This is my mailbag. There are many like it, but this one is mine.
Eric in Redmond, Ore. writes: The Oregon State defense seems to spend large portions of games with their silly hats on. What is going on with them? It seems there is talent at every position, but they play like day-old pancakes with too much syrup on them. On the other hand, how good is Sean Mannion to Brandin Cooks!? Can they keep this up all season? If they do, will there be Heisman considerations for either one? I have to say that right now, I think they are both #1 at their respective positions (in the conference).
Evan in New York writes: Sean Mannion has carried the OSU team on his shoulders. Mannion leads the nation in passing and leads the nation in TDs. Not saying he is in contention, but does he at least get a nod from the Heisman pundits? Without him the team could easily be 1-3 now. Or is it really about just propping up the best players on the best teams?
Shane in Corvallis, Ore. writes: Apparently of all Pac-12 teams the Beavers feel the need to give their fans the most heart attacks. What team would you say is the most stress inducing for their fan base?
James in Corvallis writes: Hey Kevin, even though there were question marks at a couple of positions for the Beavers’ defense, there were enough starters back on that side of the ball to expect much better play than they are showing. The entire defense has been missing tackles, missing assignments, and generally overplaying everything. What are your thoughts on why the Beavers’ defense has been sooooooo bad this year and is there any hope that it could turn around?
Kevin Gemmell: Lots of Oregon State fans eager to chat up their Beavers this week, so I’ll lump them all together in one efficient answer.
Oregon State has been hit hard with the injury bug on defense. And I know coaches like to say that’s not an excuse, but it kind of is. When you’re expecting to have your best talent out there -- and don’t -- it’s a valid excuse. Behind closed doors, I’m sure the coaching staff is frustrated that they are thin. There has been a notable drop off at some positions, and it’s especially noticeable in the tackling.
Take the Utah game, for example. In the first half, the defense played great holding the Utes to just a touchdown. Utah had just six rushing yards through the first quarter and didn’t get a first down until the second quarter. The schemes appear to be right. They just need better execution and they have to finish plays.
As for Cooks, in general, wide receivers are seen as a product of their quarterback. So while Cooks has put himself in great shape to be a Biletnikoff finalist, I don’t see any Heisman buzz in his future.
Mannion would have the better chance of the two if he continues his current pace. He’s leading the nation in touchdown passes, passing yards and completions and he’s 12th in QBR rating. Anytime you have a completion percentage in the 70s, you’re doing it right.
But Sir Heisman is a fickle fellow. Remember, it’s as much about perception as it is numbers. And right now the perception of Oregon State isn’t particularly strong. It’s not fair that defensive woes get placed on Mannion’s potential candidacy, but that’s how it goes. If the Beavers can pull off some wins over a couple of the ranked north teams, and he performs well, maybe he generates a little buzz on the West Coast. But he’s going to have to prove that he’s just as capable as Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley before he gets in the conversation.
As for heart attacks, if this is how the Beavers are going to play all year, I’d lay off the Smoked Pork Chili Cheese Burger at Block 15 and go with the Sun Burger.
Tonya in Gresham, Ore. writes: As an old fat woman who loves college football I am wondering why folks aren't talking more about Marcus Mariota as a Heisman candidate. He seems always to be mentioned but as an afterthought. Do the folks on the East Coast realize that his numbers come from just a little over half a game each week? Since he began starting as a QB for Oregon he has only completed 25 percent of his games! Most often sitting out after the first or second series in the third quarter (and we all know that takes only about 5 min off the clock at best). This young man is for real and I as a fan would like to hear more about him!
Kevin Gemmell: First off, you’re gorgeous, Tonya. Don’t let anybody tell you different.
As for Mariota, I think you need to look a little harder. Heading into last week he was atop the ESPN.com Heisman poll and even on a bye week, he distanced himself even further.
I’m not saying the ESPN.com Heisman poll is scripture. But it’s a pretty good sample of writers from across the country who see every conference.
The Ducks open conference play with Cal this week, and then back-to-back road games at Colorado and Washington. They’ll see three ranked teams in the next six weeks, including No. 5 Stanford. That’s the game that will likely make or break his Heisman hopes because the country will be tuning in to see what he’s all about.
Anton in Los Angeles writes: Hey Kevin, love the work you and Ted do with all the PAC-12 teams! I was wondering how much you are excited for the top pass rushing D-linemen potentially in the nation going at it when Will Sutton and Morgan Breslin go at it in Tempe. Who do you think will have the bigger game/impact??? Both teams' O-lines have looked suspect at times this past week.
