Posted on: December 2, 2010 1:27 pm
Edited on: December 2, 2010 2:00 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
There's basically two candidates for the upset of the 2010 college football season: James Madison taking out Virginia Tech , just the second-ever victory for an FCS team over a ranked opponent, and Nevada ruining Boise State 's dream season with their wild overtime victory.
But neither of those would hold a candle to a hypothetical Oregon State victory over the top-ranked Oregon juggernaut the Beavers will host in Corvallis this Saturday, in the 114th edition of the Civil War. The Ducks are, of course, a perfect 11-0, boast the top-ranked offense in the country, and one hiccup at Cal aside have won their other 11 games by an average of 32 points. Oregon State, meanwhile, is a disppointing 5-6 and is coming off a 38-0 humiliation at the hands of Stanford .
But the Civil War has some history of chaos , particularly when one team or the other is on the cusp of a championship. Could the Beavers make it happen? It won't be easy, but it won't be impossible, either. Here's what they'll have to do:
Shorten the game with Rodgers. It's mostly beside the point to say the Beavers need to "control the clock"; Chip Kelly 's hyperdrive offense scores so quickly that even gaining more yards than any other attack in the country, the Ducks still rank 103rd in the FBS in time-of-possession. But OSU will have to hog even more of the ball than the Ducks normally concede, because the more possessions Oregon can pack into the game, the more cracks they get at the Beaver end zone, the more fatigued the OSU defense will get as the game wears on, and the greater the toll the Ducks' superior talent will take. OSU needs to approach the game the way a Princeton-offense basketball team would a first-round NCAA Tournament game; the fewer possessions there are, the greater impact one or two fortunate bounces and big plays could have in the underdogs' favor.
So how do the Beavers do that? The heaviest dose possible of Jacquizz Rodgers . The Beavers' dynamo has been at his best in big games in the past, and will have to be again to keep the chains moving, the clock running, and the Duck offense off the field.
Rattle the Ducks on the road. Oregon has been incredible just about everywhere, but they've been far more vulnerable on the road than at home in their virtually-impregnable Autzen Stadium fortress. They allowed more than 600 yards to Arizona State in Tempe in their worst defensive performance of the season, winning largely on the strength of a cavalcade of Sun Devile errors that led to six turnovers; the Ducks' worst offensive performance came in Berkeley, where they managed just one offensive touchdown and anaverage of 3.8 yards per-play, nearly two yards lower than their next-worst performance.
The Beavers haven't been particularly good at home -- their decisive loss in Corvallis to Washington State is probably the single worst performance in Pac-10 play this season -- but if they can play with enough emotion and energy early to keep the crowd well in it, the Ducks have shown they might not respond all that well.
Win the special teams battle. This is much easier said than done with All-American Duck returner Cliff Harris around, but special teams have typically been a Mike Riley strength -- they kept the Beavers competitive in their meeting with Boise almost singlehandedly -- and they simply can't afford to lose this phase of the game when they have such an uphill climb on first-through-third down. Preventing a big Oregon special teams play and making one or two of their own would go a long, long way towards evening the scales.
Sell out against the run. With an offense as powerful as Oregon's, there's no good way to defend it; packing the box means that Darron Thomas will have more opportunities to hit a backbreaking pass downfield. But the only time Oregon's been halfway contained -- in the aformentioned trips to Cal and Arizona State -- it's started with limiting LaMichael James and the Duck running game, which averaged just 3.47 yards an attempt vs. the Sun Devils and an ugly 2.95 vs. the Bears. The Beavers' star defensive tackle Stephen Paea will need to play the game of his life.
Don't turn the ball over. A team like OSU simply won't beat a team like Oregon wasting possessions and helping the Duck offense with turnovers. There's not much else to say there.
Even if Oregon State does all of the above, they're still not likely to actually emerge with more than a moral victory; Oregon is just that good. But they'll at least have a fighting chance, and if they catch a couple of breaks with the officials and in the turnover department, who knows? There could be one more shocker left in the college football season after all.
Posted on: November 14, 2010 1:36 am
Edited on: November 14, 2010 1:37 am
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
1. Oregon can win ugly, too. To be fair to the Ducks, they weren't exactly dominated in their 15-13 win in Berkeley; they outgained Cal by more than 100 yards, held the Bears to 193 yards total and a miserable 2.5 yards per-pass, and only gave up a second touchdown on a Darron Thomas fumble in the end zone.
But they also scored their only first-half touchdown on a Cliff Harris punt return, averaged a stunningly weak 2.9 yards per-carry, eked out the final two-point margin by virtue of their made two-point try and Cal's failed attempt, and could have easily lost if not for Cal kicker Giorgio Tavecchio short-circuiting his own 24-yard field goal with a stutter-step procedure penalty and missing the subsequent 29-yard try. Every national title contender has to win games when they're not at their best, but Oregon was so far away from their best Saturday night they'd have to send it a postcard.
