Pac-12: Ryan Katz

Oregon State picks up the pieces

September, 4, 2013
9/04/13
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After he sliced and diced Oregon State's defense last Saturday, Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams recalled his team's dispiriting conclusion to an otherwise good 2012 season. Just like the Beavers, the Eagles had seen their strong campaign a year ago end on a down note against a team from Texas.

The Eagles lost to Sam Houston State in the FCS semifinals, a massive comeback from a 35-0 halftime deficit falling just short, 45-42. The Beavers self-immolated in the fourth quarter and lost to Texas in the Alamo Bowl, 31-27.

Sort of a vast distance betwixt the two, eh?

[+] EnlargeVernon Adams
Jaime Valdez/USA TODAY SportsThe Oregon State defense yielded big numbers in the loss to Eastern Washington.
So Eastern Washington, after beating the then 25th-ranked Beavers 49-46, moves on to the Big Sky Conference -- Cal Poly, Weber State, UC Davis -- with big intentions in the FCS playoffs, while Oregon State … well, does what?

Serves as a national punch line? Suffers through another season like 2011, when a loss to another FCS team -- Sacramento State -- presaged a horrid 3-9 campaign that had folks calling for coach Mike Riley's head?

Or Oregon State rights itself and redeems its season, transforming the inglorious opener into a fluke, a tough lesson that can be later referenced after a bowl victory as the touchstone for ultimate and satisfying success.

"[Cornerback] Rashaad Reynolds said something great in the locker room," quarterback Sean Mannion told reporters after the defeat. "He said that there are two ways that we can go about this: We can either lay down or stand up and overcome this by working harder than we ever have. Obviously, that is the route that we are going to take.”

Of course, that's also pretty obvious. The same thing was said after the Sacramento State loss, though it's worth noting the Beavers were riven after that game by the QB switch from the popular Ryan Katz to Mannion, then a redshirt freshman.

Still, the perception of Oregon State has taken a hit. Again. The preseason take on the Beavers was they were headed for a 7-0 start and potential top-10 ranking that would make the Oct. 26 visit from Stanford a red-letter date nationally. Now the visit from woeful Hawaii on Saturday doesn't feel like a sure thing.

Oregon State welcomed back seven starters from one of the nation's best defenses in 2012, yet it yielded ludicrous numbers against the Eagles -- 625 total yards, 8.8 yards per play, 31 first downs, 448 passing yards, etc. The big preseason question for the Beavers was the quarterback competition between Mannion and Cody Vaz, but Mannion was lights-out and the offense rolled up 46 points, which would have been enough to win every game the team played since 2006, other than matchups with Oregon in 2008, 2011 and 2012.

Think of all the great offenses Oregon State has faced over the past few years. Yet when the Beavers gave up 29 first-half points, it was the most they'd yielded since 2008 against Oregon. The Eagles’ 23 second-quarter points were the most the Beavers have surrendered in any quarter since UCLA scored 28 in the fourth on Sept. 29, 2007.

No matter how dynamic Adams was, this probably ranks as one of Oregon State's worst defensive performances of the modern era, particularly when you factor in that the foe was from a lower division.

So what was the problem?

"We got totally disrupted," Riley said. "We were way out of sorts in pass rush, pass-rush lanes, we were misaligned defensively. We made some crucial technical errors, just playing Cover 3 and giving up a deep ball right down the middle of the field. Just kind of simple football mistakes, whether it's just lining up or maintaining a pass-rush lane or maintaining position on a receiver."

Throw in poor tackling and that just about covers it. The defensive failure was a total team effort. All-Pac-12 defensive end Scott Crichton was invisible, recording just two tackles.

"The quarterback gave us fits," Riley said. "Scott could never quite get there or finish a play."

The Beavers were the only ranked team to lose to an FCS foe on the opening weekend, but they certainly weren't the only AQ conference team to get toppled. Kansas State, the defending Big 12 champions, lost to North Dakota State. Folks aren't going to start questioning Bill Snyder's coaching acumen, at least not anyone with a brain.

Stuff happens.

The question now is whether this is just one of those games -- an anomaly -- where things go haywire. The answer to that only will be revealed in coming weeks. But know that the visit to Utah in Week 3 suddenly seems freighted with far more meaning than in the preseason.

Not that the Beavers should be overlooking anyone at this point.

"I think everybody takes it on themselves, coaches, players," Riley said. "Everybody has to take responsibility."

Riley's strangest QB competition

August, 22, 2013
8/22/13
5:30
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Oregon State Beavers coach Mike Riley's recent history with quarterbacks is interesting to say the least.

He's presently presiding over "The Great Sean Mannion versus Cody Vaz Competition," one that features two players with successful starting experience and few hints about whom Riley favors. Riley's most recent statement on the competition is both will play in the opener against Eastern Washington on Aug. 31. And then a new chapter will be written in this twisting drama.

This QB quandary was preceded by the surprising Ryan Katz to Mannion switcharoo in 2011, and everybody remembers the back-and-forth between Sean Canfield and Lyle Moevao previous to that.

Yet if Beavers fans are worried Mannion vs. Vaz has the potential to get truly weird, well, maybe they should be. Riley was ringmaster for one of the all-time odd QB carousels in Pac-10 history: USC in 1995.

Riley, then the Trojans offensive coordinator, was sitting in his office during the preseason when John Robinson stopped by to say he wanted to resolve their QB competition between Brad Otton and Kyle Wachholtz. His idea was to play both. Otten would start, Wachholtz would play the second quarter. The idea was to alternate by quarter.

[+] EnlargeCody Vaz and Mike Riley
AP Photo/Rick BowmerMike Riley will eventually decided between QB Cody Vaz (pictured) or Sean Mannion. But both will likely play.
"That makes for an interesting dynamic in the QB room," Riley said.

USC was 8-2-1 that year. Successful season? The Trojans lost to both of their major rivals, Notre Dame and UCLA, so not really. On the plus side, in a game with major Rose Bowl implications, they came back from a 21-0 fourth-quarter deficit to tie Washington. The Huskies then lost the following week to Oregon, essentially giving the Trojans the conference title, even with the crushing 24-20 loss to the Bruins in the regular-season finale in Terry Donahue's final battle for the Victory Bell.

