Pac-12: Slade Norris
The Beavers entered the 2008 Civil War ranked 13th in the nation in total defense (290 yards per game). In the spring, five players from that unit would be drafted by NFL teams.
For the Beavers, it was a nightmare in Reser Stadium. It cost them the Rose Bowl. For the Ducks, it was inspiring.
"John Wooden said that competitive greatness is when you play your best against the best," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. "That's what our players did. Our players just made plays. It wasn't a scheme deal. It wasn't like we exploited anything. It had less to do with coaching than any game I was involved with last year."
Oregon can probably identify with how a defense can have a horrible day. It's played good defense all season, but Stanford somehow rolled up 505 yards in a 51-42 win on Nov. 7.
If defense, indeed, wins championships, then it's hard to imagine that defense won't be where the 113th Civil War on Thursday turns. After all, it's all about a championship, considering the winner goes to the Rose Bowl.
It will be strength-on-strength battle.
Oregon has the No. 1 rushing offense in the Pac-10. Oregon State has the No. 1 rushing defense.
Oregon State has the No. 1 passing offense in the conference. Oregon has the No. 2 passing defense.
Both teams rebuilt their defenses this offseason. The Ducks lost six starters -- four were NFL draft choices -- while the Beavers lost eight, including their entire secondary and three-fourths of the defensive line.
Kelly said repeatedly before the season began he wasn't worried about his defense. He loved the across-the-board speed, particularly at linebacker. His secondary ranked among the nation's best.
Even when two cornerbacks -- starter Walter Thurmond III and his backup, Willie Glasper -- went down early with season-ending knee injuries, the Ducks continued to play well.
"[There's] a lot of athleticism and speed," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "One of the best Oregon defenses I've seen."
The Ducks perhaps revealed some vulnerability to a power-rushing attack -- Stanford piled up 254 yards on the ground -- but that's not the Beavers thing on offense.
The first order for the Ducks is disrupting Oregon State quarterback Sean Canfield, whose quick release has made him the conference's top-rated quarterback.
Oregon State, which starts two sophomores and a true freshman on its offensive line, surrendered 15 sacks in the first four games. But it gave up just 12 in the past seven, in large part because Canfield is distributing the ball quickly to the Rodgers brothers, James and Jacquizz, who are one-two in the conference in receptions per game, and letting them do their thing.
The Ducks rank third in the conference in sacks with 30, but will they be able to get to Canfield? And if not, will they tackle well in space?
As for Oregon State's defense, Riley and defensive coordinator Mark Banker talked candidly about their concerns in the preseason. The Beavers gap-cancellation scheme counts on getting pressure on the quarterback because the secondary is often in press-man coverage. In 2008, ends Victor Butler and Slade Norris dominated with their edge rush, and cornerbacks Keenan Lewis and Brandon Hughes could handle most receivers one-on-one.
That didn't matter much, of course, when the Ducks rushed for 385 yards last year.
That's why many of the Beavers defenders are as interested in redemption as they are in the Rose Bowl.
"That obviously wasn't the Oregon State team we had last year playing out there on that field, that's for sure," said linebacker Keaton Kristick, one of three starters returning from that 2008 crew.
The Beavers defense was mediocre early in the season. It recorded just two sacks in the first four games and couldn't get off the field on third down. But it's picked up the pace considerably, recording 13 sacks over the last seven games and improving its performance on third down by eight percent.
"I think [Banker] has done maybe his best coaching job ever with this group, considering who we lost," Riley said.
Still, the Beavers looked stout on D before they played host to the Ducks last year. This time, they won't have a home crowd making things difficult for quarterback Jeremiah Masoli.
The first key is fairly simple: Do your job -- don't freelance.
"When you're playing a team that has variety like that you can't do your job and somebody else's," Riley said.
Then second and third keys also are simple: Get off blocks. Tackle. If the Beavers run defense holds up, it's got a much better chance containing with the Ducks passing game.
It should help that powerhouse defensive tackle Stephen Paea is healthy. A knee injury slowed him considerably in last year's game, though it's not encouraging that the guy who starts next to him, Brennan Olander, is decidedly questionable with his own knee issue.
So which team will be grinning after the Civil War for the Roses?
As they say: Defense wins championships.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Here's a list of players: defensive end Dexter Davis and defensive tackle Lawrence Guy -- both from Arizona State -- Arizona defensive end Brooks Reed, California defensive end Cameron Jordan, Oregon State defensive tackle Stephen Paea and Washington defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim.
That is a stout crew. Each is a likely NFL draft pick -- a few on the first day -- when their time comes to go pro.
|Scott Cunningham/Getty Images|
|Dexter Davis has 27.5 career sacks, but none so far this season.|
Meanwhile, USC freshman Nick Perry, who's not even a starter and mostly missed the California game due a bruised knee, has six sacks and seven tackles for loss.
Arizona's "other" defensive end, Ricky Elmore, has 4.5 sacks. Stanford end Thomas Keiser has 4.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss.
In other words, the big names aren't hanging up big numbers while more obscure guys are.
Apparently lots of double-teams. And toss in a few injuries.
One thing is clear, however: No coach was ready to rip his putative defensive star.
