The USC Trojans and Oregon St. Beavers were scheduled to play a football game, but both teams, and their fans, came away feeling like they had just been parties to a 15 round heavyweight fight. The kind not seen since the generation of Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali. One the Trojans took on a split decision as much as by the 42-36 final score.
Both teams came away battered and bruised, and both teams' fans came away as emotionally spent as the players. It was a battle that will turn up in future holidays and football pre-seasons on the replay shows. One you aren't apt to record over with some game where a 21 point spread seems conservative, not an obvious move to keep all the money wagered by the Trojan faithful.
Both Trojan coach Pete Carroll and Beavers coach Mike Riley appeared to have pulverized a week's supply of chewing gum in the course of four of the most intense hours either will see any time soon.
The Beavers scored more points than anyone has on the Trojans since Vince Young led the Texas Longhorns to a 41-38 win in the 2006 Rose Bowl game for the 2005 national championship.
The 36 points were more than any Oregon St. team has scored against USC in 95 years, since the Beavers' 38-6 win in the first meeting ever between the teams. (At least at one time, the Beavers led the series they now trail in by 49 games [59-10-4]!)
Twice as many touchdowns in the second half than the combined efforts of all the teams that have gone into the Los Angeles Coliseum in a season and a half.
OSU's James Rodgers(8) is focused on the ball despite the hit by USC LB Chris Galippo (54).
And it wasn't enough. It was a good indicator of how hard it is to beat the Trojans when they are focused. And how much hard work is still ahead if the Beavers are to take the next step, from a consistently good team to a consistently elite one.
There are only a few teams in that top echelon of college football, and new members don't join the club very often. You join the club by beating a member of the club on the road. Not by getting six points out of three trips inside the red zone, after turning the ball over deep in your own territory. Or by giving back a turnover you got in enemy territory by drawing a penalty for hitting the quarterback about the same time the ball arrives at the receiver and the defender.
Do those things and you get to score four touchdowns in the second half, and not even get rewarded by the TV executives (see next week's snub, since you won't see the Beavers or the Bruins unless you show up at Reser), much less get the win.
Not that everything is a negative; in fact quite the opposite is true, which is why Oregon St. is and will remain at worst, one of those consistently good teams.
True freshman Jordan Poyer stepped in for a banged up James Rodgers on a second half kick return, and continues to demonstrate to Oregon St. fans and opponents the same thing he did to Oregon class 4A opponents the last three years, that he is a difference maker.
Tight end Joe Halahuni had career highs of nine catches and 127 yards, including a big fourth down conversion for a first down. And despite a couple of mistakes with blocking, the hard working Damola Adeniji had five catches for 81 yards and a touchdown. Adeniji still struggles at times with down-field blocking but continues to work, showing more of the same work ethic that has taken him from not being the go-to guy at South Eugene, to someone who had trouble finding a community college that would let him play, and finally from a walk on to a solid Pac-10 player.
And if anyone had any questions about how tough the Rodgers brothers really are, they don't now.
Jacquizz came back from missing most of the second quarter with a right ankle injury that required him to go back to the dressing room for attention to pick up 113 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries, and add four catches and another score, Quizz scored both of the Beavers fourth quarter scores that kept the game in question until a USC first down in the final minute.
And James had 194 yards of total offense, despite suffering a left knee bruise.
So many times the Beavers, and a lot of other teams, would have finally wilted in the face of the Trojans taking two score leads three times, and eventually a three score advantage.
But despite Allen Bradford's career best 147 yard, two touchdown performance on 15 carries, on top of Joe McKnight's 65 yards, the Beavers kept coming back.
USC RB Allen Bradford tries to elude Oregon State,s Tim Clark (AP Photo)
However, some old themes were also revisited.
About a month ago, the media (including Building The Dam) was abuzz about three things, including consistently questionable quarterback play by Sean Canfield, leaving points on the field, not the scoreboard, in the first half, and the inability of the defensive front to get sacks instead of pressure on opposing quarterbacks while they cut highlight tapes.
Canfield responded with a pair of stellar performances, and wins in consecutive weeks at Arizona St. and against Stanford. Saturday, Sean was solid again, completing 30 of 43 passes for 329 yards and three touchdowns. And for the second week in a row, no interceptions. Canfield and the offensive line that was an early season concern also gave up only three sacks to the Trojan defense that entered the game as the nation's leader in getting the opposing quarterback on the ground. There isn't anyone in the country that wouldn't take that, so that's one issue put away.
But just as against Cincinnati, the other team the Beavers have faced that is a) coming off a BCS appearance, b) replaced almost their entire defense, and c) appears to be well on their way back to at least a very good shot at another BCS game, Oregon St. had to settle for Justin Kahut field goals on early game drives.
One of the two from 48 yards out was alright, but one came after getting inside the red zone. That would still not have bee all that bad, had a couple of additional trips inside the USC 20 produced only one more field goal. The one that sailed way wide left on Justin from extra point range was especially perplexing. The game it turns out was effectively lost before the Beavers could again make the adjustments that made a game of it.
Seems the signature Riley slow starts, followed by signature adjustments, are a pattern in individual games as well as seasons.