Northwestern was the Cinderella in the Rose Bowl, making its first appearance since 1949. USC was the Evil Stepmother. The Wildcats were on the cusp of something magical! And many of the folks relating that with flowery terms went to journalism school at Northwestern before becoming sportswriters.

As for the game itself, guess what one of the only coaches in the Pac-12 who doesn't presently run an up-tempo offense did to surprise Northwestern? Yep. He used no-huddle, two-minute offense on the first two series -- a pair of TD drives -- that was the cornerstone of what would become a 24-7 lead.

That fast start, however, presented a problem. Otton was in the zone.

"I went to John and said, 'I don't think we should change quarterbacks right now.' We didn't," Riley recalled. "Still to this day, I regret that."

That shows you two things about Riley you may already know: 1. He's willing to make tough decisions: 2. He's not the sort of hard case who can block out the human repercussions of those tough decisions.

Wachholtz had been every bit the match for Otton all season, seeing action in every game. In fact, entering the Rose Bowl, his numbers were slightly better. But on this grand stage -- The Granddaddy of Them All -- he stewed on the bench and didn't play.

Otton went on to complete 29 of 44 passes for 391 yards, much of that going to Keyshawn Johnson, who caught 12 balls for 216 yards and was named Player of the Game. The Trojans nearly blew it, as the Wildcats stormed back, but they ended up winning 41-32.
From the LA Times game story:
Robinson, too, saluted the 6-6 Otton, a junior, but also expressed sympathy for senior Kyle Wachholtz, the other half of USC's two-quarterback offense who never got in the game.

"It's unfortunate Kyle didn't get to play, but Brad was playing so well we just couldn't," Robinson said.

Otton appeared before the media with his right shoulder wrapped in ice. Wachholtz dressed quickly and left.

"I'm sure Kyle's terribly disappointed," offensive coordinator Mike Riley said after the first game this season when one quarterback went the distance when both were sound. "I felt Brad had a good grasp of the game, and I didn't want to make a change."

A few weeks ago, Riley admitted that Wachholtz didn't take the decision well -- "He shouldn't have," Riley said -- and that the emotions of that decision remain with him.

He repeated, "I personally have regrets about that game."

Otton would go to start in 1996 -- how many Weber State transfers start two years for USC? -- but the Trojans went a mediocre 6-6. Wachholtz, who would sell his Rose Bowl ring, admittedly due to his bitterness, would become a tight end in the NFL, though injuries cut his promising career short.

Riley has said he doesn't want to play two quarterbacks this fall, but he obviously isn't afraid to do so, or to make a change if he thinks it will help his team. It's also clear that he knows making a tough call has emotional consequences.

Nonetheless, there is a cold bottom line in all quarterback competitions.

Said Riley, "Who can we trust to be the most consistent player?"

Quarterbacks come and go for a variety of reasons. Some simply aren't happy in a new state or in another part of the country. Others decide football isn't the sport for them. Many feel their talents are being wasted on the bench. It always seems like the grass is greener. Sometimes the move works out. Sometimes it doesn't.

Inspired by the move of Wes Lunt to leave Oklahoma State, the Pac-12 blog thought it would be fun to look back fondly at some of the quarterbacks who have left the conference following the 2008 season (a full four-year cycle). A special thanks to the league's sports information directors for helping compile this list and whatever information is available (which isn't the case with some players).

Here's the team-by-team breakdown of some of the recently departed signal callers no longer calling signals in the Pac-12.

Arizona
  • Tom Savage: Transferred to Pitt after the 2011 season. Eligible to play in 2013.
  • Cam Allerheiligen: Left after the 2011 season. Went on to play baseball at Weatherford College.
Arizona State
  • No QB transfers since 2008.
California
  • Beau Sweeney: Transferred after the 2010 season to Cornell. Appeared as a quarterback and TE/H-Back.
  • Allan Bridgford: Transferred after the 2012 season to Southern Miss.
Colorado
  • Matt Ballenger: Transferred after the 2008 season to College of Idaho and went on to be an all-conference basketball player.
  • Nick Hirschman: Transferred to Akron following the 2012 season.
Oregon
  • Chris Harper: Transferred to Kansas State after the 2008 season and became a wide receiver, leading the Wildcats in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns in 2011.
  • Justin Roper: Transferred to Montana after the 2008 season, completed 61.5 percent of his throws with 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 2010.
  • Jeremiah Masoli: Transferred to Mississippi after the 2009 season. Is now with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League.
  • Brennan Doty: (Walk-on) transferred to Lamar to play basketball.
  • Bryan Bennett: Transferred to Southeastern Louisiana after the 2012 season.
Oregon State
  • Justin Engstrom: Transferred to Portland State after the 2008 season. Was a backup.
  • Brennan Sim: Transferred to South Alabama after the 2008 season.
  • Peter Lalich: Transferred to California University of Pennsylvania after the 2009 season.
  • Ryan Katz: Transferred to San Diego State before the 2012 season and was the starter until an injury knocked him out for the year.
  • Jack Lomax: Left the team prior to the 2012 season.
Stanford
  • L.D. Crow: Transferred to UCF after the 2008 season.
  • Nick Ruhl: (Walk-on) transferred to Menlo College after the 2008 season. Returned to Stanford and graduated with two degrees.
  • Adam Brzeczek: (Walk-on) transferred to Montana after the 2011 season. Did not attempt a pass in 2012, but appeared in two games and rushed for 33 yards on three carries with a touchdown.
  • Brett Nottingham: Transferred to Columbia after the 2012 season.
UCLA
  • Chris Forcier: Transferred to Furman after the 2008 season.
  • Nick Crissman: Graduated in 2012, but intended to transfer to play one more year
USC
  • Aaron Corp: Transferred to Richmond after the 2009 season.
  • Jesse Scroggins: Trasnferred to El Camino Junior College after the 2011 season and has since joined Arizona.
Utah
  • Corbin Louks: Transferred to Nevada after the 2008 season.
  • Griff Robles: Transferred after the 2011 season to Dixie State College. Utah had converted Robles to a linebacker, but he wanted to play quarterback. Appeared in 11 games last year, completing 50.9 percent of his throws with 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
  • Tyler Shreve: Transferred to Riverside Community College after the 2011 season to play football and baseball.
Washington
  • Ronnie Fouch: Transferred to Indiana State after the 2009 season. Went on to start 22 games and posted 38 touchdowns to 15 interceptions with more than 4,300 passing yards in his career.
  • Nick Montana: Transferred to to Mt. San Antonio College after the 2011 season and is now at Tulane.
Washington State
  • J.T. Levenseller: Transferred to Eastern Washington after the 2008 season.
  • Cody Clements: Transferred to Cerritos College following the 2012 season.
The interview was going well. Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks seemed to be in good spirits. The questions were mostly soft-toss.

