USC came to Corvallis for the first time in 5 years, and Saturday night, they were just the better team, from the better program, than Oregon State. The result was a 38-21 Trojan win that was closer for much of the game than that.
The game was determined by 4 key sequences, all of which worked out in USC’s favor.
Two of them were memorable. They culminated in long touchdown runs by Aca’Cedric Ware, one for 57 yards on the first play of the second quarter, and another that covered 62 yards early in the fourth quarter, when it had been a 1 score game. Those, and the fact that USC kicker Michael Brown made a long field goal and Oregon State kicker Jordan Choukair missed one that was long enough, but wide, provided the difference in the score.
Both came immediately after Oregon State had lost focus, while USC coach Clay Helton had taken advantage of an extended break to make a shrewd play call. Helton, notably, took over play calling duties from Trojan Offensive Coordinator Tee Martin this week, along with terminating offensive line coach Neil Callaway.
During the break between the first and second quarters, Oregon State introduced the 2018 Baseball National Championship team, which got the focus of everyone in the stadium in orange, many of the football players included.
Coming out of the break, USC showed a play that looked to the right, but instead ran Ware to the left, and behind a moving, multi level traffic blocking scheme. Oregon State lost track of Ware, and only located him once he was beyond everyone, and in a footrace the Beavers don’t have anyone that could win.
Might have been better to give the baseball team the attention they deserve at halftime, immediately following the band show, which would have given them another couple of minutes of attention, and been less of a distraction when there was a task at hand.
Ware’s other gamebreaker came after the obligatory officiating mishap that will crop up in any given Pac-12 game, and the ensuing events that demonstrated the difference in the more experienced Trojan team (and coach), and the still feeling their way Beavers.
Up only 7 points, after an Oregon State scoring threat had stalled, ending with a failed fake field goal pass by Timmy Hernandez, USC ran Vavae Malapeai to the same right side where they had had most of their rushing success all night. Oregon State’s Matthew Tago stripped the ball away from Malapeai, and the ball came out. Jalen Moore scooped up the ball and sprinted to the end zone for an apparent game tieing touchdown.
However, the Pac-12 crew on the field incorrectly blew the play dead. Review overturned the mistaken call that Malapeai was down, and awarded Oregon State the ball at the point of Moore’s recovery. Because the play had been whistled dead, the advance can’t be allowed.
When asked after the game if he felt the officiating crew should have allowed the fumble return for a touchdown, Smith said “That would be one way to do it. The mistake is, the call on the field was incorrect and they overturned it.”
By allowing the play to play out all the way to the end, it could be allowed to stand, OR it could still be backed up to any earlier point had the review shown that to be correct. The premature whistle took those possibilities off the table.
Close re-review of the replay showed that Tago actually had taken possession of the ball before the ball flew free, but with his knee down, so it should have been ruled Oregon State ball at that point.
Regardless, the Beavers were in excellent position to tie the game up, but failed to do so.
Oregon State’s rushing game, and Jemar Jefferson in particular, has been the team’s strength all season, but it hadn’t been successful against a USC defense, above smothering Jefferson, that was well conceived to shut it down. Jefferson didn’t even have positive rushing yards until into the third quarter, never mind the team, which was even further in the hole, due to sack minus yardage.
But Jefferson and the OSU o-line had shown signs of finally wearing down the USC defense, so the first down call of a Jefferson run wasn’t at all unreasonable. It went for only 1 yard though, and the subsequent 2nd and 9 call for another Jefferson run into a jammed up line didn’t make sense, and it didn’t gain an inch.
Third and fourth down incompletions on attempts to Hernandez turned the ball back over to the Trojans. An extended tv tiimeout didn’t seem to settle anyone associated with Oregon State down, but it did afford Helton the time to come up with a play that looked headed inside initially, drawing the Beaver defense to the middle, but in fact bounced Ware to the outside, where he had the Oregon State defense out-flanked, and another foot race to the end zone that the Trojan back easily won ensued.
Trojans Set The Stage For Success Early
Oregon State has repeatedly struggled with slow starts to both the game and the second half, and the problem continued to plague the Beavers against the Trojans.
The Beavers took the opening kickoff, and Jake Luton immediately connected with Trevon Bradford for 10 yards and a first down, and then with Isaiah Hodgins for 9 more yards. But then back to back runs by Jefferson and Artavis Pierce were stopped for no gain, and Oregon State had to punt.
