews, as is the norm, Roberts and Speights answered questions together at the front of the room.
As leaders, do they do it more by example or vocally?
“Example, both of them, especially Omar,” Smith said. “They’re not the most vocal, but when they speak, guys listen. They’re all about the day to day and doing things right.”
Looking back at Idaho
Smith said he saw a lot of good in all three phases when watching at the Idaho game film.
“In this day and age, giving up no points in college football is a really good effort,” the coach said.
Smith was happy with the defense in the second half as the Beavers continued to rotate in players, many who had limited collegiate game experience.
One player who stood out was reserve cornerback Skyler Thomas, who had two tackles and an interception, which he returned for 26 yards.
“A true freshman, been working, improving, has earned to get himself in the rotation, playing a bunch on special teams as a true freshman,” Smith said of Thomas, from East Menlo Park in the California Bay Area. “The guy is doing it right. It’s awesome to see.”
Smith was asked about gauging improvement when his team plays opponents such as Hawaii, which plays in a lesser FBS conference, and Idaho, an FCS school.
“There is improvement in the details. But there are also things that show up. We got some fourth-down stops defensively. But we cut the back loose out of the backfield and they just drop the ball and they don’t convert there,” Smith said. “There are some things that show in our assignments and execution that need to get better.”
The competition level takes a significant step up Saturday with the Trojans (7:30 p.m., FS1), and there is far less room for error going forward.
“Our guys are very aware of that,” Smith said. “That’s been our approach every Sunday, to come in win, lose or draw. There’s stuff to clean up, there’s stuff that we’ve done well. It’s a process.”
The Beavers ran the ball much better against Hawaii and Idaho the past two weeks than they did in the season opener at Purdue.
Smith was asked specifically about the running game and evaluating progress there given a drop down in competition.
“You attack the scheme and the opponent you’re playing each week,” he said. “So you put a plan together and then prepare so that they can execute it on Saturday."
Washington kickoff set
A 6 p.m. kickoff time for the Oct. 2 Washington at Oregon State game was announced Monday. It will be televised on Pac-12 Networks.
Washington is 1-2 after a 52-3 home win against Arkansas State. The Huskies opener their season with a 13-7 home loss to FCS Montana and then lost 31-10 at current No. 19 Michigan.
Jesse Sowa can be reached via email at email@example.com or on Twitter, @JesseSowaGT.