Then: Alamo Bowl. Texas. What the heck?

The pause was pregnant. As in "Rosemary's Baby" pregnant. Yes, we had to go there. No, the Beavers 31-27 grab-defeat-from-the-jaws-of-victory performance against an inferior Texas squad isn't a fond memory in Corvallis.

[+] EnlargeMarkus Wheaton, Brandin Cooks
Adam Davis/Icon SMIOregon State returns 17 starters next season, including receiver Brandin Cooks, 7 .
"Yeah, that was a tough loss," Cooks said. "To be up the amount we were up and give that lead away, that was real hard. There was a lot of stuff going on in that game. We couldn't get the ball off. Cody [Vaz] is getting hit every time. We just weren't clicking like we should have. Storm [Woods] was running well, but he got messed up in that second half and it died down."

Cooks then said the bad memory helped fuel offseason workouts. With 17 starters back, the 2013 Beavers should have a good shot at redemption.

But Cooks and company, who will begin spring practices on April 1, are looking for more than redemption.

"First of all, we don't want to go back to the Alamo Bowl," he said. "It was great, but our eyes are set on a BCS bowl."

That means the Beavers feel they are ready to take down Oregon (and Stanford), which hasn't happened since 2007.

Said Cooks, "Oh, yeah."

If Oregon State is going to win the Pac-12's North Division, know that Cooks will play a key role. He broke out as a sophomore with 1,151 yards receiving -- his 88.5 yards per game ranked fifth in a conference deep at the position -- and his eye-popping 17.2 yards per catch led the conference and was No. 2 in the nation among 1,000-yard receivers.

With the departure of Markus Wheaton to the NFL, the speedy Cooks will be the go-to guy in the Beavers passing game.

Of course, the big question this spring is quarterback. The Beavers have two with starting experience: Junior Sean Mannion and senior Cody Vaz. That conceivably could feel like a good thing, but not many Beavers fans view it that way.

Mannion took over the starting job early in the woeful 2011 campaign, displacing then returning starter Ryan Katz. He led the Beavers to a 5-0 start and national ranking last year, but was forced to the sidelines by a minor knee injury. Enter Vaz, who played great in a win against BYU and OK in a win against Utah.

Mannion returned to face Washington, perhaps too early. Suffice it to say, he didn't play well, throwing four interceptions before getting yanked for Vaz.

And so the quarterback carousel began. Vaz, Mannion, Vaz. Each has played well. And each has looked terrible.

Cooks plays good soldier when asked about the back-and-forth, which couldn't have been good for the offense's rhythm.

"It wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be," he said. "Cody stepped up. Sean stepped up. To go back and forth like we did last year, I thought we'd run into major problems. But both of those guys came in, [and] it didn't really change between the receivers and the quarterback. As a receiver, you'd like to have one set quarterback. Coaches are working on that. I'm pretty sure they'll get that down this year. That was a big controversy last year. But it wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be."

Cooks also isn't going to play favorites. He doesn't go too deep when asked about the differences between Vaz and Mannion

"That's a good question," he said. "As I run routes and the ball is coming to me, it's coming to me in basically similar ways. I feel like they are pretty much the same. The difference is Sean has a few inches over Cody [6-foot-5 versus 6-foot-1]. He can see over that line. But both of those guys deliver the ball in the same way and have the same playing style, to be honest."

It's worth noting that Cooks put up outstanding numbers even with the quarterback carousel. Still, you'd have to wonder what he could do as the feature guy if the Beavers were stable and consistent at the position. That seems like the best path to challenging the Ducks (and Stanford) in the North.

Of course, there's another tough question Cooks must face as he becomes the Beavers go-to guy: Who'd win a race between him and Wheaton, who notoriously beat Oregon speedster De'Anthony Thomas in a 100 meters race?

Said Cooks, "That's a hard one. I'd take that first 50. If we were to run a 100, he'd probably get me at the end."

Pac-12 chat wrap

November, 1, 2012
11/01/12
11:00
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If you have some energy left, click here to read the complete chat from yesterday. If you're still in a candy-induced coma and clicking is too much of a chore, simply read the highlights.

Drake Horner (Tucson, Arizona): If you had to pick who would come out of the south at this point who would you select?

Kevin Gemmell (2:01 PM): It's wide open. But right now Arizona controls its destiny. If USC loses this weekend, it will have three losses also. If Arizona beats UCLA and ASU, it holds all the tie breakers. UCLA has the big win over ASU, but has to still go through Arizona and USC. Arizona is in a very good position.

James (Salt Lake City Utah): There are 8 Pac-12 bowl games with Oregon going to the NC. What if Oregon does not go to the NC game and 9 Pac-12 teams are bowl eligible? Who become the bottom two teams and do they pick up an at large bowl and which at large bowl is likely?

Kevin Gemmell (2:03 PM): Not sure yet -- have to see which conferences don't fill their bowl requirements. Colorado is the only Pac-12 team officially eliminated, though others aren't far behind. Utah still has a shot, but has tough games against Arizona and Washington. As for which games -- well, Army has a tie-in to the Military Bowl but isn't bowl eligible, so that's a possibility. Also, the Little Ceasars Bowl (meetsa, meetsa) is a possibility.

Jonathan (Sunnyvale, CA): What are your thoughts on Shaw giving more reps to Hogan? Is the end near for Nunes? If Hogan comes out strong in first half against Colorado, could he just take over and play the whole second half?

