Oregon State coach Mike Riley has credited Jonathan Smith with the Beavers’ turnaround in the late 1990s. Smith, a one-time walk-on quarterback for Oregon State, is now in his first year as Washington’s offensive coordinator, and he’ll face his alma mater Saturday when the Huskies (6-5, 2-5 Pac-12) host the Beavers (5-5, 2-5) at 7:30 p.m. at Husky Stadium.
“We were about a third of the way through the (1998) season and I told the staff we should just let this guy play. We’re going to Husky Stadium next week, let’s put him into the game,” Riley said in December, before Smith and Boise State played the Beavers in the Hawaii Bowl. “We decided to alternate him. We were going to put him in at the end of the first quarter and we’re already down like 17-7 I think and he doesn’t get in because they’ve got the ball until midway through the second quarter.
“Jonathan Smith goes in and throws for 469 yards that day. Breaks the Husky Stadium passing record. Nobody even knew who this kid was. The headline the next day read ‘Jonathan Who?’ and that is the game that turned Oregon State around. … Jonathan became the quarterback and we actually made it look like football after we got it going there and that was fun.”
Smith and Riley have remained friends.
“Good memories, no question,” Smith said Wednesday. “It’ll be good to see him pregame and say a quick hello. But those were good years in the past, and now it’s on to the next task, because we’ve got a lot of things to play for. Our focus this week is to find a way to win.”
Smith, fair or not, has been the subject of much criticism from Husky fans this season while trying to break in a new quarterback and a new stable of running backs who have played behind a beat-up offensive line. UW ranks 11th in the Pac-12 in total offense and ninth in scoring offense at 30.3, but they are coming off one of their most promising offensive performances of the season in the 27-26 loss at Arizona on Saturday.
Smith was asked again about UW’s clock-management strategy in the final 90 seconds against Arizona.
“We’ve got some people up there (in the coaches’ box) looking at the chart and it was going to be really, really tight whether we were going to have to punt on fourth down,” he said. “So we were going to try eat a little clock on first down. That was my vantage point. That was our approach. Felt really good about the call. Didn’t turn out the way we’d like (it) to.”