Here's something a little different for this week's Friday Q&A. In honor of tonight's championship game, I thought it would be fun to talk to a coach who has seen Stanford and UCLA this season. Even during a game week, Oregon State coach Mike Riley was kind enough to take a few minutes to chat with the Pac-12 blog about the matchup. The Beavers beat UCLA in September 27-20 but fell to the Cardinal 27-23 earlier this month.
Here is Riley's take on each team and the game (plus a brief discussion about Brandin Cooks, because Riley and I tend to get chatty when we talk):
What has impressed you most about Stanford?
Mike Riley: Their consistency this year has been outstanding. They've stayed true to their course. They have a great running game. They use multiple tight ends. They have an identity there that they just continue to build on and force upon others. They are a powerful football team, and they utilize their personnel so well. They changed quarterbacks late in the year and haven't missed a beat. In fact, I think this [Kevin] Hogan has really added to their team with his athletic ability. They are just an all-around, good solid football team with one of the best defenses in the country. They were the best defense we've seen this year. They play hard, they play smart, and they are complemented well by what they do offensively.
How about UCLA?
MR: They've done a great job with a first-year staff of looking at that team and placing personnel -- both on offense and defense -- in good spots to really enhance their talent. I think that's a real good coaching job by Jim Mora and his staff. Noel Mazzone, their offensive coordinator, does a great job with the young talent at quarterback, and they've been productive offensively and dynamic defensively. For the first year in that program, they've done exceedingly well. Just a good, well-coached football team. Very good special teams. One of the best specialists in the country with [Jeff] Locke. They do a great job in all three phases.
Anything stand out that you remember from either of the games? Highlights or lowlights?
MR: Playing against Stanford's defense is no fun -- or their offense. I'll tell you that. Everything is hard. I think that we had a two-score lead in the third quarter and we had that quarterback sacked and he made a fantastic play -- probably the play of the game -- to [Stepfan] Taylor. He flipped the ball out to him. Then you've got a great back in space, uncovered, and he takes it 50 yards for a touchdown. That really changed the dynamic of that game in a hurry. That was a memorial lowlight in that game.
UCLA was just a hard-fought, good football game that went back and forth. We hit a couple of big plays. A big pass to Markus Wheaton for a touchdown and a big pass to Brandin Cooks for a touchdown. And defensively I thought we did a really good job against a hard offense to contain. They've got the quarterback, the running back, good receivers, a big tight end. We just hung on and scratched and clawed. At the time, it was a huge victory for the Beavers because it was so hard-fought against a good football team. And at that time, we didn't know how good they'd be, and they ended up being one of the best in the league.
I was at both games, and I thought the slant pass to Brandin against UCLA was really his coming-out moment.
MR: It was. That was kind of the beginning of what we hopefully envisioned as the duo of Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks. Markus, we knew about. Brandin was a young talented guy, and they both ended up as 1,000-yard receivers this year, which is hard to do, and we've had a lot of fun with them. But I think you're right. That was a big, big moment for Brandin and for what he would mean to the Beavers for the whole year.
As a head coach, how tough is it to turn around and play a team six days later?
MR: It's an interesting dynamic that hardly ever happens in college football. I've had a ton of experience with it because I coached in the Canadian Football League. And it's a real mental game. It's very interesting. We would literally play back-to-back with some teams every year. One time we played Toronto -- I think my last year in the Canadian League in 1990 -- we played Toronto five times. And we beat them every time, but the last one was the hardest. We beat them on a field goal on the last play of the game. It's very difficult to win back-to-back when the teams are good and very evenly matched. Stanford's got a big chore this week because they had their way last week. But to repeat that thing, there's a lot of mind games to it. Now Stanford is a mentally tough football game, but it's going to be harder.