Kevin Gemmell (2:07 PM): When I wrote the Nunes column after the Washington loss, I got SLAMMED for basically saying don't knock the guy after one loss. Give him a few more weeks with the stipulation that if he hasn't shown progress in a few weeks, then we can open up the discussion. Well, he hasn't shown much improvement so I think this is a good opportunity playing against a down Colorado team to start experimenting with a new QB. So I like the move and if he plays well enough, then maybe we see a switch. But I don't think Shaw is ready to hand everything over to him just yet.

Gecko (Stuck in the cubical.): I will be the first to admit the Beavs didn't look good this weekend. How much do you think that hit on Wheaton affected the momentum, and do you think that should have been flagged?

Kevin Gemmell (2:10 PM): I was at the game and I watched it very closely -- it was a weird play because they were both moving in the same direction, which made it an awkward hit. It probably should have been flagged, but in real time, it's so hard to make that call -- and I don't think it was intentional or dirty. As for how it hurt the team -- well, anytime you lose your top player it hurts.

Trey (Bizmark): I would love to hear your thoughts on the UCLA UA game at the Rose Bowl this weekend. Title still up in the air.

Kevin Gemmell: (2:24 PM): Think it might turn out to be the most interesting game of the weekend. Both teams coming in on major highs after emotional wins. Fantastic matchup of first-year coaches who have exceeded expectations. So many great storylines.

Ken (Los Angeles): Who wins the Heisman this year?

Kevin Gemmell: (2:31 PM): Who does? Or who should? Big difference. I think Klein probably wins based on his resume. Is he the best player in the country? No. I still think that belongs to DAT. But he doesn't have the resume right now for a Heisman. And I've actually had Barner No. 2 on my Heisman ballot for the last three weeks because I think he's the most complete running back in the country right now.

Jared (Ignoring Jareds Comments): Is Coach Whitt a great average coach or an okay great coach?

Kevin Gemmell: (2:48 PM): Whittingham is a "GREAT" coach. Give him time to develop depth and Utah is going to be a player in the conference.

Troy (La La Land): What does it say about Oregon and the Pac 12 in general if the Ducks lay 40+ on USC and win by more than two touchdowns?

Kevin Gemmell (2:54 PM): It says Oregon is really, really good. Don't think it's an indictment on the conference.

Rob (Portland): You, along with 5 Harris voters have had Oregon #1 in your rankings(you in the ESPN Power Poll-the only one there). Have the other voters not even watched Oregon play this season? Or are you 6 the only bright ones among you voters? (thanks btw!)

Kevin Gemmell (2:58 PM): I'm a little more surprised a couple of other voters haven't given the Ducks the top nod. I don't think I'm making any sort of statement -- it's really not that difficult of an argument to make. I guess I don't yield to the SEC dogma.

Mario (Tah): Mannion or Vaz? Which QB gives the Beav's their best shot of closing out the season with 1 more loss?

Kevin Gemmell (3:02 PM): I was a little surprised Riley pulled the trigger so quickly. When you look at quarterbacks at CenturyLink -- all of them have struggled (50 percent completion percentage, 165 yard average, 3 TDs, 7 ints). And that includes Katz, Barkley, Nunes and Mannion. But then again, Riley is the one in practices, poring over game film and ultimately this is what he thought was best for his team.
Almost exactly year ago, Oregon State was suffering total program misery.

First, it opened with a home loss to FCS foe Sacramento State. Then, it got drubbed 35-zip at Wisconsin.

[+] EnlargeMike Riley
Steven Bisig/US PresswireIs Oregon State coach Mike Riley on the hot seat?
Amid those two dispiriting defeats -- the Beavers would start a shocking 0-4 -- Oregon State made a surprising change at quarterback, benching returning starter Ryan Katz in favor of redshirt freshman Sean Mannion.

Sure, Katz had gone 5-7 as first-year starter, but he'd flashed a huge arm and plenty of promise. Yet a leak that started dripping while an injured Katz sat out 2011 spring practices became a torrent by the end of fall camp. Katz couldn't afford a slow start, and that's what he had. And he lost his job. From the outside, it seemed to happen very quickly, and it surprised even the writers who covered the team every day.

The end result was locker room upheaval, an embarrassing 3-9 finish and Katz transferring to San Diego State, where he is now the starter. Oh, and there are now grumbles that coach Mike Riley, two years ago probably the most secure coach in the conference, is now on the hot seat.

Hot seat talk or not, things feel far more stable now.

"Those are difficult times," Riley recalled this week. "With the young men here, that's not easy. We've managed to avoid those kinds of issues right now."
What's the same compared to last year is a Week 2 game with No. 13 Wisconsin on Saturday. What's different is this year's FCS opener, Nicholls State, cancelled its visit last weekend due to hurricane concerns in the Gulf Coast. There's no QB controversy for the Beavers, as this is solidly Mannion's offense. And the Badgers are making the long trip to Corvallis.



"It's as big a nonconference game as Oregon State has ever hosted," Riley said.

There are two ways to look at last year's game: 1. The Beavers got whipped, as they were outgained 397 yards to 284 and outrushed 208 yards to 23; 2. The Beavers shot themselves in the foot with stupid penalties and special teams mistakes.

Of course, it was a combination. But Oregon State held up physically better than the final tally suggests. Some might recall that Wisconsin's first touchdown came after Johnny Hekker produced the only backwards punt most football fans have ever seen. Or will ever see.


Said Riley at the time, "Just bad football."

This matchup seems far more manageable for the Beavers. While the Badgers have imported another ACC QB, this year's Russell Wilson is former Maryland QB Danny O'Brien, only 11 starters are back from last fall's 11-3 team that lost to Oregon in the Rose Bowl. Further, coach Bret Bielema lost not only his highly respected offensive coordinator, Paul Chryst, now the head coach at Pittsburgh, but also five other coaches.

Last weekend, the Badgers barely escaped with a 26-21 win over Northern Iowa. While they still look like the favorite in the Big Ten Leader's Division, they presently don't look like a top-10 team.

While it's probably a negative that Oregon State didn't get its first game jitters out last weekend, it does have some advantage in having seen Wisconsin play and having the Badgers not get to do the same.

