No Need to Panic
By this point in the week, most Beaver fans have taken the opportunity to step back and take a look at things in perspective. The world hasn't come crashing down. The Beavers are still 4-1, which is tied for their best record after five games since 1939, when the Beavers started out 5-0 under Lon Stiner before losing to (uh-oh) USC. But it was the last time they lost that year. After a tie with UCLA (ranked 13th at the time), they went on to beat Hawaii in the Pineapple Bowl. The Beavers also started 4-1 in 1957, 1960, 1963, 1964, and 2000.
USC is a great team. Their defensive line wreaked havoc on the battered OSU offensive line. But after a look back at the game, it is apparent that the difference in the game came down to these points:
- USC got the early lead. The Trojans were able to run a ball control offense after taking the early lead. They didn't have to take risks and they didn't have to do anything other than kneel down three times and punt the ball away. Their defense was all the offense necessary for the win. If the Beavers can get a score early, it is a different game.
- Confidence. The Beavers were a confident crew coming into the game. But by the fourth quarter, their confidence was bruised worse than Derek Anderson's ankle. The offense was very crisp and effective in the first quarter. Derek Anderson completed his first pass of the game to Shawn Kintner for a first down. But after that, his receivers couldn't make a catch. Any one of the dropped passes could have changed the way the game went.
- Poor routes. One aspect that hasn't been addressed as much this week is the route running by the receivers. The USC defensive backs have speed, but the receivers were not getting separation in man coverage. This led to more than a few pass breakups. It also made it more difficult for Anderson to find passing lanes.
- Time of possession. This goes back to USC getting the early lead. Once they had the lead, they grinded down the field. The OSU defense was on the field for almost 40 minutes. That two-thirds of the game. They played valiantly for being on the field that long and not getting very much help in the field position battle from the offense.
The bottom line from the game is that the home team was able to shake up a young team in its first road test. There is a reason teams that have great success in the Pac-10 have experienced quarterbacks. One team caught all the breaks and made all the plays. This Beaver team will be much different and more experienced by the time they face their second major road test at Washington on November 9th.
Chow Being Cautious with Palmer
I admit I have been one of the most vocal critics of Carson Palmer over the past few years. Palmer has struggled at times, and most knowledgeable Pac-10 people would say he hasn't lived up to expectations. Norm Chow, USC's offensive coordinator, deserves some credit this year for the way he is using Palmer. They are using a limited, conservative offense that isn't relying on Palmer to make plays. He has great tools, but when too much pressure is on him, he has made costly turnovers. By allowing the running backs to become the center of the offense (and USC has three terrific, interchangeable backs), USC is giving Palmer the chance to succeed. He has looked as good as he ever has in his career.
Lessons Learned From a Pac-10 Opening Weekend
The college football season is somewhat like a picture being revealed one piece at a time. As each week goes by, we learn a little more. Sometimes, it appears that the puzzle is of the Space Needle, when in fact it's some grain elevator in eastern Washington. This past week revealed a few pieces. Here are my observations thus far:
- USC is the new clear conference favorite. After the dominating performances they have put together, they have distanced themselves from the rest of the conference. But before they get too carried away, they travel to Pullman this weekend to take on the Cougars.
- Washington State is not going to fade away without a struggle. After a few lackluster performances, WSU seemed to be missing something. They didn't have that extra edge. But after a huge come-from-behind win on the road against a quality Cal team, Jason Gesser and company may have found just what they needed.
- By now, most people know that Cal is not the punching bag of the league any longer. But the Bears will be hard pressed to get to .500 in this cannibalistic league. It's unfortunate that they have their roughest portion of their schedule right now. A little early momentum can mean so much to a team, especially one that's lost as much as Cal has over the past few years. It's what got Washington State off to such a good start last year, and it's what makes Oregon a serious contender for the league title, even though they are probably the fourth best team in the Pac-10.
- Arizona State, Arizona, and UCLA will finish in the bottom half of the conference, but they have enough talent to put together a few good games and could beat some teams they shouldn't.
- Stanford looks like the worst team in the conference. Replacing ten defensive starters and installing a new scheme with a new coach spells trouble.
The best three passing performances in the nation this past weekend came from Pac-10 QBs. Cody Pickett threw for 438 yards, Jason Gesser for 431 yards, and Andrew Walter for 414 yards. Walter played well in his first start of the season. Look for him to continue to put up huge numbers. The big question mark coming into the season at ASU was the quarterback position. Walter will see some tests in the following weeks. After North Carolina this week, they play all four northwest schools. Look for them to knock off one of four, possibly the Huskies.