"Brooks is playing phenomenal," Arizona coach Mike Stoops said. "Sometimes statistics don't tell the whole story, and in Brooks' case that's certainly evident. You just turn the film on. He's a very productive player."
It also hurts that Reed has been hurting. He sprained his ankle against Iowa, missed the Oregon State game and is questionable for Saturday at Washington.
Stoops also said Elmore, a junior like Reed, isn't simply benefiting from offenses focusing on Reed.
"I think Ricky's gotten better as a player," Stoops said.
Davis is a four-year starter with 27.5 career sacks but he has zero sacks thus far in 2009, with only one tackle for loss.
"He's not playing bad. He's getting doubled a lot, which we expect," Sun Devils coach coach Dennis Erickson said, before adding. "We're not getting to the quarterback with those other guys. It's not so much Dexter as the other three guys -- or five guys or six guys who play -- when they double him and they are one-on-one."
One of those "guys" is Guy, who had 10 tackles for loss last year. He's only made five tackles this season with 0.5 TFL and zero sacks. He's also been battling a biceps injury that knocked him out of the season -opener.
Still, it's noteworthy that Arizona State, which is tied for last in the conference with three sacks, ranks third in the nation in total defense. If they maintain an elite overall ranking, then there's not much to gripe about, even if Davis and Guy fail to hang up big numbers.
The situation is not the same at Oregon State, which is tied with the Sun Devils with just three sacks. While the Beavers' defense took a step forward at Arizona State last weekend, it's still not the high-pressure unit of years past.
Coach Mike Riley doesn't blame Paea for that, though.
"I think he's doing a great job," Riley said. "He's getting a lot of attention. He is a disruptive force in the middle."
Paea had five sacks and 11 TFL last year, but he's got two new defensive ends flanking him who aren't stressing the opposing offensive line as much as Slade Norris and Victor Butler did a year ago.
As for Jordan (one sack), the junior been overshadowed by the Bears' other end, senior Tyson Alualu, who's recorded 26 tackles -- tops among conference D-linemen -- with 4.5 sacks. At Washington, Te'o-Nesheim (one sack) is much like Davis and Reed -- he's getting lots of attention from opposing offenses.
Of course, Te'o-Nesheim commanded lots of attention last year. He got off to a slow start but still ended up with eight sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss. In fact, he got his first three sacks of 2008 in Game 5 against Arizona.
Guess who's coming to Husky Stadium on Saturday?
In other words, there's plenty of time for the "name" guys to still live up to their, er, names.
DeLawrence Grant and LaDairus Jackson begat Bill Swancutt, who begat Jeff Van Orsow, who begat Dorian Smith, who begat Victor Butler and Slade Norris, who begat... we'll see.
There's been a lot of productive begetting for Oregon State at defensive end. The Beavers have recorded 130 sacks over the past three seasons, most of which have come from ends adept at defeating blocks and smacking quarterbacks.
That's why recent reports from preseason camp of defensive domination -- and defensive ends roaring -- suggests the position will be in good hands this fall with new starters Ben Terry, a senior, and sophomore Kevin Frahm.
Still, Frahm, as exuberant a player as you'll see, admitted the Beavers legacy at the position creates pressure.
"Totally -- I think anybody who has to come in and replace somebody who ended up going on to the NFL and was as successful as Vic and Slade were would feel pressure," Frahm said. "But I guess I try not to think about it. I just focus on doing my job. Let the chips fall as they may."
Defensive coordinator Mark Banker compared Frahm to Van Orsow, a player who wasn't spectacular at anything but was good at everything. He finished his career 29.5 tackles for a loss, which ranks eighth on the Beavers all-time list.
"I kind of saw the same style in Jeff when I was a true freshman," Frahm said. "I think that comparison is a big credit to all the teaching and tips I got from Jeff. Without all of that, I wouldn't be the player I am today."
While powerful Frahm and the speedy Terry, a converted tight end, are the starters, Gabe Miller, Matt LaGrone and Taylor Henry all could see playing time.
The Beavers entered spring practices with just three returning starters on defense. That seemed like a big concern, but the situation was exactly the same in 2008, when the Beavers so-called rebuilding defense finished ranked 23rd in the nation.
So is 2009 a rebuilding year with two new defensive ends?
"I kind of feel like that same question has been coming up every single season since I've been here," Frahm said. "Last season, no body thought Vic and Slade could step up and replace Jeff and Dorian, but they did."
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Getting five players drafted last spring sort of hurt the image of Mark Banker's defense at Oregon State.
These Beavers aren't scrappy overachievers any longer. They're getting paid.
Fact is, Banker's defense has been one of the most consistently good units in the Pac-10 since he became coordinator in 2003.
|Randy Litzinger/Icon SMI|
|Oregon State defensive coordinator Mark Banker's unit returns just three starters.|
But the Beavers welcome back just three starters and have to replace their entire secondary.
Of course, as Oregon State fans are quick to note, last year the Beavers also welcomed back just three starters, and none from their front-seven.
Still, the last time the Beavers defense struggled was 2005 when a pair of freshmen corners got eaten alive.