Riley has said over and over the Beavers, in order to get back to where they were in the conference pecking order, need to run the ball and stop the run better. The Badgers and Heisman Trophy candidate Montee Ball will present an immediate and challenging measuring stick on potential improvement going both ways.

"We'll see a lot about who we are." Riley said.

The Beavers are in a far better place than they were a year ago. But have they improved enough that they can turn a blowout defeat into a "We're back!" upset?

Hat trick for Pac-12 in night games

September, 2, 2012
9/02/12
2:56
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After a rough start to the day for the Pac-12, USC pounded Hawaii and the conference swept the night games. Here's the breakdown of the three 7:30 p.m. kickoffs:

Oregon 57, Arkansas State 34: For 30 minutes Saturday night, Arkansas State outscored the No. 5 Oregon Ducks 24-7. That would have been great news for the Red Wolves, had the Ducks not dropped 50 on them halfway through the second quarter.

Marcus Mariota impressed in his debut as Oregon's starting quarterback, completing 19 of 23 passes for 216 yards and three touchdowns. Twice he connected with De'Anthony Thomas and another went to Josh Huff.

Thomas -- who enters the season with some Heisman hype -- didn't disappoint. The versatile player who comes at you from all angles rushed for 64 yards and a touchdown on three carries to go with four catches for 55 yards and two touchdowns.

Kenjon Barner also added a pair of rushing touchdowns, carrying the ball nine times for 66 yards.

Oregon coach Chip Kelly pulled a large portion of his starters halfway through the second quarter when the Ducks had built a 50-3 lead.

Byron Marshall got plenty of work, carrying the ball 24 times for 65 yards and a score. In relief of Mariota, Bryan Bennett connected on 10 of 17 passes for 107 yards and a 7-yard touchdown pass to Rahsaan Vaughn.

Washington 21, San Diego State 12: It was a mixed-bag performance for Washington, which topped San Diego State 21-12.

The defense showed significant signs of improvement -- at times -- and the offense looked explosive -- at times -- but both also faltered at times leaving the end result in doubt until the final minutes.

Quarterback Keith Price completed 25 of 35 passes for 222 yards and a touchdown and Bishop Sankey rushed for 66 yards on 22 carries with a score. Washington's third score came on a 44-yard fumble recovery from Will Shamburger. The Huskies defense -- revamped under new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox -- forced three SDSU turnovers.

The Huskies jumped out to an early 14-0 lead, but gave one back when SDSU receiver Tim Vizzi pulled the old Pop Warner, sneak-on-the-field-near-the-sideline play. No one picked him up and Ryan Katz hit him for a 47-yard touchdown.

But despite giving up 327 total yards (199 on the ground), the Huskies kept the Aztecs out of the end zone again until the fourth quarter, when Adam Muema scored on a 1-yard run. Both of SDSU's two-point conversion attempts failed.

Washington is sure to get a tougher test on both sides of the ball when it travels to face LSU next week.

Arizona 24, Toledo 17, OT: Matt Scott connected with Terrence Miller for a 10-yard touchdown in overtime to give the Wildcats a 24-17, bailing out kicker John Bonano, who missed a 25-yard field goal as time expired that would have given the Wildcats a victory.

Rolling to his right, Scott found Miller just in front of the end zone and released a dart just before being pulled out of bounds. He finished 30-of-46 for 384 yards and two touchdowns and helped make Rich Rodriguez a winner in his first game as Arizona's head coach.

Scott's first touchdown was a 30-yarder to Austin Hill, who laid out and made a fingertip catch in the end zone to put Arizona ahead 10-7 in the second quarter after Bonano's 26-yard field goal Arizona a 3-0 lead early in the game. Hill finished with seven catches for 136 yards and Dan Buckner also broke 100 yards, catching a team-high nine balls for 118 yards.

Running back Ka'Deem Carey turned in a strong performance with 149 yards on 20 carries that included a 73-yard touchdown run.

Arizona piled on 623 yards of offense, but also committed three turnovers, including two fumbles lost. By contrast, Toledo had 347 yards of total offense.

Instant Analysis: UW 21, SDSU 12

September, 2, 2012
9/02/12
2:15
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SEATTLE -- Washington’s defense forced three turnovers that led to two touchdowns, helping the Huskies hold off San Diego State 21-12 Saturday at CenturyLink Field.

It was over when: With 4:50 left in the game, San Diego State went for it on fourth-and-6 from the 8-yard line. Quarterback Ryan Katz’s pass fell incomplete, giving the ball back to the Huskies.

Game ball goes to: Will Shamburger. The junior safety returned a fumble 44 yards for a touchdown -- Washington’s only second-half score -- in the third quarter that gave the Huskies a 21-6 lead.

Stat of the game: Zero. After scoring two touchdowns in the first quarter, Washington’s offense was held scoreless the final three, putting pressure on its defense, which turned in a touchdown and helped the Huskies hang on.

What it means: Despite a strong start in the first quarter, the Huskies still have a lot of work to do if they plan on competing with LSU next week. While it is clear Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Kasen Williams have taken the next step as sophomores -- they combined for 15 catches for 157 yards and a touchdown -- the offense struggled for the better part of three quarters.

What we learned: The Huskies aren’t afraid to play their freshmen. Safety Shaq Thompson tallied his first tackle on the first play from scrimmage, and finished with two. Receivers Jaydon Mickens (two catches, 16 yards and three kick returns for 47 yards) and Kendyl Taylor (one catch, 6 yards) also contributed, while running back Erich Wilson II had two carries for 22 yards.

Who we should see more of: Running back Bishop Sankey. Not only did the sophomore play well, rushing for 66 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries, but junior Jesse Callier suffered a right knee injury in the first quarter and didn’t return.

What's coming up: Part 2

September, 1, 2012
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Three games coming up to close out Week 1 of the Pac-12 docket. Here's a look at what's on tap:

San Diego State at Washington (7:30 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Network): People know what Washington quarterback Keith Price is capable of, but a lot of the interest is on the defensive side of the ball to see what sort of impact new coordinator Justin Wilcox can make. The Aztecs are led by former Oregon State quarterback Ryan Katz.