2) Washington State
4) Oregon State
7) Arizona State
This Week's Focus
Season Prediction Record: 31-8
Last Week: 5-1
The marquee game this week is USC at Washington State. Both teams are coming off huge wins and look to be the two favorites. Washington State's receiving corps looks like they've emerged from somewhat of a slump. Getting Jerome Riley back was probably the key. Devard Darling, Mike Bush, and Riley all had more than 100 receiving yards against Cal. The Washington State rush offense still has something to prove. The offensive line was thought to be one of the best coming into this season, but they have been beat up all year and will be without two starters against the Trojans.
The USC defense had a head start working against the WSU offense by playing Oregon State last week. Both teams use very similar spread offenses. Expect to see the Cougars use more short timing passes than the Beavers did. The Trojan game plan on both sides of the ball will likely be similar.
The key to this game will be what happens in the first quarter. Washington State has the ability to put points on the board quickly, but if their offense can't get on the field, they won't be able to score. The Trojans have shown they have the ability to choke every last second out of the clock. Washington State needs to put together some long, sustained drives to wear the USC defense out. Kansas State got up on the Trojans and forced them to pass, leading to a Wildcat victory. That is the key to beating USC. I think Washington State will get it done early and go on to beat the Trojans. Washington State 27, USC 17.
Notre Dame 23, Stanford 13. Tyrone Willingham has taken his success from Palo Alto to South Bend. They are 4-0 on the year, even though it was supposed to be a rebuilding year. This will be an emotional game for his former players. Chris Lewis is doing all he can to carry the Cardinal, but unless he learns how to play defense, the Cardinal don't have much of a shot.
Cal 34, Washington 30. The Bears have been inches away from beating the Huskies the past two seasons, but have just fallen short. It isn't Oregon State versus USC, but Cal hasn't beat Washington since 1976. That's a stretch of 19 games. The Bears can be successful if they can stop Cody Pickett. The Huskies have a terrible running game and both Rich Alexis and Braxton Cleman are hurt. Cal has lots of experience and is going to make this one close.
Oregon 38, Arizona 23. Oregon faces another beat up team. First team All-Conference back Clarence Farmer is out. Standout cornerback Michael Jollivette and the heart of the Wildcat defense, Lance Briggs are questionable. Jason Johnson has done some incredible things this year at quarterback, but he still needs to find a receiver other than Bobby Wade. Only once this year has a wide receiver not named Bobby Wade made more than two catches in a game. Andre Thurman was a force against Utah, but has been very inconsistent since. Most costly, was dropping a couple of key passes in the Wisconsin game. Onterrio Smith has healed from a couple of nagging injuries sustained while padding his stats against Portland State. This is the first road game for the Ducks, so expect to see most of the offense burdened by Smith. Mike Bellotti will bring Jason Fife along slowly. Expect the Ducks to pull away in the third quarter.
Arizona State 44, North Carolina 16. The Sun Devils have a chance to jump out to 5-1 with a win this week. Andrew Walter has locked up the starting job for the rest of the season after last week's thumping of Stanford. Shaun McDonald leads the Pac-10 in receiving yards and Cornell Canidate, brother of former Arizona standout Trung Canidate, has established himself as the primary ball carrier for ASU.
Oregon State 31, UCLA 17. UCLA has a good defense, but it's not nearly as good as USC's. USC has a decent offense, but it's also not nearly as good as USC's. The Bruins are clearly in the bottom half of the Pac-10 this year, but it isn't because of lack of talent. UCLA has talent, which is scary. They have incredible athletes that can change the tone of the game with one play. That means the Bruins have a shot in this one.
Manuel White will get the bulk of the carries against the Beavers. He is a bruising sophomore with the ability to pound out yards. UCLA will rely primarily on this running game, as their passing offense ranks last in the Pac-10. The Bruins offensive line is formidable. They are led by Oregonian Bryce Bohlander and Mike Saffer. Saffer is one of the best in the country, but he will not play because of injury. But even with that loss, their line is a strength. Look for the Bruins to throw to their tight ends, Mike Seidman and true freshman Mercedes Lewis. Cory Paus is just 114 yards away from moving into second place on the all-time UCLA passing list ahead of Tom Ramsey.
Defensively, Matt Ware and Ricky Manning (Eric Manning's cousin) are as good at the corners as Dennis Weathersby and Terrell Roberts. Ware, after playing cornerback all year last year, was moved to safety for the first few games before going back to the corner against San Diego State. The safeties are talented, but young. Brandon Chillar leads the linebackers and he is a playmaker. Nate Fiske and Chris Griffith are probably the best punter-kicker combination in the conference.
Expect the Beavers to rebound after the tough loss last week. Oregon State will control most of this game. UCLA hangs around if they can force turnovers.
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