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Opening Weekend Reactions

Oregon State got some surprisingly good answers about their defense on opening night.
Oregon State got some surprisingly good answers about their defense on opening night.
(Photos by Andy Wooldridge)

Opening weekend of the college football season as always provided some answers to off-season questions that just couldn't be answered any sooner, though it also raised a few new ones.

For Oregon St., there was the expected good news that Seth Collins is the starter at quarterback, but also the less certain discoveries that the defense might be better than expected, and that the veteran offensive line might not be quite the strength they were expected to be.

Excitement over Collins was properly dampened a little by noting that his passing numbers weren't really anything special. But had not only the on-target touchdown toss to Victor Bolden not been dropped, a couple of very impressive first half break-ups by Weber St. defenders not happened, those passing numbers would have been much more normal, and the point total would have been in the 40s. Those breakups were on target throws, though, as was the shot to Bolden, and not into traffic or triple coverage.

Screen Pass

And the most impressive throw of the second touchdown drive might not have been the scoring strike to Jordan Villamin; the on-target screen pass to Storm Barrs-Woods for 14 yards for a 1st down by Collins, above, while he was being knocked over backwards was one of those plays that keep drives alive, and the punting team off the field.

It will take a while for the numbers to prove it, but it may turn out that Collins might just be pretty accurate, as well as pretty spectacular.

Admittedly, it was Weber St., but the Beaver defense didn't do something that several recent incarnations did; have the big blown play, where for whatever reason, be it a blown coverage or a missed tackle, someone would get loose with no one in position to even clean up the mess. With so many new faces on the defense, and others in new roles, that was something everyone had to be fearing would happen, no matter whose coaching, or who the opposition was. There were some mistakes, but also some quick coaching corrections.

And it was a notable accomplishment by defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake.

But if that was encouraging, the difficulty the offensive line, manned by 4 returning starters and a 5th in Isaac Seumalo that was a 2 year starter before losing last season to his foot injury, in getting much of any push most of the night was equally surprising and concerning.

Granted, there was a 305 lb. Sitake involved with that, and another 285 lb. DT, but its also pretty apparent that there won't be a lot of room to run inside in the Big House next week. Not that we thought there would be.

The initial answers starting coming Thursday night, and we quickly learned that Utah didn't collapse defensively after Oregon State snared some of their defensive coaches. But that wasn't a surprise with Kyle Whittingham still the head coach.

We'll revisit Utah more over the course of the next 2 months, but for now, if anything, I'm looking forward to Halloween in Salt Lake City more than ever.

Harbaugh maina was in full force on Fox Thursday night (has any losing coach in a regular season game ever had a more extensive post-game press conference?), and what we saw won't hold a candle to the circus that will unfold Saturday morning in the Big House.

But the same thing that unfolded in Salt Lake City might unfold on the field, because if Travis Wilson can run on the Wolverines, Collins certainly should be able to. And while there's likely to be little running room inside (if Devontae Booker can't get it going, not many backs will), if you can get outside, especially on the side of the field opposite #5, sophomore safety and kick returner Jabrill Peppers (who was the best player on the field at Rice-Eccles), there's some room to operate.

And its not as though its going to take a 40+ points of offensive production to beat Michigan most days.

Quarterback Jake Rudock was very predictable, but not very accurate against Utah, and even some of his throws that worked, like the touchdown toss to tight end Jake Butt who was triple covered at the time, were ill-advised. Throwing into triple coverage by a Pac-12 secondary is going to backfire more than occasionally.

And 5th year seniors are probably mostly what they are, and not likely to change much from week 1 to 2, unlike some younger quarterbacks who are still doing more learning.

Speaking of quarterback accuracy, the most impressive opening weekend answer might have been the one UCLA got about another true freshman quarterback, Josh Rosen. Even Bruin fans realized that a roster that everyone realizes could contend for the National Championship playoffs could also struggle to get above .500 without a quarterback, and no one knew for sure what they had in Rosen.

All Rosen did was complete 80% of his throws, which is hard to accomplish in pregame warmups, for 351 yards and 3 touchdowns, and no interceptions, which earned him the Walter Camp offensive player of the week award. And though it was only Virginia, and in the friendly confines of the Rose Bowl, it was an Power-5 opponent, and on national television. And accuracy from a quarterback trumps almost everything else. Look out for the Bruins.

LA is not a one team town though, and USC also lived up to the preseason hype. Being the last game of the day, and relegated to the Pac-12 channel that despite testing last week on DirecTV, still isn't available to much of the country, not many saw it, but the Trojans laid the lumber to an Arkansas St. team that wasn't expected to win, but, after 4 straight bowl trips, and only 1 less win in those last 4 years than USC, was expected to compete for a while. Especially against a supposedly distracted team dealing with the aftermath of coach Steve Sarkisian's failed chemistry experiment last weekend.