Arkansas State at Oregon (7:30 p.m. PT, ESPN): Marcus Mariota makes his debut as Oregon's quarterback with some outstanding talent around him -- including running back Kenjon Barner and do-everything back/receiver De'Anthony Thomas. Thomas was the only player in FBS with at least 500 rushing yards, 500 receiving yards and 500 kick return yards last season. Oregon's defense is being touted as the best of Chip Kelly's tenure.

Toledo at Arizona (7:30 p.m. PT, ESPNU): The Rich Rodriguez era gets underway with Matt Scott running the offense. In his 22 appearances (including five starts) he's completed 63.8 percent of his passes with six touchdowns. Last time they met in 2010, Arizona came out on top 41-2. Arizona's defense, however, does have some questions -- particularly at linebacker where the Wildcats are thin.

Pac-12 did you know?

August, 31, 2012
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Some notes to get you through the hours until Saturday.
  • USC QB Matt Barkley threw more touchdowns (13) on throws of 25-plus yards last season than he did in the past two seasons combined (4). Twelve of those 13 touchdown passes were caught by Robert Woods and Marqise Lee.
  • Woods was targeted 65 more times than Lee in USC’s first seven games (102 for Woods vs 37 for Lee), but just five more times than Lee in USC’s final five games (63-58).
  • Barkley has thrown 32 touchdowns and just three interceptions when opponents blitzed during the last two seasons (18 TD, Int in 2011).
  • In his career, Barkley has thrown for 794 yards, nine touchdowns and no interceptions while completing 77 percent of his passes in the first week of the season. The key to his success is keeping his passes short, averaging his fewest air yards per attempt (7.0) compared to any other week of the season.
  • Oregon has the most touchdown drives of two minutes or fewer (90) and three plays or fewer (39) since the start of 2010.
  • Over the past two seasons, Oregon has 44 rushes of 30-plus yards, most in FBS. The Ducks are a perfect 21-0 when they break at least one run of 30-plus yards and 3-3 in the games that they do not.
  • De'Anthony Thomas was the only player in FBS with at least 500 rushing yards, 500 receiving yards and 500 kick return yards last season.
  • On rushes outside the tackles, Thomas and Kenjon Barner averaged 8.7 yards per rush and a first down every 2.3 rushes.
  • Stanford leads its series with San Jose State 50-14-1. That noted, three recent defeats were consecutive, from 1998-2000, and all while the Cardinal was coached by Tyrone Willingham.
  • Stanford coach David Shaw is just the ninth major college coach to post 11 or more wins his first year in 2011.
  • Running back Stepfan Taylor is just the third Stanford running back to record back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons. He needs 230 yards rushing to reach the 3,000-yard career mark. He needs 1,264 yards rushing this season to eclipse Darrin Nelson as the Cardinal's all-time leading rusher.
  • Arizona leads its series with Toledo 3-0, including a 41-2 win at Toledo in 2010.
  • Arizona QB Matt Scott is no rookie. He's appeared in 22 games with five starts. He's passed for 1,301 yards, completing 63.8 percent of his passes with six TDs. He's also rushed for 510 yards (6.5 yards per carry).
  • California leads its all-time series with Nevada 22-2-1, but the Wolf Pack won the last meeting 52-31 in 2010.
  • Cal has led the Pac-12 in total defense in each of the past two seasons. Its pass defense has been particularly staunch, allowing a league-low 195.24 yards per game during that span. Additionally, the Bears’ defense averaged 7.62 tackles for loss per game in 2011, leading the Pac-12 and ranking seventh nationally.
  • Colorado leads its series with Colorado State 61-20-2, including a 28-14 win last year.
  • Buffaloes junior QB Jordan Webb started 19 games in two seasons at Kansas, totaling 3,079 passing yards and 20 touchdowns.
  • Colorado will be young -- 15-of-23 true freshman hold positions on the Buffs' initial depth chart, with three slated to start or share first-team duties.
  • Colorado is dressing 77 players: all eight of the team's seniors, 19 juniors, 24 sophomores and 26 freshmen (16 true, 10 redshirt); included are 41 lettermen but 32 others who have yet to play in a CU uniform (30 who haven't played in college when accounting for transfers).
  • Washington leads its series with San Diego State 2-0, last winning 36-3 in 1997.
  • Huskies QB Keith Price ranked third among returning Pac-12 quarterbacks with 235.6 passing yards per game in 2011. Price threw for 3,063 yards and a school record 33 TDs last season.
  • San Diego State's starting QB is former Oregon State QB, Ryan Katz, a former Beavers starter who transferred after losing his job to Sean Mannion.

Video: Friday Four Downs

August, 31, 2012
8/31/12
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The Friday Four Downs segment looks at four main points of interest for the Pac-12's weekend games.
While the news at Pac-12 media day was scant, your Pac-12 bloggers did come away with an opinion or two. So the question behind today's Take 2 is which team near the bottom of the preseason poll did we leave media day feeling better about than before.

Ted Miller: While I think a team many are underestimating is UCLA, the team at Pac-12 media day that made me go, "Hmm… maybe?" was Oregon State.

Why? A couple of reasons. For one, a slide like this has happened with Mike Riley before. When he returned to Corvallis in 2002 after his ill-fated tenure with the San Diego Chargers, he went 8-5, 7-5 and 5-6. Folks wondered if the program was going to revert back to its dismal run of 28 consecutive losing seasons. Only Riley and the Beavers would go on to win 36 games over the next four seasons.

Further, there's second-year starting QB Sean Mannion, who was OK last year, but wasn't terribly efficient with 18 interceptions and 16 TDs. That sort of feels to me like Sean Canfield throwing 15 picks against just nine TDs in 2007. Two years later, after watching Lyle Moevao mature into a solid QB in 2008, Canfield earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors. And recall the difference in Matt Moore in 2005 -- bad QB, kind of a jerk -- and 2006 -- good QB who grew up and went to the NFL.

Quarterbacks under Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf have dramatically improved their second year in the Beavers offense. The unfortunate exception to this rule, of course, is the guy Mannion displaced last fall, Ryan Katz.

But there's more!

Mannion has a strong crew of receivers and tight ends/H-backs. He just needs a running game to keep the opposing defense honest. I actually think there's enough talent in the backfield to make a "running back by committee" approach work. And the offensive line should improve because, well, it can't do much worse than last year.