Those culprits, Keenan Lewis and Brandon Hughes, by the way, were two of those five drafted players.
So, just as camp gets started, we figured we'd check in and see what's up with Banker and his crew of "Gap Cancellers."
I'm sure I'm going to refer to your "gap cancellation scheme" about 50 times this season. Please, explain the basics of your defense?
Mark Banker: Most defenses are either contain defenses or they are spill defenses. We are a spill defense, meaning what we would prefer to do take away the middle the field -- both in the pass game and run game -- and we want teams to work outside on the perimeter. One reasons is we are able to use our speed to run things down as the opponent runs out of room to the outside. A lot of that starts up front. We teach our defensive line an attacking style of play. We're getting vertical off the ball and the most important thing they can do is look at the inside portion of their gap -- usually referred to a hip -- and if that hip disappears inside, they close to it to make sure there's no daylight inside so the ball bounces to the outside. It allows our linebackers to be, rather than just downhill inside, where they give away 100 pounds per man, it gives our guys a chance to go where that thing gets spilled. We create basically an alley by our secondary showing up and leveraging the ball and the linebackers are able to run through that alley to make the play.
You guys put a lot of pressure on you cornerbacks to be able to cover man-on-man: How is that going to work with a pair of new starters?
MB: Athletically we like how the (less experienced) players in our secondary have developed. (Senior cornerback) Tim Clark has played in game situations since as early as his sophomore year. In fact, during Timmy's sophomore year, (former starting cornerback) Keenan Lewis got hurt and he had to come in against Cal, and they had a guy named DeSean Jackson. I think (Jackson) had seven yards on the day [actually one reception for eight yards]. One big expectations is Timmy can become an every-down type of player and we only have to deal with the other side when it comes to starting. But you know James Dockery, who we lost last year (to injury) and we got back for the spring, continues to grow. He's very much a competitor. Brandon Hardin is another -- a big kid who has good size and strength and has every capability to be that guy as well. His big thing, just like any of the corners, is an understanding of how to play specific techniques by down-and-distance and field position. That has eluded him at times. But has shown great promise. Those are two guys who came to mind. Patrick Henderson is a senior and sort of a journeyman. He saw some time last year in some bit roles. Unlike 2005, this season we have some players, with some depth who might lack the game experience but at least they've been in the program and know what is expected.
You lost eight guys from last year's unit: Who's going to be the toughest to replace?
MB: That's a loaded question because out of the seven players who were drafted, (five) were starters on defense. The corners were valuable because of their experience. A guy like (safety) Al Afalava, his heart and soul and leadership ability, that's hard to replace. The two ends, Slade (Norris) and Victor (Butler). Each one of them, in their own right, were special. It was a tough group that played well together. We're not replacing chopped liver. The guys who are stepping in got a lot to live up to. The immediate concern is in the secondary, no doubt in my mind. Because you can play good for 75 plays, but if the game is 76 plays long, all it takes is one shot down the field, and things get evened up. We've got to be smart in the way we play in the secondary and rely on the front to create pressure in the passing game. I think there are guys stepping into different spots -- we've got four ends and possibly a fifth that we feel really good about.
Who are your best pass rushers going to be?
MB: The two who come to mind are (end) Ben Terry, who will be a starter. I think he will be able to rush the passer with great effectiveness. Another guy, who right now is not a starter and was a tight end at this time last year, is Gabe Miller. I think he's going to be a good pass rusher. And then a guy coming off the bench in third down situations, Taylor Henry, a redshirt freshman this year, has got that ability. At the same time, (end) Kevin Frahm, who will be a starter for us, has changed his body a lot. He is very much like (former end) Jeff Van Orsow from the standpoint of his intellect and his work ethic. He's probably a step faster than Jeff and Jeff was old reliable. And we've got an X-factor in this guy, Matt LaGrone, a transfer from (Nevada), who was a basketball player and has been with us who had to sit out. He's 6-foot-6 and he's got some stuff to him. But those three guys I mentioned -- Ben Terry, Gabe Miller and Taylor Henry -- from a standpoint of being edge rushers, those three guys would probably be the ones to watch.
It seemed like tackle Stephen Paea, even when he was banged up, really asserted himself at the end of last season. How good can he be?
MB: You know he hasn't really played a lot of football [Paea starting playing football as a high school senior], so he's still learning the game, which is kind of scary. He is so explosive off his first two steps and then he's just so physically strong. And he's fast. I think his upside, as long as he stays healthy, is way out there because he's still learning the game itself and the intricacies to it. But he sure is a powerful, powerful guy who is very, very dominant. I think he is among the elite defensive tackles in this conference, no doubt about it.
Linebacker Keaton Kristick looks like a regular, if slightly larger, college student: Why is he so productive?
MB: He's a typical linebacker that we try to have in this defense. He was a tailback in high school, so he was his high school's best athlete. His background helps him out from a standpoint of his football intellect. He's extremely competitive. He has that desire to succeed. Football means a lot to him. And [linebackers coach] Greg Newhouse does
a tremendous job communicating to him. He has his attention and Keaton loves it. He listens and sucks up all the information like a sponge. He takes action upon his goals and things he wants to accomplish.