It was generally assumed by everyone on both sides that for Oregon St. to win, they would have to win on special teams. Given the strength shown by the Beavers in that aspect of the game in the first half of the season, it was also seen as a distinct possibility that OSU would do just that.
And yet despite a 70 yard kickoff return by Poyer, the loss could be laid on Oregon St. special teams miscues, as Kahut's point-blank misfire and Damian Williams' 63 yard punt return touchdown, the first punt returned for a score the Beavers have allowed in three years, made more than the difference in the game.
The lack of sacks is as much of a problem as ever as well, as Trojan true freshman QB Matt Barkley avoided what should have been sure sacks, and produced first downs to keep eventual scoring drives alive several times.
Barkley and the rest of the Trojan offense rightfully gets lots of the credit for that, and the Beavers don't need to feel real bad about what happened. After all, USC hasn't won 30 straight home night games, and 47 of 48 home games, by accident. And those lists include the likes of Oklahoma, Nebraska, Notre Dame, and Ohio St.
The loss, which ended the Beavers' conference best six game road winning streak, and Riley's seven game winning streak coming off byes, required more than the usual amount of Trojan heroics.
Ronald Johnson's diving 22 yard touchdown and 38 yard over the outside shoulder grab that set up the first of Bradford's two touchdown runs were great catches of perfect passes by Barkley that had to be perfectly executed to work. For the Beavers, trouble is, they were.
Roland Johnson dives away from OSU's Lance MItchell for a touchdown.
The continuing lack of sacks, unlike the problems earlier in the season with Canfield, continue to pose questions Riley and defensive coordinator Mark Banker will have to address in the off-season, moreso even than during a bye week of preparation.
Even moderately mobile quarterbacks have caused problems for the Oregon St. pass rush in recent years, not just this season. Michael Hunt's apparently season ending knee injury won't help this year, but given the inability of a variety of Beaver pass rushers to get the knockdown, maybe it won't hurt that much either.
When a pattern persists over time, the question becomes "Is it the personnel?", suggesting the Beavers may need to recruit a different model of defensive lineman. Or, "Is it the system?" Especially given that the personnel recruitable are likely to remain what they are. Oregon St. may need to seriously consider whether their blitz packages and rush techniques are the best of choices, or if a serious focusing of the recruiting effort for some pass rush specialist prospects is in order.
The other disturbing development was that the Beavers' biggest mistakes didn't come from inexperienced players new to starting, who haven't seen a nearly sold out coliseum before. They came from two of the most battle tested members of the squad.
James Rodgers' fumble, the first of the season for Oregon St. in the seventh game, was only the fifth turnover the Beavers have committed, but given it lead directly to seven short field points in a game lost by six, was as critical as any play all night. The Trojans had made much of their work on stripping the ball all week in practice, aimed primarily at ‘Quizz, but everyone had to know every play would see an attempt to rip the ball out.
And linebacker Keaton Kristick, normally the beast of the defense, was beastly in the wrong way.
Emotions run high for games like this, even among fans at a distance, but it appeared Kristick got caught up in the moment when he was way late in leveling Barkley, wiping out an interception by David Pa'aluhi that would have set up Oregon St. deep in Trojan territory. Instead, USC goes on to score on a possession that should be over. And while the pass interference penalty was much closer, senior captains are expected to have a sense of timing that avoids game changing mistakes.
Expect James to remain one of the conference's best players, never mind the Beavers, but that one is going to be a haunting memory for a while.
It might be a dangerous time to be a Bruin back next week, as Kristick, who won't make excuses, probably will make up for it.
As a fan, it was another memorable experience, and a new kind of one. With over 90,000 tickets sold, mostly to Trojans, and 89,718 actually in the Coliseum, it was the largest crowd ever to see a Trojans-Beavers game, and the sixth largest throng ever for an Oregon St. game, trailing only the games against Michigan in the Big House, the all-time record at Penn St. last year, in the really big house, the two Pasadena Rose Bowls, and the 2004 LSU game.
An estimated 2,500 Beaver fans were on hand in LA, though the TV feed had no audible answer for the ever-present USC fight song.
But thanks to technology, there was also a feed of support from a noisy Mission Theater in Portland. The Oregon State Band led a sizable bunch of Beavers in an off-site event that matched the decibel level of the in-stadium experience.
The "Spirit and Sound" of Oregon State provided remote support for the Beaver football team.
Games are (now) regularly screened in stadiums and theaters, but usually it's just a viewing experience, not one complete with atmosphere. The first ever (for OSU) event was unforgettable, and if the Beavers could have gotten a turnover to give Sean and the Rodgers brothers one last shot, there might not have been any windows not blown out by the noise in the Pearl district.
However, it was another sign of the remaining steps to step up to that elite program status. Unlike USC, and most other members of that club, the Oregon State band, is still looking for help to buy enough uniforms for all its members, never mind making many road games. Beaver fans will have to buck up, literally, before the Orange are at full strength in these heavyweight battles.
Hopefully, homecoming will see a full house come out to Reser. After all, it's the only way they will see a Beaver program that proved they are knocking on the door of that elite clubhouse.