USC proceeded to chew up 7 and a half minutes with a 17 play, 86 yard touchdown march to take a 7-0 lead on Steven Carr’s 8 yard touchdown run.
Then, midway in the second quarter, after the Trojans’ starting wideout Michael Pittman had left the game with an undisclosed injury, USC inserted freshman Devon Williams. His first collegiate career catch was a 41 yard touchdown toss from JT Daniels, and over the 4 inch shorter Isaiah Dunn, after the subtlest of separation push-offs, on a fly route against an OSU defensive alignment that isolated the shorter Dunn.
That put USC up 21-0, and put Luton in position yet again of having to bring the Beavers from way behind.
Luton did just that, responding with a an 8 play drive that the Beavers again capped with the Jack Colletto run for a touchdown call they used twice in their comeback win last week against Colorado.
Luton pulled the Beavers back within 1 score with an 11 yard touchdown pass to Noah Togiai, above, 4 seconds before halftime, capping an 85 yard drive that took only 1:07, with a 43 yard completion to Hodgins the key play.
Luton’s first half numbers were impressive, completing 22 of 27 throws for 220 yards, and the 1 score, with no turnovers.
“We did a good job of not letting that bother us,” Luton said of the early deficit. “We know it’s a marathon. It’s not a good thing, but it’s kind of what we’ve done. We kind of work our way back.”
Coupled with his second half against Colorado, Luton was 50 of 66 for 530 yards and 4 touchdowns over his last 4 quarters plus the OT in Boulder.
It kept the crowd of over 25K (out of the 35K tickets distributed for Family/Dads Night and Military Appreciation Day) in the stadium for the second half, and that’s not been the case earlier this season.
But USC opened the second half with an 8 pay, 67 yard touchdown drive, capped by yet another of Ware’s 3 touchdown.
7 of 9 second half opening opponents’ drives have led to scores, 6 of them touchdowns, so far this season against the Beavers, who just don’t come out of the break ready to play.
Luton responded by directing an 11 play scoring drive, which the Beavers capped with a 6 yard Pierce run, above, after showing the by then highly familiar Colletto look. Credit Smith and Oregon State Offensive Coordinator Brian Lindgren for showing what appeared to be overplaying the Colletto card, but changing it up with a fake and misdirection.
Oregon State’s lack of depth eventually caught up with them, and after the sequence with the inability to capitalize on the turnover, and Ware’s touchdown romp, the Beavers would only manage 2 more first downs.
It still took a field goal with less than 5 minutes to go for USC to put the game away. For Oregon State fans, it was yet another multi-score loss, but it had to be one of the least disappointing such loss in some time, as the game had the intensity and energy of the USC-OSU battles in the latter part of the last decade.
The Beavers put forth a quality effort, and what ails them can only be fixed with recruiting players, and more experience for a rookie coach. Which everyone knew would be the case from the day Smith was hired.
Luton, above, finished with 301 yards passing, on 31 of 45 throws, becoming the first Oregon State quarterback with multiple 300 yard passing games since Sean Mannion in 2014.
Bradford, above, had a game high 10 catches, 9 in the first half, for 63 yards, and added a 55 yard kickoff return. Hodgins had 8 catches, for a game high 129 yards. Williams led USC in receiving, but with just 77 yards.
Daniels was only 14 of 26, for just 177 yards, and 1 touchdown for USC, as despite what happened on that one scoring play, the Oregon State defense played some if its best pass defense in years, with multiple break-ups, and leaving Daniels with no good target besides a throw away multiple times.
But the non-existent Beaver run defense, which hands out career nights like Halloween candy, did so again. Ware romped for 205 yards on 17 carries, and 3 scores, and Malepeai also went over the 100 yard mark, with 15 carries for 101 yards.
Couple that with struggling until the second half to get Jefferson, who finished with just 58 yards on 18 carries, any running room, and 6 sacks of Luton, and the result was inevitable.
Oregon State dropped to 2-7, and 1-6 in the Pac-12, with road games remaining at Stanford next week and Washington, before returning for the Civil War the Friday after Thanksgiving. Though they still have twice the wins as last year, the Beavers are officially eliminated from bowl eligibility for the 5th year in a row, and the 7th time in the last 9 years.
USC improved to 5-4, and 4-3 in the Pac-12 with the road win.
And the post game battle of the bands was a good reflection of the game that was a good reflection of what #Pac12LongAfterDark can be.
(Photos by Andy Wooldridge)