You've built a strong defensive foundation at Oregon State. Does your eye ever wander? Do you see yourself somewhere else in the future?
MB: Absolutely. In this business it's important to progress. I have aspirations within the profession, but one drive I have that is stronger than anything is quality of life. The next job I take has to be something that is, No. 1, that is better than the one I have. And, as you said, we've got some things established here. This is going on my 13th or 14th season coaching with (Mike Riley). I enjoy the atmosphere he sets. I enjoy the people I am around, day-in and day-out. I truly appreciate that my family is involved in the program. Money is important. Some day being able to have my own program is important. But some of those other things I just mentioned are equally, if not more important, to me. Life is too short and I've seen too many people who don't enjoy life. This is a great place to be coaching football.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
[Note this is a corrected post... apologies for not factoring in the underrated Big East].
The Big East nipped the Pac-10 for the lead among conferences in the 2009 NFL draft.
The eight-team Big East supplied 27 total players in the draft, or 3.4 players per team. The Pac-10 supplied 32 selections (3.2 players per team). The 12-team SEC was third with 37 selections overall, or 3.1 per team. The 12-team ACC was third with 33 (2.8 per team).
Last year, the Pac-10's led with 3.4 per team vs. 2.92 per team for the SEC and ACC (2.75).
USC led the way with 11 players selected, including three in the first round, though many are shaking their heads of linebacker Rey Maualuga's tumble into the second round. Every draft-eligible Trojan who started last season was picked.
Oregon State was second with seven players selected and Oregon was third with six. Arizona State, with a pair of seventh-round selections, maintained a 45-year streak with at least one player drafted.
Not all the news was good: Stanford, UCLA and Washington each had no players selected.
Here's the complete list
Patrick Chung, S, New England, second
Jairus Byrd, CB, Buffalo, second
Max Unger, C, Seattle, second
Fenuki Tupou, OT, Philadelphia, fifth
Ra'Shon Harris, DT, Pittsburgh, sixth
Nick Reed, DE, Seattle, seventh
Andy Levitre, OG, Buffalo, second
Keenan Lewis, CB, Pittsburgh, third
Victor Butler, OLB, Dallas, fourth
Slade Norris, OLB, Oakland, fourth
Brandon Hughes, CB, San Diego, fifth
Al Afalava, S, Chicago, sixth
Sammie Stroughter, WR, Tampa Bay, seventh
Mark Sanchez, QB, New York Jets, first (No. 5)
Brian Cushing, OLB, Houston, first (No. 15)
Clay Matthews, OLB, Green Bay, first (No. 26)
Rey Maualuga, LB, Cincinnati, second
Fili Moala, DT, Indianapolis, second
Patrick Turner, WR, Miami, third
Kaluka Maiava, LB, Cleveland, fourth
Kyle Moore, DE, Tampa Bay, fourth
David Buehler, PK, Dallas, fifth
Cary Harris, CB, Buffalo, sixth
Kevin Ellison, S, San Diego, sixth
Brandon Gibson, WR, Philadelphia, sixth
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Every Pac-10 team will be young somewhere... so what are the green units?
Arizona -- OT: Both starting tackles are gone, including potential NFL first-round pick Eben Britton. The four tackles on this spring two-deep roster have combined for only five starts, all by right tackle Adam Grant.
Arizona State -- QB: Combined starts of the five candidates to replace Rudy Carpenter at quarterback? Zero.
California -- TE: When Cameron Morrah, the Bears second-leading receiver in 2008, unexpectedly bolted a year early for the NFL draft, he left behind four combined receptions for backups Tad Smith, Anthony Miller and touted redshirt freshman Spencer Ladner.
Oregon -- DT: Both starting defensive tackles are gone and this unofficial depth chart shows 14 combine tackles for seven potential replacements.
Oregon State -- DE: Sackmasters Victor Butler and Slade Norris and their 41.5 combined sacks over the past two seasons are gone. Sophomore Kevin Frahm and senior Ben Terry, who split two sacks between themselves in 2008, are in.
Stanford -- K: Kicker Aaron Zagory is gone and either Travis Golia or David Green will take over, though neither has kicked a college field goal.
UCLA -- P: After four years of huge boots, punter Aaron Perez is gone. Redshirt freshmen Jeff Locke and Danny Rees will compete to replace him.
USC -- LB: All three starting linebackers, including All-Americans and future first-round draft choices Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing, are gone. Chris Galippo, Malcolm Smith and Michael Morgan aren't exactly chopped liver, though.
Washington -- K-P: The Huskies need to replace both specialists with players who have no college experience.
Washington State -- TE: Devin Frischknecht and Ben Woodard, the top two guys on the 2008 depth chart, are gone and the expected replacement, JC transfer Peter Tuitupou, unexpectedly opted to go on a two-year church mission.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
The Pac-10 spring position reviews conclude with the defensive ends, the guys who get after the quarterback. Or are supposed to.
Even with four of the top five conference leaders in sacks gone, this is a fairly solid position across the board. The only team that raises a rebuilding red flag is Oregon State, which lost twin sackmasters Victor Butler and Slade Norris.
