No football team in the Pac-12 is struggling more than Oregon State, but the Beavers are showing progress and feature one of the brightest young stars in the Pac-12.

Under first-year head coach Jonathan Smith, the Beavers (1-4, 0-2 Pac-12) are still searching for the first conference win in two years. On Saturday, they host Washington State (4-1, 1-1) and if they are to snap their 11-game conference skid, there's a good bet that Jermar Jefferson will be involved.

A true freshman, Jefferson ranks third in the country with 145.4 rushing yards per game, posting 727 yards and eight touchdowns.

Jefferson set a Pac-12 freshman record for single-game rushing yards on Sept. 8, going for 238 yards against Southern Utah. He then broke that record last Saturday with 254 yards against Arizona State.

"I think he's seeing things well," OSU offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren told local media this week. "I think he just has a really good feel for some of the run schemes we're doing and the ability to see the cut, make it and get vertical."

A three-star prospect out of Narbonne (Calif.) High School, the 5-foot-10, 210-pounder went into the season as the backup to junior Artavis Pierce. In the opener at Ohio State, Pierce ran for 168 yards and two touchdowns - on runs of 80 and 78 yards.

Pierce injured his elbow early against Southern Utah, though, and Jefferson has taken off.

On Thursday, Smith said Pierce is "probable" to play against Washington State, giving the Beavers a formidable 1-2 punch. Pierce's return comes at a good time, with Jefferson ranking fifth nationally in carries (105).


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"It would be nice to be able to have both of those guys fresh when they're in there," Lindgren said. "We've put a lot on Jermar with the work load and how many carries he's got. When those guys are in there fresh, they're pretty dynamic backs and give us the opportunity for big plays."

Colorado will host Oregon State on Oct. 27, and between now and then, Lindgren could find different ways of using Jefferson, who also has nine catches for 63 yards.

"Moving forward, I think he's got good ball skills," Lindgren said, "and there's some things we can do with him, either flexing him out in an empty set or getting him out of the backfield."

Big addition for Wildcats

After an 0-2 start, Arizona (3-2, 1-1) has won two of its last three games and took USC (3-2, 2-1) to the wire last week.

One of the differences for the Wildcats is that their defense has played better, and it's no coincidence that the improvement has come since PJ Johnson's return to the lineup.

A 6-foot-4, 335-pound defensive lineman, Johnson came to Arizona this year as a junior college transfer and then missed two games with a foot injury. He returned Sept. 22 against Oregon State.

"He's been very impactful the last couple of weeks," head coach Kevin Sumlin said.

So impactful, actually, that last week, Arizona moved Johnson to defensive end, allowing he and tackle Dereck Boles to be on the field together.

"We wanted to get our best people on the field," Sumlin said.

Johnson is Arizona's co-leader with two sacks and second on the team with 3.5 tackles for loss. The Wildcats have allowed an average of 22.0 points in the games Johnson has played and 38.0 in the two he hasn't.

Notable

UCLA (0-4, 0-1) hosts No. 10 Washington (4-1, 2-0) on Saturday. The Bruins have not started 0-5 since 1943. ... Washington State has its first 10-game home winning streak since a 19-game streak from 1928-33. ... Utah (2-2, 0-2) will head to No. 14 Stanford (4-1, 2-0) looking to avoid its first 0-3 start to league play since 2012. That season, the Utes started 0-4 in the conference. Overall, the Utes are 2-8 in their last 10 conference games. ... Stanford running back Bryce Love (ankle) is day-to-day this week, coach David Shaw said. ... Going into this week, the six teams in the North division have a combined record of 20-9, while South teams are 14-13.

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33