Who has the best wide receiver duo in the Pac-12 right now? We thought for sure it would be a no-brainer with the guys at USC. But a pair of receivers from Oregon State are making a case. That's the question your Pac-12 bloggers attempt to tackle today.
Ted Miller: Despite popular belief, the season isn't over. They play 12 regular-season games, then a Pac-12 title game and then a bowl game. Some guys who are blowing up statistically now will fall off. Others who are struggling will find their rhythm. It happens every season.
Lee is already well on his way. He leads the conference with 10 receptions per game and six touchdown catches. Sure, he trails the outstanding Oregon State tandem of Brandin Cooks and Markus Wheaton in yards per game, but his 114.2 ypg still ranks 10th in the nation.
Woods has four touchdowns, which is good, and 50.8 yards per game, which isn't. But having seen Woods for two years, do you really believe his numbers are going to stay down? I don't either. I mean he's Robert Freaking Woods, a 2011 All-America, for criminy sakes!
I suspect that Wheaton and Cooks shortly will get the Woods-Lee treatment. Opposing defenses will decide to use a lot of Cover 2 and bracket coverages that practically function like double-teams and dare the Beavers to run the ball. Defenses will decide they'd prefer that Beavers quarterback Sean Mannion look elsewhere when he drops back -- or be forced to take chances throwing into multiple defenders. Those defenses also would rather take their chances with the Beavers still questionable, though clearly improved, running game.
I expect USC coach Lane Kiffin and quarterback Matt Barkley to figure things out over the second half of the season. They will find ways to get the ball to Woods and Lee. They will counterpunch against schemes that have worked during the early going. They'll take more shots down field, but they'll also create glorified handoffs with short dumps to let them both do their thing in space.
Stanford tackled well in the secondary when it upset USC. Not all teams will.
By season's end, both Lee and Woods will have more than 100 yards receiving per game. And we'll wonder why we ever doubted them and Barkley.
Kevin Gemmell: When we’re wrong, you guys love to tell us -- over, and over and over -- usually accompanied by colorful language and GPS-like directions about where we can stick our opinions.
So the few times we’re right, we have no trouble patting ourselves on the back. And a few months ago, we did a Take 2 on potential breakout players in the conference. I went with Cooks. I felt good about the pick then. I feel great about the pick now.
The Wheaton/Cooks duo is coming together just as Oregon State coach Mike Riley had hoped. Mannion is an older, wiser quarterback and is playing big-boy football. The offensive line has come together and is playing well and the Beavers have a running game. That means play-action. And that means big plays downfield, as evidenced by their stellar yards per catch (19.2 for Cooks, 14.9 for Wheaton).
There are only three players in the Pac-12 who are averaging more than 100 receiving yards per game. One is from USC, two are from Oregon State. There are only two players averaging more than 130 yards per game. Neither of them are from USC. So, at least as of right now, I would say that puts an end to the debate.
And you’re right, Ted. Teams are going to start paying more attention to them. That’s fine, because there is no defense for speed. We know Wheaton can blaze. And Cooks has comparable speed. If you look at some of their big plays -- a lot of the ground that is covered comes after the catch -- such as Cooks’ 75-yard touchdown against UCLA. Mannion saw the blitz and hit Cooks on a quick slant, and his legs did the rest.
Plus, the West Coast offense is the perfect scheme for busting the Cover 2 because the short-to-intermediate routes suck up the safeties. You can't bracket every down against a pro-style team (unless you want your defense on the field for 15-play, seven-minute drives all of the time). All it takes is one play-action and either of these guys can be gone.
And if a big throw with a soft touch is needed, Mannion has shown several times this year that he can split defenders and lead his receivers. And so long as they have half a step, he can place it where it needs to be and hit those guys in stride.
Lee is great. In fact, I’m more than willing to declare him the No. 1 wide receiver in the conference -- and country -- right now. Woods is great. And Ted could be right, noting that by the end of the year they might emerge as the top duo. But right now, I trust my eyes and I trust the numbers. And both, indisputably, favor the Beavers’ tandem.