Of course, Washington and Washington State both produced only 16 sacks in 2008, tied for worst in the conference and among the fewest in the nation.
- California: Cal welcomes back underrated end Tyson Alualu, second-team All-Pac-10 in 2008, and rising star Cameron Jordan, a junior. They combined for 22 tackles for loss last year in the Bears' 3-4 defense. There's also solid, young depth behind them in sophomore Trevor Guyton and junior Keith Browner.
- Arizona: Juniors Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore combined for 15 sacks last year and both backups, D'Aundre Reed -- who started four games and had 2.5 sacks in 2008 -- and Apaiata Tuihalamaka are back.
- Arizona State: Dexter Davis had 11 sacks and 15 tackles for loss last season. James Brooks, Jamaar Jarrett, Jamarr Robinson and 25-year-old newcomer Dean DeLeone will battle it out to replace Luis Vasquez and provide depth.
- Stanford: Tom Keiser had six sacks last year and earned freshman All-American honors while Erik Lorig has started 20 career games. Tom McAndrew provides experienced depth.
- UCLA: Senior Korey Bosworth had 7.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss in 2008, while junior Reginald Stokes started five of the final seven games last year. He will be challenged by sophomore Datone Jones.
- Oregon: Sackmaster Nick Reed is gone, but that at least means Will Tukuafu might finally get some credit. He had 7.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss last year. Competition will be hot to replace Reed, with juniors Brandon Bair, Zac Clark and Kenny Rowe in the running.
- USC: Sure, both Kyle Moore and Clay Matthews are gone, but how many teams in the nation do you think would trade defensive ends with the Trojans? Everson Griffen, who had 4.5 sacks last year, is a true talent as a pass rusher, but he needs to be more consistent. Sophomore Malik Jackson and freshmen Wes Horton and Nick Perry each have huge upside.
- Washington: The Huskies sneak in here mostly because of second-team All-Pac-10 end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, a high-motor senior who had eight of the team's 16 sacks in 2008. Senior Darrion Jones returns at the other end and youngsters like Kalani Aldrich and Everrette Thompson showed flashes of promise.
- Oregon State: The Beavers also had to replace both starting defensive ends last season, but this year the backups don't arrive with 19.5 sacks split between them like Victor Butler and Slade Norris did. Sophomore Kevin Frahm and senior Ben Terry split two sacks between themselves in 2008.
- Washington State: Matt Mullennix is gone, but Kevin Kooyman is back as is Andy Mattingly, but he might end up as an outside linebacker. But, really, the Cougars only had 16 sacks last year (in 13 games). Youngsters and newcomers will need to step up.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Helmet stickers for those who stood out during the bowl season.
Willie Tuitama: He ended an up-and-down career with perhaps the best performance of his four years as the Wildcats' starter, completing 24 of 35 passes for 325 yards with two touchdowns and no picks in the 31-21 Las Vegas Bowl win over BYU.
Mike Stoops: Stoops has taken plenty of shots from critics, and many of those shots haven't been unfair. But he's grown as a coach because Arizona AD Jim Livengood had patience instead of a quick firing trigger. Stoops' Wildcats were well prepared for their bowl game, the school's first bowl victory since 1998, and things appear to be trending up for a program long mired in the bottom half of the Pac-10.
Jahvid Best: All Best did was turn in one of the bowl season's most dynamic performances, rushing for 186 yards on 20 carries with two touchdowns in California's 24-17 Emerald Bowl win over Miami. Best, who won the Pac-10 rushing title, laid substantial groundwork for a 2009 Heisman Trophy campaign.
Zack Follett: Follett posted two sacks for Cal in the Emerald Bowl, the second one from the linebacker forcing a fumble from Hurricanes quarterback Jacory Harris and setting up the Bears' winning score with 2:41 left.
Jeremiah Masoli: How physical is the Pac-10? Well, did you see Masoli run over two Oklahoma State defenders in the Ducks' manhandling of the Cowboys in the Holiday Bowl? The Ducks quarterback rushed for 106 yards and three touchdowns and passed for 258 yards and a touchdown.
Mike Bellotti: His Ducks trailed the Holiday Bowl 17-7 at halftime, but whatever Bellotti said at the break was golden. Oregon outscored the Cowboys 35-14 in the second half, and if the game went on for five quarters the Ducks would have scored 100 points. If that turns out to be his last game at the Oregon helm, it was a heck of a way to go out.
Victor Butler: Butler was unstoppable against Pittsburgh in the Sun Bowl, recording five tackles for a loss and four sacks -- and four other quarterback hurries -- in the Beavers' 3-0 victory. He finished with 11 total tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Mike Riley: Sure, 3-0 wasn't pretty, but it was about as dominant as a 3-0 victory can be and the Beavers did it without Jacquizz and James Rodgers, who accounted for more than 50 percent of their offense this season. And you can't argue with Riley's scintillating 5-0 bowl record.
Mark Sanchez: Sanchez clearly saved his best for last, slicing apart overmatched Penn State in the Rose Bowl with four touchdowns and 413 yards passing. Oh, and he ran 6 yards for a TD, too. He completed 28 of 35 and could have done a lot more damage if not for a decisive 31-7 lead at halftime.
