Let's hit a number of subjects on my mind after Oregon State's loss to Stanford on Saturday ...
• OSU coach Mike Riley put it about as well as anyone could concerning what has become all the rage among officiating in college football - flagging helmet-to-helmet hits, a.k.a. 'targeting the head.'
'These calls right now are hard on everybody,' the OSU coach said after Jordan Poyer's tackle on Stanford's Chris Owosu was called a personal foul. 'What used to look like a great football play is now a penalty in a lot of cases.'
I've watched Poyer's hit three times on Youtube, and I don't see it as being helmet-to-helmet. The Oregon State cornerback led with his shoulder and hit Owosu's shoulder, and when the Cardinal receiver buckled, their heads could have briefly touched - I'm not sure.
And while this is not politically correct of me to say - especially since Owosu suffered a concussion and was taken from the field in an ambulance - I don't think Poyer's hit should have been a penalty.
I understand that football executives have growing concern about the number of concussions in the sport, and the repercussions of brain injuries on an athlete's life. Some of the rules instituted in recent years to protect quarterbacks and ballcarriers have been welcome and necessary.
But it's to the point where the issue has been overlegislated. I'd say the same thing for late hits along the sidelines. I've seen more of those flagged this season and last than ever before, and some of them are so borderline, they shouldn't be called.
Nobody wants injuries from illegal blows, but football is a collision sport. We should do what we can to protect our gridiron warriors, but there is a fine line between doing that and penalizing a defender for a hard, clean tackle.
Riley thinks the NCAA's football rules committee will take a look at the rule in the offseason and decide if in trying to protect the head, rulesmakers have gone too far. It says here they have, but I'll be surprised if anything gets changed.
• And by the way, how about enforcing the rule that requires players to buckle their chinstraps?
It's a fashion statement, it seems, for players - especially NFL quarterbacks - to unbuckle the strap after every play, and then sometimes forget to buckle it before the next play.
Talk about dangerous. And stupid. And part of the reason helmets seem to be flying off heads in record numbers the past couple of seasons.
• The call on Poyer negated his 39-yard fumble return for a touchdown that would have tied the score at 14-14 late in the first half. After the penalty, Stanford got the ball at the Oregon State 46-yard line and wound up with a 31-yard field goal and a 17-7 halftime lead.
'I know the intentions (of the targeting-the-head rule) are very good,' Riley said, 'but the call had major ramifications in that game.'
• I'll quarrel with a couple of OSU coaching decisions in the Stanford game.
The first came near the end of the first half, with Stanford ahead 17-7 and Oregon State driving with two timeouts remaining. After Sean Mannion hit Markus Wheaton for 16 yards to the Stanford 28, there were 20 seconds left on the clock. Instead of using one of the timeouts, the Beavers tried to run a play, and tackle Mike Remmers was called for a false start, moving them back five yards with 10 seconds left. They wound up with a 50-yard field goal attempt by Trevor Romaine that was partially blocked on the final play of the half.
After the game, Riley's reasoning was, 'I wanted us to get the play off faster than we did and have two (timeouts) left. We should have been more efficient getting the play off.'
Upon review Sunday, the OSU coach said, 'We should have spiked the ball and had our two timeouts with 18 or 19 seconds left.'
It would have taken at least five or six seconds to line up for the spike, though. The timeout should have been used, saving one timeout with enough time left for two, at best three more plays.
The second came early in the fourth quarter, with Oregon State trailing 31-13 and fourth-and-seven at the Stanford 45. Riley chose to punt.
'We're still trying to win the game,' the OSU coach explained. 'It was much better to try to pin them and get the ball back than give them the ball at midfield with a chance to seal the game.'
Johnny Hekker's punt did pin the Cardinal on their own 5-yard line, from where they embarked on a 13-play, 95-yard TD drive.
Even if they had to punt, though, the Beavers would have required three scores to take the lead - and that's if they were to hold Stanford scoreless the rest of the way. The Beavers should have gone for the first down and hoped they could get into the end zone quickly enough to stay in the game.
• Romaine had an extra point blocked by Stanford, too. Both blocks were more the result of a low kick than anything, because there was little line surge by the Cardinal. Both blocks came on outstretched hands near the line of scrimmage.
• The run game has been disastrous for Oregon State on both sides of the ball most of this season.
