The discouraging 35-10 loss at USC Saturday night has two essential themes going forward for Oregon St; play calling/game management concerns and health concerns.
The discussion Sunday and again this morning locally and nationally has centered around a couple of key points about coaching, with the most spectacular last second hail-Mary touchdown translating to the most spectacular conversation, naturally.
But the more critical points revolve around the lack of a second half running game by the Beavers, after Oregon St. had been winning that battle in the first half, and on the bigger issue of lack of adjustments to USC's adjustments.
Head coach Mike Riley spoke to those Sunday evening, and at least he addressed the questions, if not the issues as they arose during the game.
With regard to the last second play, Riley felt "I think you play with fire there, too, because if they do indeed go for it and get the first down in that deal, then they've got a couple of shots either for the end zone or a field goal possibility. So you give them more plays. The only thing I wish now that I would have done was call timeout right when they got set up with one second to go. You still have to make the play, right? But I'd rather give them one play than three or four possibilities. I don't think that that's wrong."
It's an interesting line of thinking about potentially giving USC even more shots, and it does show there was a thought process involved, not just a "no clue" moment.
But even if you accept that premise, there is the admission that using an otherwise go to waste time out to counter the 1 play. Especially given that Ryan Murphy had just gone out of the game temporarily, extra discussion of how to make that play that wasn't made couldn't have hurt.
Coupled with the delay of game on a critical 4th down, it again underscores the need for more scenario planning in advance for these situations, which may not come up for a month of games, or might come up at any time. It's becoming a decisive issue for many investors (mis-labeled as donors and fans by the administration), and it's going to have to become a decisive issue for administration.
The game got away in the second half though, not on the single hail-Mary touchdown. Whether it actually got away in the second half, or during halftime, when decisions about the second half were being made in both dressing rooms, Oregon St. came up wanting, and the early abandonment of the running game was the central factor.
Though down 10 points, there was still a half to play, and that margin hadn't grown by the start of the 4th quarter. The wearing down of the Oregon St. defense had started to happen though.
"It looks like we should have run more, for sure, because we averaged pretty good on the ground per running attempt," Riley said. "We had to be able to mix in the pass with it, and if we just could have been a little higher percentage with it, we would have been much better off. It's gonna take a mixture of things to win a game like that, but yeah, now I would have liked to have gotten more first downs and had a real good mixture of run-pass in the game."
Last year, it was short-sighted, but somewhat understandable, to go pass-heavy as Oregon St. often did, with the likes of Brandin Cooks AND a rushing game that WASN'T working well. But neither was the case this time, and there was no surprise to that. Again, where is the scenario based planning?
It's fine when the game plan works wonderfully, but it's not unreasonable to discuss predictable difficult situations, and decide IN ADVANCE what the response will be.
There's been a lot of extreme negative reaction, to the point of writing off the season in some cases, over 1 loss, a loss that most expected, even those previously bullish on Oregon St. That might be an over-reaction, as going to Boulder 3-1 on the season was probably the highest likelihood scenario this season. But it recognizes that bad decisions (and bad mistakes, in the form of 13 penalties for the 3rd time this season) on par with this performance IF REPEATED (and that seems to be likely), won't win in otherwise winnable (based on personal matchups) games.
That's hard to dismiss, because win or lose, there are things in any game that are primarily if not totally under your own control, not the opponent's, and are inexcusable for that reason, regardless of the outcome. The concern is the adoption of bad habits that, while not necessarily ones that would have changed the outcome Saturday night (and I'm not sure the W-L outcome would have been different with an exemplary effort instead of an indefensible one), will cost a win in a 1 score game still to come.
Strategy and tactics are a cerebral subject, but injuries are not.
Oregon St. DTs Jalen Grimble and Noke Tago are scheduled for Monday MRIs, but it looks like both will be question marks at best for the Colorado contest. Tago was on crutches Monday morning.
The offensive line that has had trouble blocking 4 man rushes to the point of having to take the Tight Ends out of the offensive pattern in order to help of late isn't going to get help soon either, as Isaac Seumalo has his foot back in a boot again, and even a return after the bye week against Utah now appears to be unlikely.
Both areas will call for some coaching adjustments in the days to come to cope with it.
The inexperience of the wide receiver group was also a big factor in the loss at USC, but the combination of experience gained, and the return of Victor Bolden will help with that. Whether Bolden will be back in Boulder remains to be seen though, as he can't catch balls until the sutures in his hand for the operational repair of his dislocated little finger, and that's scheduled for Thursday. 2 days to heal that up could be a problem, so though Bolden should be back by the time Utah comes to Reser on Oct. 16, he's "doubtful" for the Buffs game.
"I'm not gonna rule him out for this game, but I'm a little doubtful about it," Riley said. "Because he can run, when he is ready, he won't be two weeks without doing anything. Then we'll see from there. He should get nothing but better from there."
There's no doubt the Oregon St. defense will do a better job of slowing down the Colorado offense than California did, but there's also no doubt that against Sefo Liufau, who threw for 455 yards and 7 touchdowns, and Nelson Spruce, who caught 19 balls for 179 yards, last Saturday in Berkeley, the Beaver defense will need the inexperienced OSU receivers to step up in support, with a LOT more offensive production. Especially at elevation in Boulder, the like of which none of the Beaver players have experienced in a game before.