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Canzano: Oregon State snatches defeat from jaws of victory
USC wins 17-14.
CORVALLIS — Hold up. I thought USC was supposed to be elite. Like, too good for the Pac-12 or something. Let’s give the Trojans credit. They won the game. But I left Reser Stadium on Saturday night thinking more about Oregon State than anything.
It was USC 17, Oregon State 14.
Where was Lincoln Riley’s high-octane Trojans’ offense? Where was quarterback Caleb Williams’s dazzling talent? The No. 7-ranked team in the Associated Press poll took its star-studded act to Benton County, and somehow, looked very ordinary.
I’m left with no choice but to believe that Oregon State (now 3-1) must be pretty good. Because the alternative is that USC is an imposter. Or maybe the Pac-12 is again wide-open and we’re about to have a wild couple of months.
I’ll bet Oregon, Washington, Utah and Washington State loved what they saw on Saturday night. USC looked completely beatable.
Williams completed fewer than half his passes, managing only 180 yards on 16 completions. Riley lined up his offensive chess pieces — going with four and five wideouts. It looked shiny and cool. But the performance was underwhelming.
Again, the Trojans won the game. They’re undefeated — a perfect 4-0. They beat the Beavers in what could only be classified as a split decision. If this were a boxing match, in fact, some promoter would have climbed through the ropes after the clock hit 0:00, grabbed the public-address microphone, and shouted, “Reeeeeee-match!!!”
I doubt there will be one.
Not unless OSU gets better quarterback play.
The Beavers’ defense played great. It made USC’s passing attack look stagnant and pedestrian. OSU running back Jam Griffin was terrific, too. But Chance Nolan has to be better if he wants that rematch. His knees knocked and his passes floated amid the pressure. Four picks was too much to overcome.
In the third quarter, I looked down from the temporary press box located amid the construction at Reser Stadium. I saw former long-time Oregon Ducks’ defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti sitting on the 50-yard line. There are no seats in what is now an active construction zone, just bare concrete steps. Aliotti, who works as an analyst for the Pac-12 Networks, was perched on the concrete, alongside a member of the television-production crew, watching the game.
I sat beside him.
“USC’s receivers aren’t running by Oregon State’s DBs,” he noted.
“Oregon State has a great scheme,” Aliotti said.
“Those guys,” the old football coach said, pointing toward the Beavers, “are the more physical team.”
I’m not sure what to make of USC right now. It defeated Rice, Stanford, Fresno State, and now, Oregon State, in succession. But the Trojans didn’t much look like a playoff contender in what was likely their final visit to Corvallis.
They’re gone to the Big Ten in 2024.
USC was resilient, though. The Trojans found a way to win on a night in which they didn’t have their good stuff. But I keep thinking about how close Oregon State came to beating USC. For 58 minutes and change, the Beavers looked like the better team.
Oregon State is going to kick itself when it watches the film. It reduced Lincoln Riley’s high-powered offense to a ball of yarn. And still lost.
“This one,” Jonathan Smith said afterward, “stings in a big way.”
Remember last season’s OSU-USC game?
Oregon State went to the Los Angeles Coliseum and knocked out Clay Helton’s Trojans. The Beavers rushed for more than 300 yards and put 45 points on the scoreboard. It was a cathartic evening that catapulted Smith’s program into what ended up being a strong season.
Can a close loss do the same?
Saturday night wasn’t nearly as fun for Beavers’ fans. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory will do that. But after the game, four USC football players ticked off the throng of Oregon State ticket holders who were filing out of Reser Stadium.
The quartet of Trojans lingered on the field after the handshakes, then jogged over to the giant Beaver logo and plopped themselves down on the grass. They performed snow angels.
The fans booed.
The players giggled.
It was about the only time all night the Trojans laughed.
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