Damian Williams: If Sanchez returns in 2009, there's no question who his go-to receiver will be. Even if Sanchez doesn't come back, Williams showed himself to be first among the Trojans' talented crew of receivers with 10 receptions for 162 yards and a touchdown in the Rose Bowl.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
|AP Photo/LM Otero|
|Oregon State's Slade Norris celebrates with his teammates after the Beavers defeated Pittsburgh, 3-0, in the Sun Bowl.|
Anybody want to help me out with a scoring summary for Oregon State's win over Pittsburgh in the Brut Sun Bowl?
The best offense in this one, a 3-zip Beavers victory, was the 10 sacks split between the teams.
Make no mistake, though: No. 24 Oregon State (9-4) was way better -- WAY -- better than 18th-ranked Pittsburgh (9-4).
The Beavers, playing without Jacquizz and James Rodgers, who supplied more than 50 percent of their offense this year, outgained the Panthers 271 yards to 178 and got zero points on a pair of first-and-goal situations.
Pittsburgh's deepest penetration was the Beavers 36-yard line.
While the Beavers offense struggled to find a consistent rhythm, coordinator Mark Banker's defense, led by ends Slade Norris and Victor Butler, redeemed itself for the Civil War debacle.
The same unit that gave up 65 points and 694 yards to Oregon, surrendered just 10 first downs to the Panthers. It held touted Pitt tailback LeSean McCoy to 84 yards on 23 carries.
Mike Riley improved to 5-0 in bowl games as the Beavers coach.
The Pac-10 also improved to 4-0 this bowl season with three victories over ranked teams and victories over three different BCS conferences.
The rest of the college football nation is free to draw its own conclusions.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Oregon State fans still smarting from the Civil War implosion against Oregon should take heart in this: The Beavers have officially arrived, particularly if they beat Pittsburgh in the Sun Bowl and finish ranked in the final top 25 for the third consecutive season, a boast that no other Pac-10 team other than USC can make.
And no other team in the nation can claim two victories over USC since 2002. Nor can any conference team claim five consecutive bowl victories.
Naturally, it didn't start out impressive -- the Beavers are addicted to validating low expectations early in the season.
Most projected the Beavers would finish in the middle of the conference because of obvious issues: The entire front seven from 2007 had to be replaced; things were unsettled on the offensive line; and it certainly wasn't clear positive production could be counted on at quarterback.
Some pundits probably felt smug when the Beavers started 0-2 and got walloped at Penn State, 45-14.
Then the Beavers got off the canvas and won eight of nine -- the lone defeat coming by three points at Utah (and it's still mind-boggling how the Beavers blew that one) -- before, er, that final game.
Turning point: It would be easy to flag the USC victory as the turning point, but it actually happened 12 days before when the Beavers kicked the crud out of Hawaii, 45-7, outgaining the Warriors, 485-211. Everything worked that day. This freshman named Jacquizz Rodgers scored two touchdowns and rushed for 112 yards, while quarterback Lyle Moevao passed for 268 yards and three touchdowns.
Offensive MVP: Hmm... who should this be? Let's go with Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year, Jacquizz Rodgers, who finished with 1,253 yards and 11 touchdowns despite getting only four carries in the final two games. Rodgers was the point man -- 186 yards on the ground -- against USC, and he never let up.
Defensive MVP: It's a pity more folks don't know about "Hollywood" Victor Butler, who's one of the more outgoing and entertaining players in the Pac-10. Oh, and he's as quick on his feet as he is with a quip: His 16.5 tackles for a loss -- including eight sacks -- ranked fourth in the conference. He also forced three fumbles.
What's next: The Beavers lose a lot of good players: Receivers Sammie Stroughter and Shane Morales, offensive linemen Andy Levitre and Adam Speer, ends Victor Butler and Slade Norris and all four starters in the secondary. It looks like a rebuilding year in 2009. Of course, the same was said of 2008. And with James and Jacquizz Rodgers returning, as well as quarterbacks Lyle Moevao and Sean Canfield, it would be a mistake to count out Oregon State.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
|Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images|
|Oregon State's freshman running back Jacquizz Rodgers sat out the game with an injured shoulder.|
CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Oregon State defensive end Slade Norris was hurting just like all the Beavers after they lost 65-38 to rival Oregon in the 112th Civil War as their Rose Bowl dreams most likely were burned up by the exhaust of the Ducks jet-fueled offense.
He dutifully answered questions, however, at least until a reporter got specific about a big Oregon running play.
"To be honest," Norris said with exhausted resignation, "there were a lot of big running plays."
And big passing plays, too.
The Beavers were crestfallen, but they offered few excuses.
"You can't win when you give up 65 points and 700 yards or whatever it was," safety Greg Laybourn said.
It was 694 yards.
The Beavers entered the game ranked 13th in the nation in total defense (290 yards per game). Penn State, in its 45-14 win over Oregon State on Sept. 6, only had 454 total yards. The next highest total vs. the Beavers was 377.
After falling behind 37-17 at halftime, the Beavers battled back in the second half, closing within 13 three times. But they couldn't stop the Ducks.
