With a reshuffled offensive line and a lot of inexperience at wide receiver, the fact that Oregon St. had some efficiency issues offensively wasn't and shouldn't have been a big surprise, and in light of a lot of recent opening weekend outings, most Beaver backers would have taken a guaranteed 15 point win going in.
Indeed, it was an odd-feeling day, one that didn't have the energy level a lot of opening weekend games seemed to have. Showery weather in the morning of a 3 day weekend doubtless helped put a damper on things, and the Orange and Black crowd aren't really used to this early afternoon football business, at least after last year.
But a smallish crowd, especially for an in-state opponent that could easily contribute more to the turnout than most opponents, has to be a concern to Athletic Director Bob DeCarolis, who paid the Vikings $475,000 to drive down for the day, and then saw very barely only 309 over 40,000 show up for a team coming off back to back bowl trips.
Many of those that did show up had a laid back feel to it, and it struck me like being at Washington St, or even an only slightly up-sized Western Oregon game.
Once the game got going, the expected issues that we seem to discuss weekly were there, both the positive and the negative.
The offensive line did at times look like a group that had 4 new starters, and a 5th that was in a new position, playing a little uneven.
But there were some good signs, as though Sean Mannion had to move in and out of the pocket possibly a little more than he would have liked, he also had all afternoon to throw on some plays. Mannion suffered 3 sacks, and completed only 58% of his passes, but he also didn't throw any interceptions, and ran for a touchdown that wasn't a goal line dive.
And the Beavers were able to get a running game going, amassing 176 yards despite the 3 sacks and an opening snap that sailed over Mannion's head, and including a 125 yard day by Storm Woods. Several observers here and elsewhere noted that 50 of those came on 1 great play, but as with the 15 point win, no one would have turned down a guarantee of 176 yards and a 125 yard day for a back before the game.
And its important for those that were hoping for more inside rushing success to remember that Portland St. has a 340 lb, space eater in Daniel Fusi that was clogging up a lot of lanes, about as large an impediment as any single object Oregon St. will have to work around all season.
The encouraging thing I saw were several actual stretch runs.
In recent seasons, most outside runs have been slant plays that have bounced out, or sweeps dependent primarily on tight end and wide receiver blocking. Against Portland St., there were more lead blocks that were more than a cross-over step outside the lane than there may have been all of last season. Certainly than in several compilations of several game stretches. This is an indication of better mobility from the new line.
As expected, Victor Bolden, above, had a good first game as a starter, especially in the first half, and as hoped, Richard Mullaney had a good game. And the tight ends were a huge part of the Oregon St. offense, accounting for 10 of the 26 catches, and 141 of the 328 passing yards Mannion threw for, with Connor Hamlett being the game's leading receiver.
Take a look back through the record books and try to find the last time a TE was the leading receiver in a Pac-12 game. It's a long weekend, so you have some time. And a pretty notable accomplishment for Hamlett, above.
And that was despite several drops and several flat out misses, on plays where there was nothing wrong with the play call, just the execution.
Disappointing though was the non-emergence of a 3rd wide receiver.
After an encouraging run late in summer camp, Malik Gilmore got the start. And like last year, totally disappeared during the game. Clearly, its time to abandon this experiment.
But somewhat surprisingly, no one else actually got a chance to emerge.
Part of that was caused by the red-zone inefficiency that resulted in a school record number of field goal attempts, which, given 2 of them missed, kept the game in starters only mode all the way.
But after an enormous number of targets during practice, and a lot of talk about the depth and athleticism of the group, none of the group of Hunter Jarmon, Jordan Villamin, Kendall Hill, and Xavier Hawkins ever even got on the field. That may be the single biggest surprise of the day. Together with the problem with unforced major penalties, these were easily the 2 largest concerns I took out of the stadium.
Defensively, a pair of first half touchdowns and one other big yardage run by a running quarterback had the familiar rumblings and grumblings going through all corners of Reser, and in both cases, as usual, there was no containment by an outside linebacker.
Its also worth noting that the runs were all to the right side of the defense, and when the Vikings tried the same look to the side Dylan Wynn was at, it didn't work.
Defensive coordinator Mark Banker did make a significant defensive adjustment at halftime, going with more 3 man fronts, often with Wynn over center, after the break, and less of the very wide splits on the d-line, which allowed freer deployment of linebackers, and a lot of dime, never mind nickel, secondaries.
For whatever reason, Portland St. ceased running Paris Penn, their "running" quarterback to his left after the half. And the Vikings use of "passing" quarterback Kieran McDonagh in the 3rd quarter, when the game's outcome was highly in doubt, and Penn more in the 4th quarter, after the Beavers had begun to pull away, seemed backwards.
Whether that was more a poor decision by Nigel Burton or in response to what Banker and Oregon St. showed them, the result was still 4 turnovers in the 3rd quarter, and 40 total yards surrendered by the Beavers after the break.
Again, despite the first half scoring runs, no Beaver backer would have turned down that second half out of this or any Oregon St. defense.
And speaking of all the nickel and dime defense, my surprise player of the game was Justin Strong, who played well all day, and played a lot.
Strong, 39 above, recorded a pair of solo tackles, as well as an assist and a pass break-up, the exact line Ryan Murphy also posted. Together with Cyril Noland-Lewis, 17 above, the 5th and 6th dbs did a good job, and they weren't the names most might have expected. Dashon Hunt never dashed onto the field, and Malcolm Marable never made it on either, even on special teams.