But there's more!

What about that defense? It stood out to me at media day that Riley talked about the improved conditioning of sophomore defensive ends Scott Crichton and Dylan Wynn. Those two have a chance to be a heck of a tandem. I like the Beavers back seven, which is sneaky good at linebacker and has cornerback Jordan Poyer, a top NFL prospect. The question is can the Beavers cover up an obvious weakness at tackle? Tag that with a firm "maybe."

The key stretch in the schedule runs from Sept. 22 to Oct. 13 when the Beavers play at UCLA, at Arizona, Washington State and at BYU. Those are four winnable games, but the Beavers have to be road warriors. The bad news is they've won just one true road game over the past two seasons.

Of course, that win was at a good Arizona team, when Katz seemed like he was on the cusp of breaking out -- only WR James Rodgers blew out his knee that night. Little has gone the Beavers way since then.

Call this a hunch that the Beavers will trend up in 2012. They might not get to eight wins, but I expect them to return to the postseason.

Kevin Gemmell: That's not a bad call. But it's the team the Beavers are staring up at in the preseason poll -- Washington State -- that leaves me questioning if there is room for one more in that indecipherable vacuum of second-tier North teams.

Like you, I think UCLA could be dangerous, because the athletes are in place and where Noel Mazzone goes, big offensive numbers usually follow. It seems like they just need a swift kick to the butt-pad to get them going. Jim Mora seems like the guy with the right set of feet.

But until we see what Mora can do at the college level, I'm sticking with the Cougars, because we know what Mike Leach and his teams are capable of.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I've been dropping WSU in occasionally as a team to watch in the North. And while I'm still not quite ready to elevate them in with those second-tier teams -- Cal, Stanford and Washington (in alphabetical order as not to offend) -- I'm a lot closer now than I was when the week started.

I walked away from media day convinced that Leach was not only the right hire, but that his impact is going to be immediate.

Most impressive was the demeanor and focus of quarterback Jeff Tuel. He carried himself with a quiet confidence and poise that stood out to me. I'm not going to compare being up on the stage to quarterbacking a football team -- but let's face it -- sitting up there in front of 100-plus reporters can be daunting. Tuel was loose -- and even cracked wise a couple of times. He carried himself like a mature, veteran, big-time quarterback. That's what you want to see.

The Cougars are going to score points, lots of them. And Tuel is going to put up numbers, big ones. Plus, there is depth at the position. Should Tuel suffer another injury -- he only appeared in three games last year -- Connor Halliday is waiting in the wings. I can think of a few teams that wouldn't mind having Halliday as a failsafe.

And I don't think the conference is fully prepared for what Leach and Co. are going to unleash each week. In his 10 years at Texas Tech his teams went to 10 bowl games. In 2000, his first year, he re-wrote virtually every Texas Tech passing record -- and then proceeded to re-break them for the next nine years. In his final two seasons his teams won 19 games. Washington State has won nine in the past four.

I'm predicting a 4-0 start (at BYU, Eastern Washington, at UNLV, Colorado). This team should make the postseason and if everything comes together with some haste, seven or eight wins is a very realistic possibility.

Week 1 primer: Pac-12 North

July, 3, 2012
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Week 1 can't get here soon enough. Every team plays an out-of-conference opponent in the first two weeks of the season, so we thought we'd take a quick look at who is coming up in Week 1. We'll go into greater detail as the start of the season draws closer. This is just a primer for those who need their beaks moistened and whistles whet. Earlier today we looked at the South.

NEVADA

Game: at Cal, Saturday, Sept. 1

Coach: Chris Ault (226-103-1, 28th year)

2011 record: 7-6 (5-2, WAC)

Did you know: Another team new to the Mountain West, Nevada returns six starters on offense and seven on defense. The Wolf Pack has been to seven straight bowl games, but also had a significant amount of turnover in the coaching staff this past season. Plus they've lost a lot of defensive linemen from a group that was only 101st in tackles for a loss last year. Dual threat quarterback Cody Fajardo is the one to keep an eye on.

ARKANSAS STATE

Game: at Oregon, Saturday, Sept. 1

Coach: Gus Malzahn (first year)

2011 record: 10-3 (8-0, Sun Belt)

Did you know: Malzahn won the Broyles Award -- which goes to the nation's top assistant coach -- for his work with Auburn and their title run in 2010-2011. Not that a win would make Oregon feel better for what happened in the title game, but hey, it can't hurt. Returning quarterback Ryan Aplin, who is a three-year starter and has some NFL buzz, owns 16 school records and is the reigning conference player of the year.

NICHOLLS STATE

Game: at Oregon State, Saturday, Sept. 1

Coach: Charlie Stubbs (5-17, third year)

2011 record: (1-10, 0-7 Southland)

Did you know: The Colonels have lost 10 straight after opening last season with a win over Evangel University. Nicholls State posted a 42-0 victory, but has been outscored 16-38 in its last 10 contests. Stubbs' first full-time coaching gig was at Oregon State, where he started as a receivers and tight ends coach before becoming the Beavers offensive coordinator in 1987.

SAN JOSE STATE

Game: at Stanford, Friday, Aug. 31

Coach: Mike MacIntyre (6-19, third season)

2011 record: 5-7 (3-4, WAC)

Did you know: This will be the 21st time Stanford has opened its season against the Spartans. The Cardinal are 19-1 in those other meetings and hold a 50-14-1 record in what has now been dubbed the Bill Walsh Legacy Game.

SAN DIEGO STATE

Game: at Washington, Saturday, Sept. 1

Coach: Rocky Long (8-5, second season)

2011 record: 8-5 (4-3, MWC)

Did you know: The Aztecs lost three stars -- QB Ryan Lindley, RB Ronnie Hillman and LB Miles Burris -- to the NFL, but the addition of Pac-12 transfers Ryan Katz (QB, Oregon State) and Brice Butler (WR, USC) give offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig (formerly of Cal) some new firepower. After being bowl-less since 1998 the Aztecs have gone to the postseason in back-to-back years.

BYU

Game: Washington State, Thursday, Aug. 30.