"Tonight, the bubble burst," Beavers coach Mike Riley said.
While Riley wouldn't offer excuses, there was an obvious one. With freshman phenom running back Jacquizz Rodgers, the Pac-10's leading rusher, on the sidelines with an injured shoulder, the Beavers only gained 89 yards on the ground.
"Yeah, I think it would have been a lot different [with Rodgers]," quarterback Lyle Moevao said.
Losing to their archrival wasn't just tough on the players. A crowd of 46,319 set a new Reser Stadium record amd the overflow turnout was due to anticipation of the program earning its first Rose Bowl berth in 44 years.
Instead, they had to watch as the Ducks mascot swaggered around the stadium in the fourth quarter carrying a rose in mockery.
There's still a faint glimmer of hope. If UCLA upsets USC next weekend, the Beavers would prevail in a tiebreaker with the Ducks and Trojans.
It is fair to say the odds of that happening are not good.
"I'm not going to lose any sleep over that one," Riley said.
The most likely scenario has the Beavers headed to the Sun Bowl.
"It's hard to get excited about that when you know what was possible," Moevao said.
Moevao, who missed two of the last three games due to a shoulder injury, completed 27 of 51 passes for 374 yards with five touchdowns. But both his interceptions were returned for touchdowns.
Moevao said his shoulder felt fine. Everything else wasn't so good.
"This definitely hurt," he said.
Getting deep into this week's games.
Pressuring the quarterback won't be as easy for Oregon State against Arizona: Oregon State's defensive scheme is all about pressure, and it gave California a heavy dose last weekend, sacking Kevin Riley five times and rattling him many others. The Beavers average 2.8 sacks per game, with ends Slade Norris and Victor Butler combining for 13. But Cal was starting a freshman and sophomore JC transfer at the tackles. Arizona this week will offer junior Eben Britton, a potential NFL first-round draft pick, and senior James Tretheway, who plays beside Joe Longacre, a 37-game starter. The Wildcats haven't been spectacular protecting quarterback Willie Tuitama this year, see 23 sacks yielded. But this is one of the Pac-10's more experienced units, and they won't be cowed by the nation's No. 15 defense.
Stop the run, retake the Axe: Stanford relies almost entirely on its running game. USC knew that last weekend, but burly Toby Gerhart & Co. still rushed for 200 yards against the nation's best defense. The Cardinal can run on just about anybody, so they will try to run against California's 3-4 defense, which ranks fourth in the Pac-10. The Bears hardly dominated the action on the line of scrimmage last week against Oregon State as freshman Jacquizz Rodgers piled up 144 yards on 27 carries. On the other side of the ball, Cal got 116 yards rushing from Jahvid Best against the Beavers, but 65 of those came on one spectacular run. On the plus side for the Bears, though, is the potential absence of Cardinal linebacker Pat Maynor, who missed the USC game with a bruised knee. Still, the ledger leans toward Stanford as the team most likely to run consistently.
Brandon Gibson, you're the best player on the field: Combing the depth charts of Washington and Washington State, it's difficult to see where the pressure points are. Both teams have been so weak across the board in all areas that it's hard to find a strength-on-weakness matchup. It's all weakness on weakness. Both teams are bad on offense (national rankings of 117 (UW) vs. 118) and defense (110 (UW) vs. 112). But at the beginning of the season, Cougars receiver Brandon Gibson was an All-American candidate after finishing seventh in the nation with 107 yards receiving per game in 2007. In last year's Apple Cup, he caught the game-tying and game-winning touchdown passes among his six receptions for 137 yards. The Huskies rank 117th in the nation in pass efficiency defense. While Gibson's senior season -- he considered (and probably regrets not) entering the NFL draft last spring -- has been a massive disappointment, no one in the UW secondary can keep up with him. But can the Cougars get the ball to the best player on the field?
Which quarterback has a Big Game? Or just not a Bad Game? Neither Cal nor Stanford wants to find itself needing to throw to win the Big Game. In his past two games, Bears quarterback Kevin Riley has completed 15 of 41 passes with two interceptions and a touchdown. Riley has seemed to regress as the year's gone on, even as coach Jeff Tedford finally made him the permanent starter. While Stanford's Tavita Pritchard has improved in fits and starts, he completed only 9 of 22 for 111 yards with an interception against USC last weekend. Riley ranks sixth and Pritchard ninth in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency. Both offensive coordinators want to run the ball and allow their quarterbacks to be game managers and perhaps supply a nice scramble or two. But in games like this, it often seems like a quarterback leaves his fingerprints on the final result, either in a good way or a bad way.
Rodgers can seal up Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year against Arizona: Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers can put an exclamation point on the greatest true freshman season in Pac-10 history over the next two weeks. He is on the cusp of becoming the first frosh to win conference Offensive Player of the Year. He leads the conference and ranks ninth in the nation with 123 yards per game. The next highest true freshman? Houston's Bryce Beall at No. 42. He's a Doak Walker Award semifinalist and an All-American candidate. But can he carry the Beavers to the Rose Bowl? Arizona has a decent but hardly dominant run defense (sixth in the Pac-10). The Beavers probably want to limit the plays the potent Arizona offense gets in its home stadium. Which means Rodgers going for 100-plus for an eighth time this year would leave a rose-fragranced afterburn.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
CORVALLIS, Ore. -- A six-point lead is supposed to be a precarious thing, but Oregon State's defense made that margin look and feel like 60 against California.
