Column: Tempo isn’t everything in USC’s win over Oregon State

Trojans defensive tackle Claude Pelon tries to chase down Beavers quarterback Sean Mannion in the first quarter.
Trojans defensive tackle Claude Pelon tries to chase down Beavers quarterback Sean Mannion in the first quarter.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
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Captain Obvious now thinks USC’s opening 52-13 win over Fresno State was a misleading movie trailer.

Those 105 plays feel like 105 years ago.

The up-tempo, razzle-dazzle promise of Steve Sarkisian’s debut has gravitated to a colder, workaday


We now know Fresno State was a folding chair. And that USC won an entirely different game at Stanford, and lost an entirely different game at Boston College.


That delivered us to Saturday night’s Pac-12 game against Oregon State, far more rough-and-tumble than run-and-shoot.

One sensed USC fans had already put Sark on an early performance clock. They dutifully showed up at the Coliseum and cheered at the right times.

They really came, though, to evaluate the post-BC response team.

What they learned: USC would actually win another game under Sarkisian, this one by 35-10.

Despite the Boston disaster, the Pac-12 title is still in play, and so is the playoff.

Sarkisian earned another week, if not five years. Buck Allen and Justin Davis made life easier with fourth-quarter touchdown runs that opened up a close game.

The Trojans’ defense played well and doesn’t need to be quarantined, though it may need to schedule more games against pro-style programs.

“I’m so proud of the defense after what they had to hear about the last two weeks,” Sarkisian said after the Trojans limited Oregon State to 181 total yards and only 58 rushing on 21 attempts.

Oregon State’s Sean Mannion, a future NFL quarterback, was 15 of 32 for 123 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions.


USC quarterback Cody Kessler was sacked three times, but Sarkisian was generally happy with play of beleaguered offensive line.

“They bounced back, they’re getting better,” he said.

The big-picture attack, though, isn’t “Air Raid,” it is paint-by-numbers.

“On offense, we kind of kept hunt and pecking,” Sarkisian said of the attack, which had three straight false starts on one first-half drive. The team was also penalized 14 times for 124 yards.

The coach said the Trojans are determined to develop a running game after 200 yards in 48 attempts.

“It’s who we are, and it helps our defense. We are learning, but we are gaining an attitude about it,” he said

The Trojans are not the breathless brochure they passed out in July — but do they need to be?

They may have tempo dictated to them by adult defenses such as Stanford and Oregon State.

USC didn’t break any land-speed records Saturday against a solid, veteran Oregon State team.


The last of the Trojans’ three first-half touchdowns came after they slowed the game down by calling time out. It resulted in Kessler’s 48-yard, Hail Mary heave to Darreus Rogers as time expired.

The first score came on Su’a Cravens interception return.

No one was confusing Sarkisian with up-tempo Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn.

USC’s defense was thrilled to get drawn into a conventional game against Mannion, a stand-still quarterback.

Did you know Oregon State still operates out of a huddle?

USC is better suited playing straight up than spread out.

Boston College’s option gashed USC for 452 rushing yards. For what it’s worth, USC’s ugly defeat at Boston College also got additional context Saturday — and it didn’t get any prettier.

Boston College lost at home to Colorado State while Pittsburgh, which defeated Boston College, lost to Akron.

USC will find playing fast can tire out your defense as much as your opponent’s.

The game contributed another footnote to the annals.

Everyone knows Oregon State has not lost to USC at the Coliseum since 1960.

It was so long ago that Beavers Coach Mike Riley, who spent his formative years in Corvallis, hadn’t even hit town.

“We weren’t even living there yet,” Riley recalled this week.

His passions then were hitched to a high school team in Idaho.

“My dad was the head coach of the Lewiston Bengals,” Riley said. “I was in the first or second grade, I guess.”


Bud Riley would later become an Oregon State assistant coach and Mike would become the star quarterback at Corvallis High School.

Although Riley now bleeds pumpkin orange, he’s been on both sides of the Oregon State-USC series. It’s not really a rivalry because USC entered Saturday’s game with a 60-11-4 record against the Beavers.

Not that there haven’t been a few corks popped.

Riley was a teenager in 1967 when Oregon State shocked USC, 3-0, in Corvallis. The Beavers were coached then by Dee “The Great Pumpkin” Andros.

Mike Riley also coached Oregon State in 2006, 2008 and 2010 when the Beavers defeated USC in Corvallis.

USC’s “spell” over Oregon State is confined to the Coliseum.

Riley, though, also spent time with USC as a former assistant coach under John Robinson.

And Riley, of course, nearly became USC’s coach in 2001 after the Trojans fired Paul Hackett.

Who knows what might have happened had Riley been able to get out of his contract with the San Diego Chargers?


It can safely be said now that it worked out well for both parties.

USC ended up hiring Pete Carroll, while Riley in 2003 returned to his roots in Corvallis, to a city and program that perfectly fit his laid-back personality.

Riley might have won big at USC, but he also would have had to work for athletic director Mike Garrett. And that would have meant a hard, swift fall had Riley not met Trojans’ ozone-high expectations. Riley return to an Oregon State environment where 8-5 does not get you fired.

At USC, Riley would never have been allowed to amass the 91-73 record he’s recorded at Oregon State. USC went to so many Rose Bowls under Pete Carroll the players actually got bored.

Riley, now 61, would be crowned “Great Pumpkin II” if he is somehow able to lead Oregon State to its first Rose Bowl since 1965.

Riley has molded Oregon State into his image. He has established the Beavers as a respected brand.

Sarkisian is only four games into his USC tenure. We’re not sure yet who he is, or what the Trojans are.


These things take time.