Oregon St. opened the season with a road loss, 30-21 to sixth ranked TCU, and disappointing describes it. Not that weren't some real positives; there were. But also some seriously negative negatives.
The Beavers have the inglorious honor of being the first and only team to pick off Horned Frogs quarterback Andy Dalton more than once, and still manage to lose. That makes the loss especially frustrating, because one of the game keys was to get some picks.
Dalton has never lost when he doesn't throw an interception, so Lance Mitchell's first quarter takeaway that eventually led to James Rodgers' touchdown suggested the Beavers would actually have a chance. When Dalton throws one interception, the senior TCU QB suddenly drops from untouchable to only a 70% winner.
Dwight Roberson's pickoff put Dalton and TCU into territory they have never been successful in. But Oregon St. couldn't capitalize in the last third of the game, and an unforced error effectively ended it when miscommunication resulted in center Alex Linnenkohl snapping the ball over quarterback Ryan Katz' head while he wasn't even looking.
The play will be repeatedly replayed, and long remembered, but it isn't what beat the Beavers. TCU won the battle in the trenches both ways, and they did it emphatically.The Horned Frogs ran the ball more than twice as often as the Beavers, and for nearly four times as many yards. And their second most productive runner, Matthew Tucker, had more carries than Jacquizz Rodgers did for Oregon St., and virtually as many yards. And that's not because Oregon St. was pass-happy. Dalton threw more passes than Katz, and completed more of them, and for more yards. As well as running for 64 yards and two touchdowns.
TCU also held the ball for a 2-1 advantage in time of possession, and had more than twice as many first downs, 28 to 13. Oregon St. only sacked Dalton once, when Steven Paea got thru one of the double teams he faced all night, and will see every week of the season.
Quizz averaged over 4 yards per carry, but only managed 75 yards. And was never thrown to. Meanwhile, Ed Wesley, another of these small but enormously strong Texas running backs, tore up the Oregon St. defense for 134 yards and a touchdown, on 17 carries, which is almost 8 yards per touch.
Wesley, at just 5'9", and 200 lbs., is only slightly larger than the Rodgers brothers, but is similarly strong almost beyond belief. The Beavers will not be the last team Wesley runs over.
To be fair, Oregon St. will not see another defense this season that is the equal of TCU, who has been the nation's leader in total defense the last two years, and four times in the last decade. Not many offensive lines will equal or exceed the size of the Horned Frogs' group that is over 300 lbs. across the front.
But until Oregon St. can survive in the trenches against the likes of TCU, even players like ‘Quizz and James aren't going to be able to lift the Beavers from being a top 20-30 team to a top 10 team.
Too Many Tackles By Safeties
Mitchell led Oregon St. with 18 tackles, and Suaesi Tuimaunei was next, with 13. When your safeties make 31 tackles, your opponent has gotten far too deep into your defense far too often.
Knowing TCU is such a strong running team, and that Dalton gives them an extra running threat on every play, Oregon St. had Tuimaunei up in run support a lot of the time. Which had a lot to do with some of what happened in the secondary. On one occasion, Mitchell took a penalty, but a close look at the tape reveals that Mitchell was the only defender with three TCU receivers in the area. Allowing only a 15 yard penalty gain out of that isn't so bad a decision.
Cornerback Brandon Hardin got burned for a deep seam route for a 52 yard gain in the second quarter. Hardin had no inside help, as Mitchell was picking up a crossing route underneath, and Tuimaunei was up in rush support. This is the kind of coverage mistake that can't happen, but often does early in the year, especially against a team like TCU.
One of the Horned Frogs strengths is the ability to get opposing defenses to congregate, overloading in a given area, and then attacking the resulting open space.
Dalton Makes History
Dalton's first ever win after throwing more than one interception also moved him past hall of fame quarterback Sammy Baugh. Dalton's 30th. career win became the TCU school record, but probably one that will be rewritten on a regular basis. With BYU and Utah being the toughest opponents remaining on the Horned Frogs' schedule, Dalton's career total could well top 40. And end with a legitimate shot at a BCS title game bid.