In the end, it didn't matter, as behind Thomas and a hobbled LaMichael James the Ducks changed philosophies on the fly to a clock-churning, yards-chewing ground-exclusive outfit that ate up the game's final 9:25 on one drive . That kind of versatility could prove to be the difference between a national champion and a slip-up before Glendale ... even if the Ducks would prefer not to have to put it to use again until there's a crystal football awarded to the victor.
2. Washington State should keep Paul Wulff. Let's be fair: the Cougars' rehabilitation, even after their 31-14 upset-of-the-Pac-10's year against Oregon State today, is progressing verrrrry ... sloooooooowly. One FBS win in 2008, that one over winless Washington. One in 2009, over SMU in overtime. Until today, none in 2010.
But that hasn't meant it hasn't been progressing at all . After getting totally obliterated on a weekly basis two years ago, the Cougars have been substantially more competitive this season: 42-28 vs. UCLA , 43-23 vs. Oregon, 38-28 vs. Stanford , 20-13 vs. Cal. You could see the game coming where the Cougars put everything together and took down some unsuspecting favorite. And that game came today: quarterback Jeff Tuel had the game of his career, hitting 10-of-15 passes for 157 yards and a touchdown while adding 79 yards in the ground; the rest of a surprisingly productive run game chipped in 142 yards and three touchdowns; and the much-maligned Cougar defense forced three turnovers, hounded Beaver quarterback Ryan Katz into a quiet 12-for-21 performance, and held the Beavers to 261 yards overall. Unexpected as Wazzu's triumph might have been, especially coming in Corvallis, it was no fluke.
So maybe progress has been slow. But it's there. Wulff has Wazzu pointed in the right direction, and after today he deserves at least one more season to see how far in that direction he can go.
(As for the Beavers, well, TCU and Boise would like a refund, please.)
3. Arizona State is the Pac-10's hard-luck team. The Sun Devils have had a couple of games in which they outgained their opponent by wide margins and lost, but today wasn't one of them; visiting Stanford enjoyed a 420-268 yardage advantage. But this is still a team that lost at Wisconsin on a late missed extra point; gave away an excellent shot at a huge upset of Oregon with a flood of turnovers; lost to Oregon State when a late drive ended in an interception; to USC on a late missed field goal. You'd think that eventually Dennis Erickson 's team could buy a break, and when the Devils went up 13-10 late in the third quarter on a Steven Threet touchdown pass, it looked like that break might finally be coming.
But it wasn't: the Cardinal took over on their 15 and went 85 yards to score an Owen Marecic touchdown with just over five minutes remaining. ASU's following drive went nowhere, and Stanford picked up three first downs to ice the game. The Sun Devils have now played the BCS's Nos. 1, 6, and 7 teams and lost by a total of 16 points. But they'll still have to sweep their final two games vs. UCLA and at Arizona just to make a bowl game.
4. This isn't Mike Stoops' breakthrough season, either. Arizona has famously never been to the Rose Bowl, but even if Oregon made clear the Wildcats aren't getting there this year relatively early, Stoops could have still hoped for his first 10-win season and top-20 final ranking -- goals his team looked well on their way to fulfilling after their early-season win over Iowa .
Since then, though, the Wildcats have gone a ho-hum 4-3 with two of those wins over the Washington schools and the latest result a dispiriting 24-21 home loss to USC. The Trojans aren't a bad team by any means, but if the Wildcats want to be taken seriously as Pac-10 contenders, winning home games against their fellow upper-end-of-the-pack rivals (not to mention avoiding getting outrushed 205-51) is a step they'll have to take. Unless Arizona pulls a shocker in Eugene next weekend, eight regular season wins will be the ceiling.
Posted on: November 2, 2010 6:56 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
If there's been one defining, overarching narrative to the 2010 season to date, it's been ... well, maybe it's been the upheaval at the top of the polls that's seen preseason outsiders Oregon and Auburn seize control of their national championship destiny with four weeks remaining in the season. But if there's been two co-defining narratives, the second, without question, would be the rise of non-AQ teams like Boise State , TCU , and Utah into not only the BCS bowl picture but the BCS national championship picture.
