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Surging Beavers play short-handed Gators in Las Vegas Bowl

Updated December 16, 2022 - 4:50 pm

Florida coach Billy Napier’s respect for his Oregon State counterpart Jonathan Smith was apparent. Speaking to the media during the 2022 Las Vegas Bowl’s introductory press conference Tuesday, the Gators coach heaped praise on the Beavers and Smith.

“I’m looking forward to spending some time with (Smith) after the game,” Napier said, “just to talk about our teams, what we learned about each other and how we can get better.”

Napier wasn’t alone. Smith was equally as complimentary of Florida ahead of Saturday’s Las Vegas Bowl matchup at Allegiant Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 11:30 a.m.

It will be the first time Oregon State, ranked No. 17 in the AP poll, and Florida have faced each other, and the Gators will become the first Southeastern Conference team to play in the game since Arkansas in 2000.

“We’re going to have to play well,” Smith said. “(Florida) is a good football team that is talented, athletic, physical and well-coached. We’re going to have to earn it.”

Oregon State enters the Las Vegas Bowl with momentum. The Beavers (9-3), who will appear in their first Las Vegas Bowl since 2009, started the season by rolling through their non-conference opponents.

However, their Pac-12 campaign got off to a rocky start. OSU lost to No. 8 USC by three points, then got blown out by No. 7 Utah in a game which cost Oregon State its starting quarterback Chance Nolan, who suffered a neck injury.

Smith turned the offense over to redshirt freshman Ben Gulbranson, and Oregon State began to click. Its only loss with Gulbranson under center came at No. 12 Washington, as the Huskies kicked a field goal with 12 seconds remaining to beat the Beavers 24-21.

Oregon State capped its regular season with a 38-34 rivalry win against No. 15 Oregon.

The Beavers are propelled by their running game and a stubborn defense. Pac-12 Offensive Freshman Player of the Year and first-team All-Pac-12 running back Damien Martinez averaged 80.8 yards per game.

The Beavers’ defense, led by first-team All-Pac-12 honorees Omar Speights and Rejzohn Wright, allowed just 21.4 points per game, ranking third in the conference. A win in the Las Vegas Bowl will get OSU to 10 wins for the first time since 2006.

“Since they made the quarterback change, they’ve played fantastic football,” Napier said. “Tons of respect for the program (Smith) has built. When we watch the film, we see a really good football team.”

Florida has experienced a turbulent first season under Napier. The Gators (6-6) started the season on a high note, beating eventual Pac-12 champions Utah 29-26, thanks to senior linebacker Amari Burney’s interception in the end zone with 18 seconds remaining.

Riding the arm of quarterback Anthony Richardson, Florida was competitive in close losses to ranked Kentucky and Tennessee teams, but was hammered by No. 1 Georgia 42-20. It bounced back to reach bowl eligibility by beating Texas A&M and No. 20 South Carolina, but finished the season with consecutive losses to Vanderbilt and in-state rival No. 13 Florida State.

Richardson, starting guard O’Cyrus Torrence and the team’s second-leading receiver Justin Shorter all declared for the NFL draft and will not play.

Linebacker Ventrell Miller, Florida’s third-leading tackler, is also sitting out to prepare for the NFL draft. Redshirt freshman Jack Miller III will start in Richardson’s place.

“Florida had some nice, quality wins toward the end,” Smith said. “Competitive games at the end of the year — I mean to beat South Carolina with the way South Carolina’s been playing — they’ve got our attention and our utmost respect.”

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on Twitter.

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Bowl betting trends: Oregon State gets edge in Las Vegas Bowl

Las Vegas handicapper Bruce Marshall is editor of The Gold Sheet (Goldsheet.com). He provides the Review-Journal with college football tech notes and trends.