And though it was Ty Zimmerman that was caught on the wrong side of a Viking a couple of times in the first half, it only happened a couple of times, and it was Zim's best overall game ever, especially the 3rd quarter.
As expected, Steven Nelson, above, was also very solid, and much improved over what was a pretty decent first campaign at this level last year.
Once Oregon St. figured out they had to take Kasey Closs as seriously as they would a Pac-12 WR, the Portland St. passing game, which is their strength, was history.
The best summation of the situation came from Oregon St. radio analyst Jim Wilson, who noted "Those people who believe there is no such thing as an ugly win haven't watched this game."
And the penalty problem absolutely has to improve. Head coach Mike Riley termed it "Very bad; very unclean. We can't live like that."
However, the second half was already much improved in that regard, with the number of flags cut almost in half.
Oregon St. also accomplished pretty good balance, with only 8 more passes than runs, though 4 pass plays wound up in the books as rushes, due to various breakdowns. And as a result of that and the 5-1 edge in turnovers, the Beavers were just 34 seconds shy of having a 2-1 edge in time of possession, and the 31 extra plays translated into 10 more first downs than Portland St. posted.
And the Beavers escaped essentially unscathed, with a late game shoulder ding to Murphy that is not expected to even keep him out of practice Tuesday the only apparent injury.
If Oregon St. can indeed play cleaner ball, they could play pretty good ball.
Interesting Outcomes Around The Conference
The most notable non-conference games around the conference from a Beaver perspective were the Washington-Hawaii game, since Oregon St. visits the islands next Saturday, and will have to visit Montlake, and new Husky coach Chris Peterson, later this season, and the Fresno St.-USC game, since the a trip to the LA Coliseum to take on the Trojans is coming up in 4 weeks.
That and the fact that while Utah was pretty impressive in their 56-14 win, it was over Idaho St., and though Oregon was as dominant, fast, and deep as ever in their 62-13 win, it was over South Dakota.
Husky honks were rather critical of both Coach Peterson and backup quarterback Jeff Lindquist, and neither was particularly impressive in their Washington debuts, a 17-16 win that saw the Huskies do next to nothing impressive outside of a pair of John Ross touchdowns.
But its worth noting that it was a road win, with not just a backup quarterback, a totally inexperienced one.That's another of those first game things that one should not read too much into, at least until we have some additional data points, including Washington with a starting quarterback in the same state as the game, and some on Hawaii.
Comparisons and concerns for the Beavers of course make perfect sense with the Rainbow Warriors, or whatever the current tag for their team is, coming up next, but its pretty apparent that the key for the Beavers is going to be containing Joey Iosefa, who ran for 143 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries against the Huskies.
A game similar to last season's 33-14 Oregon St. win isn't an unreasonable expectation, and even if its 7 or so points closer, that's still a double digit win.
It's also important to keep in mind in evaluating the Washington win that very few of the Huskies (other than most of Coach Peterson's staff) have seen Hawaii and its distractions before, whereas most of the Oregon St. players have, a result of last year's Hawaii Bowl trip, and so keeping focus shouldn't be as much of an issue as it might otherwise be.
The team will fly over after Wednesday's practice, have a practice in the stadium Thursday, and a walk-trough Friday, and still have some time to get acclimated for a 5:30 PM Saturday (7:30 PM PDT) kickoff.
USC is another matter, as the Trojans shook off any potential distracting affects of the Josh Shaw story (using the term literally), the incredible Anthony Brown accusation as he departed the team, or having only 62 scholarship players, thoroughly demolishing Fresno St. 52-13, in a game that was no where near that close, to kick off the Steve Sarkisain era.
This against a Bulldog team that's admittedly taken a step back after the graduation of both quarterback Derek Carr and WR Davante Adams, the only duo to rival Mannion and Brandin Cooks last year, but one that's still expected to contend for the Mt. West title.
USC QB Cody Kessler was arguably the best of the bevy of quality Pac-12 quarterbacks, completing 25 of 37 passes, for 394 yards and 4 touchdowns, and with no turnovers. Kessler was named the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week as a result.
Javorius "Buck" Allen ran for 133 of USC's 277 yards on the ground, and a touchdown, and USC rolled up 701 yards.
The Trojan defense meanwhile gave up only 317 yards, and snagged 4 interceptions.
The sped up pace of play Sarkisian brought with him that he used last year at Washington also worked well, giving the tremendous Trojan talent more plays to make plays. A Pac-12 record 105 plays, in fact.
Coupled with Stanford's 45-0 demolition of UC-Davis, it makes next week's visit to the farm by USC possibly an even bigger game than the earlier Michigan St. at Oregon affair. Beaver fans not making the trip to the islands, fortunately, can watch both before switching over to the Oregon St. game.
The Cardinal's dominating win was over UC-Davis, but the Aggies are comparable to Portland St., in that they are a middle of the road Big Sky school, not on par with Eastern Washington and Montana, but not a Weber St. or an Idaho St. either.
And while we were reminded that Ty Montgomery is a spectacular game changer (Montgomery had a game high 5 catches for a game high 77 yards, including one for a 44 yard touchdown, and also added a 60 yard punt return for a touchdown not 3 minutes into the game), the real stat to take away from Stanford's win is that the Aggies never crossed midfield until the last play of the game.
Either USC or Stanford will lose next weekend, but its probably going to be a rare experience for both of the top 15 teams, both of whom Oregon St. will be paying a visit to this season.
(Photos by Andy Wooldridge)