So it's perhaps something of a shame that the lists of semifinalists for the Lombardi Award and the Thorpe Award -- given to the nation's best down lineman or downhill linebacker and best defensive back, respectively, and both announced within the past week -- do little to acknowledge that rise. The lists:
Lombardi AwardSam Acho, Defensive End, Texas, 6-3, 260, Sr., Dallas, TX
Jeremy Beal, Defensive End, Oklahoma, 6-3, 267, Sr. Carrollton, TX
Da'quan Bowers, Defensive End, Clemson, 6-4, 275, Jr., Bamberg, SC
Adrian Clayborn, Defensive End, Iowa, 6-4, 285, Sr., St. Louis, MO
Jared Crick, Defensive Tackle, Nebraska, 6-6, 285, Jr., Cozad, NE
Nick Fairley, Defensive Line, Auburn, 6-5, 298, Jr., Mobile, AL
Cameron Heyward, Defensive Tackle, Ohio State, 6-5, 288, Sr., Suwanee, GA
Rodney Hudson, Offensive Guard, Florida State, 6-2, 282, Sr., Mobile, AL
Greg Jones, Linebacker, Michigan State, 6-1, 240, Sr., Cincinnati, OH
Ryan Kerrigan, Defensive End, Purdue, 6-4, 263, Sr., Muncie, IN
Jake Kirkpatrick, Center, TCU, 6-3, 305, Sr., Tyler, TX
Drake Nevis, Defensive Tackle, LSU, 6-5, 285, Sr., Marrero, LA
Thorpe AwardPrince Amukamara, Sr., Nebraska
Mark Barron, Jr., Alabama
Chimdi Chekwa, Sr., Ohio State
Brandon Harris, Jr., Miami (Fla.)
Cliff Harris, Soph., Oregon
Tejay Johnson, Sr., TCU
Joe Lefeged, Sr., Rutgers
Rahim Moore, Jr., UCLA
Patrick Peterson, Jr., LSU
Tyler Sash, Jr., Iowa
Congratulations are in order for all 22 of these players, each of which is, without question, an outstanding college football athlete and certainly deserving of the honor of becoming a semifinalist.
But it feels remiss not to note that in this year of unprecedented prominence for non-AQ programs, only two of those 22 players represent a non-AQ team, and those two -- TCU 's Jake Kirkpatrick and Tejay Johnson -- each represent the same team. The other 53 teams? Nothin'.
This can be explained, to some extent, by the undeniably true fact that most of the game's best athletes and players ply their trades in BCS leagues. But no one on the Boise State defense that currently ranks third in both scoring and total defense (or Utah's, which ranks sixth in both categories) is worthy of inclusion? Marshall defensive end Vinny Curry , tied for third nationally with 9.5 sacks and seventh nationally with 13.5 tackles for loss (one of only four players to rank in the top 10 in both categories) can't get a nod? Strong safety Domonic Cook of Buffalo leads the country in both passes broken up and interceptions; there's not room enough for him here?
There's no question that it's always going to be an uphill climb for non-AQ players who rarely play on national television and even more rarely receive the sort of fawning from scouts and writers that helps buoy campaigns for national honors, and that's fine. But it's worth wondering whether, in a season like this one, if the climb ought to be quite this steep.
Pictured: Boise State defensive lineman Ryan Winterswyk.
Tags: Adrian Clayborn, Boise State, Brandon Harris, Cameron Heyward, Chimdi Chekwa, Cliff Harris, Da'quan Bowers, Drake Nevis, Greg Jones, Jake Kirkpatrick, Jared Crick, Jeremy Beal, Joe Lefeged, Lombardi Award, Mark Barron, Nick Fairley, Patrick Peterson, Prince Amukamara, Rahim Moore, Rodney Hudson, Ryan Kerrigan, Ryan Winterswyk, Sam Acho, TCU, Tejay Johnson, Thorpe Award, Tyler Sash, Utah
Posted on: September 11, 2010 10:43 pm
Edited on: September 11, 2010 11:40 pm
Posted by Adam Jacobi
It's hard to believe, but Tennessee led No. 7 Oregon 13-3 in the second quarter. And they looked good.
All that's long gone, though, because Oregon now leads 27-13 late in the third quarter, and Tennessee looks bad. Oregon had taken the lead on a sensational 73-yard run by LaMichael James , and Tennessee was driving to answer. Alas, Matt Simms uncorked a floater off of his back foot. and the throw was easily intercepted and taken to the house by Cliff Harris . Touchdown Oregon, and Neyland Stadium became Neyland Mausoleum.
Simms wasn't done, however, as he led the Tennessee offense backwards 13 yards on the very next drive, culminating in a 5-yard loss on a screen pass against a 3-man front. Tennessee may be only down by 14, but it's hard to imagine that this offense has 14 more points in them tonight.
UPDATE: We were right. Tennessee didn't have 14 more points in them, in fact, they didn't even have one. Oregon had 21 more, though. Final score: Oregon 48 Tennessee 13.