Kevin Gemmell: Thanks Anton, I’m a huge fan of your work as well.
I think this is going to be one of the great sidebars to this game. How does ASU, which allowed three sacks and 10 tackles for a loss against Stanford, protect Taylor Kelly?
USC did a heck of a job corralling Chuckie Keeton last week, sacking him four times and holding him to minus-15 yards rushing. ASU does a really good job of moving Kelly around. He rarely throws from the same spot in the pocket on consecutive plays. They sprint him out and get him involved in the run game, so that will be a fun cat-and-mouse game between Breslin, Leonard Williams, George Uko and Co.
On the flip side, the Sun Devils blitz like crazy. They love to bring guys. Kessler has already been sacked six times this year, so I guarantee the ASU staff is looking for weaknesses.
Both guys have had success because of others around them, so look for complementary players to have an impact as well.
Both are dominant players, and both should impact the game in their own way.
0006shy in Los Angeles writes: Kevin, I agree with everything you've been writing about Lane Kiffin. But putting USC at #10 in the Power Rankings, below teams that have lost to FCS schools, just seems wrong. I take great pride in the fact that my Trojans have NEVER played, and NEVER lost to, an FCS school. Please consider taking this into account next week when you make the new rankings list.
Kevin Gemmell: While Ted and I consult every Sunday about the Power Rankings, he’s the one who does the final version. And as you can see from this week’s Power Rankings regarding Oregon State, he doesn’t always value my counsel. That's something he'll have to live with.
I feel like Utah’s win -- and USC’s for that matter -- was more impressive than Oregon State’s gift win from the Aztecs. The Beavers had no right trailing that team by as much as they did. And really had no right winning that game. But hey, good for them, and good for the conference going 10-0 against the Mountain West. And the Beavers beat Utah -- and they earned it -- so I can see where Ted is coming from there.
That said, I agree, USC should probably be ahead of Oregon State right now. As noted above, the Beavers have done nothing but give their fan base heart attacks against teams that shouldn’t be competitive against the Pac-12. The Trojans haven’t exactly been stellar offensively, but that defense has really been impressive. And to lock down Keeton the way they did last week, in my mind, should have earned them a bump.
I’ll press Ted harder next week if they beat the Sun Devils. If they don’t, I would only expect southward movement.
Nick in LaLaLand (I’m assuming that’s LA) writes: Hey Kevin, I was at the USC game and paying a little closer attention, wondering if Kiffin would open up the p-book a little. Alas, maybe not so, and the play calling got very conservative in the second half. Here's my questions: 1) when can we start adding PI yardage to Marqise Lee's stat line 2) a win is a win, but it wasn't pretty and was more like Utah State was prevented from winning rather than USC taking the victory. Was last weekend indicative of the mediocrity of BC and does our offense have more troubles ahead? 3) also when was the last time we scored in the thirrd quarter? Yikes. Thanks KG!
Kevin Gemmell: It hasn’t been that long of a drought. Tre Madden ran for a 30-yard touchdown in the third quarter against Boston College. (Wasn’t sure if you were being facetious, but we aim to please on the Pac-12 blog). I’ll check with Larry Scott to see if we can put the “Lee Exemption” into effect for this season. No promises, but he and I are tight, so we’ll try to make it happen.
So we’re clear, Boston College isn’t a great team. It’s better than it was last season, but that's not saying much, so USC did what it’s supposed to do against a team like that.
But you’re right, the play calling continues to be a mystery. The running game is chugging along nicely and you get first-and-goal on the Utah State 1-yard line and it’s play-action pass? I get that Kiffin probably wants his guy to get some confidence with a touchdown pass, but I’d wager Cody Kessler gets more confidence connecting on a 30-yard post than a 1-yard dunk off. There’s something to be said for trying to be overly creative. It’s 1-yard. You’re USC. Run the freaking ball straight ahead and blow that lower-tier Mountain West team off the line.
It feels like Kiffin is pressing so hard to show the world he can be a great play caller that the simplest plays are getting overlooked.
I like what’s happening with Madden and Justin Davis. Through four games the Trojans are averaging 20 more rushing yards per game than they were last year. And they already have six rushing touchdowns after only getting 12 all last season which was second worst in the league ahead of Washington State’s six rushing touchdowns.
But they need to do a better job sustaining drives. They are last in the Pac-12 in third-down conversions (27.5 percent) and bottom third in red zone touchdowns.
At this point, all I can say is be thankful for that defense.