The result was a 55-6 rout. Expect the Trojans to continue to Fight On.

Arizona did get a good answer this weekend, despite struggling again with UT-San Antonio before finally putting the Roadrunners away. It was that linebacker Scooby Wright, who limped out with a left knee injury in the first quarter, has some meniscus damage, but no ligament damage, and could be back for the beginning of Pac-12 play at the end of the month.

With Utah, Arizona, UCLA, & USC all getting good news in one form or another, it might be tempting to down-grade expectations for Arizona St., who, despite being a popular pick to win the Pac-12 South, got beat by Texas A&M 38-17 in Houston. I wouldn't write off the Sun Devils just yet though; the Aggies, playing in front of essentially a home crowd, only put the game away late, and we have seen Todd Graham shore up some problems before.

And rumors of the demise of the Ducks as usual appear to be premature. Stanford was unable to score a touchdown at Northwestern, and no one should read anything into the fact that California scored 10 of them in their 73-14 win over Grambling.

Vernon Adams' debut was a success, at least until an ex-teammate took a late shot at Adams, ending his evening early in the 4th quarter. (Warning to Michigan St. fans; Adams appeared to be fine post game, and said he will be ready to go next Saturday evening in East Lansing).

The Oregon secondary, which graduated 3 starters, all very good, multi-year starters, has a lot of work to do, and Eastern Washington it appears will be just fine in the Big Sky post Adams (as they were before he got there). The Eagles got 42 points, and 549 yards against the Ducks, including 438 in the air.

But Oregon put up 61 points, and rolled up 731 yards (that's not a misprint), including 485 rushing yards, 180 by Royce Freeman, who found the end zone 3 times.

I'm not sure Oregon can win a National Championship with this team, but I'm not sure they can be kept out of the top 10, if not the top 5 either, and I'm pretty sure any other approach than the one they are using wouldn't produce that level of success with any regularity.

And no review of the weekend would be complete without checking in on the debut of former Oregon State coach Mike Riley and his friends, in Nebraska's home opener, against another familiar set of faces, BYU and coach Bronco Mendenhall, who has become one of Riley's biggest nemesis's.

Cornhusker fans got to experience all the emotions that Beaver fans have had in the last decade, and all in one afternoon.

Despite having the advantage in linemen and running backs against the athletes on the BYU defensive front, Nebraska couldn't run consistently inside behind a Mike Cavanaugh o-line. And Riley's pro-style offense struggled against a 3 man defensive front.

Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf, reunited with Riley in Lincoln after his failed attempt with the New York Giants, seemed to be calling plays at random, with no idea of a game plan.

Also, Mark Banker's defense had difficulty with a mobile quarterback, and Mendenhall's offense in particular. And the Cornhuskers, with Bruce Read as the special teams coach, missed 2 in range field goals, in a game they lost by 6 points.

Nebraska also didn't score just before halftime, despite having plenty of time with their final possession, having to settle for one of those missed field goals, but with 2 unused timeouts still on the board.

Despite all that, which led to having blown 2 leads, and the Cougars having lost quarterback Taysom Hill to a season ending injury for the 3rd time in his 4 year career (is there a more hard luck story than this kid?), Riley had the 'Huskers fighting hard, and in the lead as the 4th quarter clock ran down to 1 second left.

Only to have 21 year old freshman quarterback, standing just below the Nebraska "N" at midfield, throw the ball 50 yards to an improperly defended Mitch Matthews, who had 4 Cornhusker defenders behind him, but none in front of him, for the game winning touchdown.

I thought Coach Riley was going to collapse right there on the field.

It was the first time in 30 years Nebraska had lost a home opener, and the first time a new Cornhusker coach had lost his first game since 1957. To Washington St., ironically.

Some Beaver fans tried to warn some of the Huskers that there would be emotional roller-coaster rides like this.

The post game depression couldn't match that up at Cuog Center though.

Not after, on a cold and rainy day (which could be a harbinger of fall weather to come), Washington St. lost a lead late, and at least for a while their starting quarterback Luke Falk, when Steven Long scored the winning touchdown, and Portland St., after 14 losses to Pac-12 opponents, did what no Big Sky team has done to the Cougs in over 60 years.

The Vikings 24-17 win with a interim coach working on a limited duration state contract set a new standard in "Couging it".

We never fully know what to make of opening weekend events; other than those involving season ending injuries (and there were more of those than anyone wanted to see), you still don't know if, good or bad, what happened will be the beginning of a season long pattern, or an outlier. But I'm already looking forward to week 2 to start to find out!