Oregon State faces USC tonight at 6pm on ESPN2. For the Beavers the game marks the debut of their new all orange uniforms and a chance for OSU to snapback from a hard fought but ultimately disappointing loss to BCS #5 Stanford last Saturday. Mike Riley got a little to river boat gambler against the Cardinal choosing to go for many 4th downs against one of the nation’s best defenses, rather than attempting fairly long field goals. In a game where points were at a premium the decisions backfired for the Beavers. In one such situation facing 4th and 1 Riley went for a Mannion QB sneak that had everybody in the stadium and watching live on ESPN scratching their heads. That needed to be a handoff to a fullback. Instead the Cardinal got the ball back and they ended the first half by converting a 3rd and 12 and then scoring a TD for their only first half points and the 7-3 lead. To make matters worse and ultimately what cost OSU the game was this turn and the 2nd half opening kickoff that Victor Bolden fumbled to set up an easy Stanford TD and a 14-3 lead.
Mike Riley, however, with his past USC experience seems to have a better read on USC teams. The Trojans do though have a formidable front 7 even if not quite to the Stanford level. They also under Ed Orgeron have returned to taking pride in their power running game and are taking a few more shots downfield whereas Kiffin was fairly conservative in the passing game. The Trojans are now trying to play the style seen under Pete Carroll to refind their winning identity. While improving, Oregon State still should hold the advantage in tonight’s contest. One area of concern is that WR Kevin Cummings fractured his wrist against Stanford and is out for the season but hopeful for a bowl game return. key for OSU will be to win tonight and not throw away their season which had good Rose Bowl possibilities as recently as last weekend until Stanford secured the win. It is incredibly frustrating how Riley and OSU seem unable to win a game with big implications for the program. They have had plenty of chances. Two previous Civil Wars, UW, Stanford and Oregon against last year all would have meant a Rose or BCS Bowl for OSU. Texas in the Alamo Bowl would have represented the biggest bowl win for Riley and one which would have helped the national profile.
All these games however were losses and last week’s game against Stanford was a prime chance at home to just win a winnable game and be in the Rose Bowl driver’s seat with Oregon looking likely headed to the national championship. Tonight’s USC game means much less as far as bigtime stakes but it is the difference between a likely Holiday Bowl run with a win or having to take the sad scraps of a Kraft Hunger or New Mexico Bowl. Mannion was OK last week but never looked comfortable with Stanford coming at him hard and often. The running game is still struggling, and Ward appears to many in Beaver Nation to be the best true running back OSU has right now. Woods is too tentative when hitting what will usually be small running lanes. Hesitation is too costly when needing to always pick up atleast a few yards. Woods has been good in the screen game and tonight it is likely OSU will work in a few fly sweeps with Cooks and Bolden also. TE Connor Hamlett looks like he will play tonight but we will see if it is for most of the game or if he is at all limited.
Having to fill in for Cummings will be freshman WR Malik Gilmore and senior WR Micah Hatfield. Hatfield had had a few nice catches in his career but also some drops. It may be worth getting Gilmore more of the minutes and letting him start to get comfortable in action. He has good size and is a player who OSU will need to step up next year. Oregon State needs to implement a firm rule that in NO CIRCUMSTANCES should a kickoff return ever be returned out of the endzone. OSU does not need a hero and when Bolden returned the kicoff last week from the 1 yard line that too was not worth it. The 25 yard line is a good starting point and in OSU’s case much less than 10% of returns are starting out any better than that. When OSU return kicks from near or a yard or two deep in the endzone, they usually only get out to about the 17 or 18 yard line with a risk for injury or turnover. Any computer analysis of this would prove that coach Read trying to prove he has worth in the kickoff game is really just repeatedly hurting OSU’s field position.
Look for Mannion to have just enough more time to complete a few more passes downfield tonight. Last week OSU couldn’t find the time to get hardly any throws beyond 15 yards downfield. Mannion didn’t even get off many attempts in doing so. This is one area where I think Oregon State was playing slightly intimidated and did not compete as well as they should have. Riley should have better plans to deal with pressure and to make teams pay for it until they back off some. However, in real big games Riley seems to often be a little surprised by this and his adjustments are slow. Texas pinned backed their ears and came after Vaz last year and maybe OSU needs to look at another blocker that will create some extra time. Then there are comeback or crossing routes where a speedy Cooks should be able to create some separation. The game is expected to be soldout and 6pm is an ideal time for a Friday night. The unis should look good and have many in the nation tuning in and liking Oregon State as a program.
USC is a team that can probably put up about 24 or 27 points towards the higher end against OSU. The Beavers likely need 27 or more points to win this game. Cooks needs one or two TDs and a TE needs another as well as Ward getting in from the RB position. If the game has a better flow to it and Mannion finds his rhythym to sustain drives and finish off in the end zone than Oregon State will have too much for Ed Orgeron and USC. I think OSU wins the turnover battle tonight, Mannion and Cooks are crisper and have a few more big plays, and OSU does enough to win a game that is close but with the Beavers maintaining a 7-10 point lead for most of the game and winning by 10.
Oregon State 30, USC 20