Katz Off To A Good Start
Katz, who not only made his first start, but took his first meaningful snap, did better than could be expected, and considering the quality of an opponent, has to get a solid "B" grade. Ordinarily, completing less than 40% of your passes would rate a "D", but it was one of the best first starts by an Oregon St. quarterback.
Katz threw for two touchdowns, and maybe more importantly, no interceptions. Katz also made good decisions when it came to avoiding sacks. There were too many incompletions, and throws too far off target, but Katz made good decisions about where to throw most of the time, and clearly has the arm to stretch defenses like no OSU qb since Derek Anderson.
On the downside, Katz has work to do on checkdowns. Katz never went to ‘Quizz, who had open space to operate in a number of times when the ball wound up being forced to tougher targets. And slotback Joe Halahuni only caught two balls. One was very effective late in the game.
Katz will learn from the experience though, and checkdowns like these are one of the toughest things, and last things, new quarterbacks master.
Riley Tried To Win
Oregon St. coach Mike Riley has to get credit for the decision to go for the fake punt, which punter Johnny Hekker, who was a quarterback of some note back in his high school career in Bothell, WA. Riley has come under some criticism for play calling and preparation at times, but in this game, which Riley endorsed as an upgrade over a home game against Eastern Washington, the Beavers used a variety of creative plays.
In addition to Hekker's pass to Jordan Poyer, there was an interesting look, with James Rodgers at tailback, and ‘Quizz at fullback. And more deep passes than were seen in the first third of last season.
Questions about why Riley left a timeout on the board arose before the game even ended, and in postgame conversations, but when Riley decided to not use the Beavers' last timeout, TCU coach Gary Patterson didn't run a play that could have opened the margin to double digits.
Patterson wasn't worried about covering the spread, satisfied to get the win against a better opponent than many the Horned Frogs will blow out in the weeks to come.
We saw more class from Riley and Patterson than we will see by some before the season ends.
Kicking Game A Letdown
Winning at this level requires very few mistakes, and while Hekker's completion led to an OSU touchdown, and he had some good positional punts, he also had a couple of clunkers, one that would have ended the game earlier had Roberson not made a game saving interception.
Justin Kahut also had some effective directional kickoffs, but missed badly on his only field goal attempt. ESPN accurately noted that Oregon St. has a recent history of far too many field goals instead of touchdowns, but a field goal is still much better than coming away empty, especially in a game that was a one score game for over 55 minutes.
What We Learned This Weekend
First and foremost, Oregon St. does in fact have a competent replacement at quarterback. Most that saw Katz over the spring and summer thought so, but no one, Katz included, was sure.
Surprises can be expected, especially if you show up to play. Though Oregon reminded everyone that not everyone can beat anyone with their 72-0 demolition of New Mexico, the fact that two FCS teams not only beat FBS teams, they beat BCS conference opponents on their own turf. One of them an SEC team, when Jacksonville St. spoiled ex-Duck Jeramiah Masoli's debut with a 49-48 double overtime win over Ole' Miss. Was it really worth it to have drugs in the car while already on probation? And I wonder what all might be burning in Oxford, Mississippi tonight.
The other surprise spoiled new Kansas coach Turner Gill's debut, when North Dakota St. upset the Jayhawks 6-3.
Washington isn't that close to being back yet. The Huskies still can't win on the road, losing the lead twice, and going scoreless in the second half, in a 23-17 defeat in Provo, against a Brigham Young team that was also breaking in two new quarterbacks. This despite a good performance by Jake Locker.
WSU is still way off. The Cougars fumbled to start the game, were behind two plays later, and got destroyed 65-17 in Stillwater by a rebuilding Oklahoma St. team.
USC may have no defense, but UCLA is still behind them. Matt Barkley had a spectacular five touchdown night in the Trojans' 49-36 win at Hawaii Thursday night, but he will need a lot more of them if USC doesn't cover someone at some point. UCLA dropped a 31-22 contest at Kansas St., as the pistol offense misfired at times, and the Bruin defense eventually was exposed as well. UCLA has the weapons to be dangerous to anyone, themselves included. Too many mistakes by Rick Neuheisel's guys to expect to succeed against their schedule, which features Stanford, Houston, and Texas yet this month.