OSU ranks 113th nationally with 94.6 yards per game in rushing offense and 77th in rushing defense, yielding 171.2 yards per contest - including 300 to Stanford.
Next up is California, which rushed for 288 yards in a 30-7 rout of Washington State on Saturday.
Cal's offense is similar to Utah's, with a mediocre quarterback (Zach Maynard) but a potent run game.
OSU defensive coordinator Mark Banker is between a rock and a hard place. The Beavers' defense is predicated on stopping the run, but the tackle position is so thin due to injury (Castro Masaniai) and academic defection (Dominic Glover), Kevin Frahm and Andrew Seumalo are playing almost the entire game.
Against Stanford, the first two middle linebackers - Feti Unga and Tony Wilson - sat out due to injuries. The Beavers brought the safeties in to help with the run - Anthony Watkins (12) and Lance Mitchell (10) led the team in tackles - and blitzed the outside linebackers often.
'We had nine men up there a lot of the time,' Riley said.
Oregon State's secondary did a solid job against the pass. Cornerback Rashaad Reynolds got burned for a touchdown once and linebacker Cameron Collins was victimized another time, but the Beavers generally defended Heisman Trophy front-runner Andrew Luck's arm well.
• Oregon State's offensive line was without injured starters Grant Johnson at center and Burke Ellis at guard against Stanford, and the push against the opposing D-line to create running lanes was minimal at best. Even with Johnson and Ellis playing, that has often been the case this season.
The Beavers have made shoring up the O-line a priority. Sunday's verbal commitment by 6-6, 290-pound offensive tackle Garrett Weinreich of Arroyo Grande, Calif., makes it six O-linemen among the 14 commits Oregon State has thus far.
The others: 6-5, 280-pound Gavin Andrews of Granite Bay, Calif.; 6-3, 290-pound Grant Bays of Oceanside, Calif.; 6-4, 260-pound Chase Eldredge of Palos Verdes Estates, Calif.; 6-3, 265-pound Josh Mitchell of Snoqualmie, Wash., and 6-3, 280-pound Isaac Seumalo of Corvallis.
That's in addition to a pair of tight ends - 6-7, 240-pound Caleb Smith of Renton, Wash., and 6-6, 210-pound Dustin Stanton of Marysville, Wash.
Weinreich committed after a visit to Corvallis over the weekend with teammate Brent Vanderveen, the 6-5, 205-pound quarterback who had earlier verballed to OSU. Vanderveen is the only QB the Beavers offered a scholarship to in this recruiting class.
Seumalo and Weinreich were friends and grade school classmates when Seumalo's father, Joe, was coaching at Cal Poly. Joe is now D-line coach for the Beavers.
• Riley was asked if he thinks the attitude of his players remains good heading into the final three games of the season despite a 2-7 record.
'I know it is,' the OSU coach said. 'The effort in the Stanford game is the best indicator.'
Goals the rest of the way?
'No. 1 is, we want to win,' Riley said. 'And we want to keep growing this team. Every ounce of time we get in practice and in the games is a chance for growth for these guys.
'We have to play well for the seniors and also for the young guys' development. This is big for this team now, to win some games here and end the season playing our best football. We're capable of that. We've grown through the season. We've gotten better in a lot of ways. We can't let an ounce of that slip away.'
• Senior Johnny Hekker is doing the best punting of his career these days, but his college career will soon be over. It appears his successor will be Tim McMullen, a 6-3, 215-pound Australian who arrived in Corvallis as a transfer in August after punting as a freshman at Humboldt State last season. McMullen will have two years of eligibility remaining.
'He is getting better and better and practice,' said Riley, adding the decision on whether to give McMullen a scholarship hasn't yet been made. 'He is going to be all right.'
• Finally, I couldn't believe my eyes late in Friday's 42-17 victory by Southern Cal over Colorado.
Inside two minutes left, USC had the ball, fourth-and-three at its own 21-yard line. Rather than punt, the Trojans gave the ball to Amir Carlisle, who ran for 26 yards and a first down. SC ran off three more plays, advancing the ball to the Colorado 16 as time expired.
This after Coach Lane Kiffin left Matt Barkley in to throw a school-record sixth TD pass with seven minutes to play and the issue long since decided.