The Beavers held California to 232 total yards, 65 of which came on one play.
The Beavers sacked Cal quarterback Kevin Riley five times. When they didn't sack him, they made him look like he expected to be hit at any moment. See his numbers: 11 of 25 for 117 yards.
His lone interception was returned 25 yards for a touchdown by Keenan Lewis, which put an exclamation point on the 34-21 victory.
"I think we kind of got in his head a little bit and got him frustrated," Beavers defensive end Slade Norris said.
Cal didn't convert a third down play after halftime and finished 2 of 13.
When the screws tightened in the fourth quarter -- that six point lead hanging there, vulnerable -- the Bears managed to gain just 1 yard on 12 plays.
We could go on.
"When it got to crunch time, we really were relentless defensively," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said.
Said Cal coach Jeff Tedford: "I don't think they did anything scheme-wise. They just played better than we did."
The Beavers had 10 tackles for a loss, with nine different players forcing the Bears to go negative.
It's sort of annoying when players and coaches rattle on about a "total-team effort," but it actually describes the performance, though tackle Stephen Pea (six tackles, two for a loss) and end Victor Butler (seven tackles, 1.5 sacks) deserve special note.
"At the end of the game, they looked a little tired and beat down," Butler said of Cal.
A year ago, the Beavers led the nation in rushing defense and ranked fourth in sacks. They ranked eighth overall.
They began the year with an entirely new starting front seven. That's why some silly folks thought the Beavers defense would struggle.
And they mostly did in losses to Stanford and Penn State.
The Beavers now rank 17th in the nation in total defense. And rising.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
USC is the nation's elite recruiting powerhouse. The Trojans have more budding NFL talent than any other team in the nation, and no one else is really even that close.
Oregon State is not a recruiting powerhouse. It typically ranks between 7th and 10th in the Pac-10 recruiting rankings and never sniffs the nation's top-25.
And yet the Beavers are the only team in the nation that has beaten USC twice since 2002.
Moreover, at the start of the season, among Pac-10 teams only USC and California had won more games over the previous six years than Oregon State (47).
The Beavers appear poised to play in their eighth bowl game over the last 10 years at season's end and they have won their last four. They finished ranked in the final AP top 25 the previous two seasons and finished fourth in 2000.
And despite stinking at attracting four- and five-star recruits, the program has produced 16 NFL draft picks over the past six seasons, including stars like T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Chad Johnson, Nick Barnett and Steven Jackson.
And those pesky little Beavers are presently in control of their Rose Bowl destiny: Win out, and they meet the Granddaddy for the first time since 1965.
This is despite having the fewest returning starters from 2007 in the Pac-10 (10, including just three on defense).
The how-the-heck-does-this-happen actually isn't that complicated: Mike Riley just has a better eye for talent than most head coaches who are obsessed with recruiting rankings -- despite their protests to the contrary -- and he and his staff do a better job developing and finding the right fit for the talent they do recruit.
Want a list of nobody recruits?
How about quarterback Lyle Moevao, defensive ends Victor Butler and Slade Norris, receivers Sammie Stroughter, James Rodgers and Shane Morales and safety Al Afalava. All rated barely a blip among the recruiting services.
But ask Riley about his recruiting philosophy and he doesn't talk about some secret formula or esoteric measures. He's not some college coaching Bill James with a sabermetric advantage.
"The fit is important because we want guys who want to be here and are happy because this is not LA," Riley said. "It has to be a fit in a lot of ways even outside the football realm."
He wants guys who want to play for Oregon State. He doesn't want guys who use the Beavers as a fall-back, or who view the slow pace of Corvallis as a negative.
Riley also likes players who performed at a high level in high school ("Past performance is a great predictor," Riley says). It's clear he prefers speed over size. And he wants guys who really enjoy playing football.
Dennis Erickson, who's limping Arizona State squad visits Oregon State on Saturday, deserves plenty of credit for leading the 2000 Beavers to a victory in the Fiesta Bowl. But he readily admits he inherited a good core of talent when he took over for Riley in 1999.
"They were players like they have there now -- they were tough-nosed, hard-nosed guys," Erickson said.
Riley also might have the best coaching staff in the Pac-10.
Whatever Riley and company are doing, it works.
Consider Northwest rival Washington. Only once since 2004 did Oregon State finish ahead of the Huskies in the recruiting rankings -- Tyrone Willingham's first class in 2005 -- yet the Beavers have whipped the Huskies five games in a row -- four of those victories coming in Husky Stadium.
And now Washington is again looking for a coach.
While Riley's track record should raise some eyebrows in Seattle, he doesn't appear eager to bolt town for a few more bucks.
"I'm really thankful for my second chance," said Riley, who's Oregon State tenure was split up by an ill-fated three seasons leading the San Diego Chargers. "I'm going to hold on for dear life."
Which means that Oregon State will continue to lose in the recruiting rankings but nonetheless win games.