Coaching changes should be considered carefully. New Mexico fired former Oregon St. assistant coach Rocky Long because, he was [only] winning more that he was losing, and only sometimes a bowl team, but the Lobos were not capable of winning the Mt. West Conference, going against the likes of TCU, future Pac-11/12 Utah (who by the way defeated an old OSU foe Pittsburg 27-24 in overtime Thursday), and BYU. Now, they have Mike Locksley, who has brought assaults among the staff, and sexual harassment charges, and came off a 1-11 year to today's disaster at Autzen. How's firing Rocky working out for you Lobo fans now?
Ducks use a two QB system after all. Darron Thomas was named the starter by Oregon coach Chip Kelly, who said he wouldn't platoon quarterbacks, but Nate Costa actually played more. The fact that the Ducks were up 59-0 in the second quarter, after Kenjon Barner "filled in" for LaMichael James, suspended for the opener, with five touchdowns, and Cliff Harris returned two punts for touchdowns, after taking over for Barner, had something to do with that.
If the Ducks played the Lobos 11 more times this season, you could engrave the Heisman Trophy with Barner's name right now.
Perhaps the Lobos and Cougars should have scheduled each other, and Oregon should have played Oklahoma St., their 2008 Holiday Bowl opponents, again.
We really didn't learn a thing about Stanford, Cal, Arizona, or Arizona St. At least anything we didn't already know. Wins by margins of 52-17 over Sacrificial St. (I mean Sacramento St.), 52-3 over UC-Davis, 41-2 at Toledo, and 54-9 over Portland St. could have all rivaled Oregon's best in class rout.
Was it worth it?
Depends on how you do the math. And whether another of these tough and fast Texas backs, like the Rodgers, Wesley, or LaMichael James, signs on for the Beavers in the next year or two.
Riley says he will keep "shooting these bullets", and that he likes the big games as preparation for more big games. But whether another game of this sort, at a non-neutral neutral site will make business sense, or Oregon St. athletic director Bob De Carolis will sign up for it, remains to be seen.
Over 5,000 Beaver Believers made the trip, at prices rivaling or exceeding bowl game costs, but only 46,138 (including Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott, and the building's owner, Jerry Jones) found their way into Cowboys' Stadium, which has a six figure capacity.
Reser will hold a crowd that size, and for some perspective, the last time Oregon St. hosted a Big Sky opponent, 41,679 fans turned out to see the Beavers beat Portland St. And Oregon St. kept the lion's share of that game's gate, and collected television money then as well. With far lower expenses.
If playing FCS teams isn't appealing, the last "mid-major" (non-BCS) FBS visitor, Hawaii, drew a crowd of over 45,000.
There was some good exposure for the program in the deal, but it wasn't a financial boon by any measure.
The bye will be good for OSU, and bad for Louisville.
Oregon St. now has a load of material to work on, not only with Katz, but also their lines, in the two weeks until Louisville, 23-16 losers to Kentucky in their home opener, arrive at Reser. The Cardinals host Eastern Kentucky next week, presumably an easier opponent than the Wildcats.
Meanwhile, it will be like a second camp, and possibly even more productive than the first one, for Oregon St.
Fortunately, failure to break thru on the ESPN stage at Cowboys Stadium apparently didn't include any significant injuries, and because the Beavers were competitive despite the statistical problems until nearly the end, Rose Bowl prospects were unaffected. Because of the BCS one-time non-BCS conference rule with the Rose Bowl, a rematch with TCU is even possible.
The Beavers didn't give up, didn't give in to the ‘wow' factor, didn't give up five interceptions, like happened against Cincinnati, and didn't give up 45 points, as happened at Penn St.
So despite tonight's disappointment, it should be a better Beaver team that takes the field in two weeks.