Coach: Bronco Mendenhall (66-24, eighth season)

2011 record: 10-3 (independent)

Did you know: Of FBS coaches with at least five years experience, Mendenhall's .733 winning percentage ranks eighth among all coaches -- ahead of names such as Nick Saban and Les Miles. This isn't the only time we'll see BYU this year. They'll renew their rivalry at Utah in Week 3. Mike Leach has also talked extensively about how his time as a BYU student shaped the philosophies he would embrace as a head coach.
What if the Mayans got it right? Or worse ... what if John Cusack got it right? That means there is only one season left of college football before civilization gets a facelift (and we won't even get to see the national championship game, bummer). So every week has got to count. We're taking you on the ultimate week-by-week road trip in the Pac-12.

Welcome to Week 1.

Thursday Aug. 30
  • Northern Colorado at Utah
  • UCLA at Rice
  • Northern Arizona at Arizona State
  • Washington State at BYU
Friday, Aug. 31
  • San Jose State at Stanford
Saturday Sept. 1
  • Nevada at Cal
  • Nicholls State at Oregon State
  • Colorado State at Colorado
  • Hawaii at USC
  • San Diego State at Washington
  • Arkansas State at Oregon
  • Toledo at Arizona
My choice: Washington State at BYU

Why: Who isn't excited to see Mike Leach return to his roots in Provo, Utah? As we talked about in our most-important-game series, this is going to be a good first measuring stick to see how far Washington State has come in Leach's short tenure.

There is a good vibe coming out of Pullman right now with the potentially explosive combination of Jeff Tuel to Marquess Wilson and a quality road victory to start the year -- and the new era -- would keep that momentum going.

BYU is replacing at least one starting cornerback and one safety, so the Cougars will be tested by WSU's passing onslaught. Should make for an exciting first game.

If that game is sold out, my backup would be San Diego State at Washington. First, Ryan Katz makes his return to the Pac-12 since transferring out of Oregon State. Second, a lot of folks are curious to see what Washington's overhauled defense is going to look like outside of a scrimmage situation. (But we'll get to the Huskies in Week 2).
Heading into the 2010 season, it was not uncommon for media sorts to volunteer Oregon State as a program that had the best staff of assistant coaches in the Pac-10.

Why? Good numbers without stockpiles of elite recruits. Non-elite recruits becoming NFL draft choices. Thirty-six wins over the previous four seasons. You know, the usual suspects.

Oh, but how two down seasons can change things. After going a combined 8-16 over the past two years, many Beavers fans are either calling for head coach Mike Riley's head, or they are at least calling for the heads of his coordinators: Mark Banker on defense and Danny Langsdorf on offense.

How quickly can things change? Well, I wrote this heading into 2010 as part of a "Don't be surprised if..." series: "Don't be surprised if ... Beavers offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf becomes a hot head-coaching candidate when new starting quarterback Ryan Katz posts surprisingly strong numbers this fall."

[+] EnlargeMike Riley
Steven Bisig/US PresswireAfter two straight lowly seasons, Oregon State coach Mike Riley might call offensive plays in 2012.
Katz posted pretty good numbers in 2010 -- 60 percent completion rate, 18 TDs, 11 interceptions -- but he was promptly and surprisingly displaced as the starter by redshirt freshman Sean Mannion at the beginning of the 2011 season. And Langsdorf is now fighting for his job instead of presiding over his own program.

In fact, there now appears to be some question as to whether Riley will take over play-calling responsibilities from Langsdorf in 2012, which Riley gave to Langsdorf midway through the 2008 season. This question is being -- legitimately -- asked because Riley is calling plays this spring.

Riley was noncommittal -- and a tad uncomfortable -- with this line of inquiry Monday, and you can see video of his thoughts here. He called it "not a big deal." He said he was calling plays so he could see how the offense reacted against certain looks from the defense: "It's a way to orchestrate a big-picture look," he said.

When asked if it was for spring only, he said, "For right now, it's only for spring."

That qualifies as a "maybe," not a "Yes" or "No."

So here's my defense of Langsdorf, who also coaches the Beavers QBs. It might not be completely comforting for Beavers fans, but I think it's fair and accurate: The reason the Beavers offense has struggled the past two seasons ... drum roll please ... is a lack of good players.

I know: Thud.

The 2010 season likely would have been different if receiver James Rodgers hadn't blown out his knee during an impressive win at Arizona on Oct. 9. And the Beavers would have qualified for a bowl game if typically reliable tight end Joe Halahuni hadn't dropped a 2-point conversion that would have beaten homestanding Washington in double-overtime.

2011? Well, that was just pretty lousy. Riley, Langsdorf, Banker, the players -- everyone associated with the program -- surely spent some time wondering where they failed.

Still, as the Pac-12 blog observed while praising Langsdorf just two years ago:

In his six seasons as offensive coordinator, the Beavers have posted five of their top-nine all-time seasons of total offense. Remember the early careers of quarterbacks Matt Moore, Sean Canfield and Lyle Moevao? One word: Yucky. Remember their late careers? Two words: Dramatic transformation. Canfield earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors in 2009 and joined Moore in the NFL.


In 2008, with Langsdorf calling plays, the Beavers ranked 32nd in the nation with 30.5 points per game and 30th in the nation with 407.1 yards per game. In 2009, they ranked 26th in points (31.5 ppg) and 34th in yards (410.6 ypg).

In other words, Langsdorf has been a successful coordinator and playcaller. At least when he's shown up for battle with more than a pillow shield and plastic sword.

Things set up fairly well for the offense heading into 2012. Langsdorf has his returning starter at QB in Mannion. He has a good crew of receivers, led by Markus Wheaton. But the offense will struggle if it can't generate a running game, which mostly hinges on improved play on the offensive line, which has been sub-par two years running.

One of the criticisms of Riley has been his loyalty to his assistant coaches, but he's made tough decisions recently, including firing longtime linebackers coach Greg Newhouse in March of 2011 (mostly because of recruiting shortcomings). If Riley takes away play-calling responsibilities from Langsdorf, it will be a painful blow to both men.

But it appears that possibility is at least being considered, so it will be worth asking about in advance of the season opener on Sept. 1 against Nicholls State.

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