Oregon State is still a bit of a mystery -- both to the man who runs the team and the man whose team has to face the Beavers this week. While UCLA is preparing for its fourth game of the 2012 season, Oregon State has just one game under its belt.
"We are professional practicers," joked OSU head coach Mike Riley. "It's been a weird start. We've watched a lot of football. We're kind of anxious to get into the rhythm of a season. It's been an interesting start."
Jim Mora's Bruins have a little more 2012 seasoning. But that doesn't make his preparation any easier.
"We only have one game to go off of, but that one game was very impressive," Mora said. "They were very physical, both offensively and defensively. Very well-coached. They play hard and with a lot of emotion. Defensively they've got an excellent group of young men that play technique-sound. They tackle well, they attack. Offensively you see the West Coast influence in terms of their concepts, both run and pass. They are physical, they are precise and they keep you off balance with a lot of personnel groups."
Mora and Riley crossed paths in the NFL -- though they never worked together. Riley is the more veteran college coach and has his team turning heads after a victory over Wisconsin a couple of weeks ago. But because their season opener against Nicholls State was postponed until December, and then a Week 3 bye, he's doing what he can to keep his players motivated until they get back on the field.
"I think our kids have been very focused and worked hard and they played a good first game," Riley said. "I think it was hard just not playing again, but they handled it well and we're into game week so it's all behind us ... we try to spin it as a good week of work and get a couple of guys some rest from injuries."
The Beavers (1-0) are on the verge of breaking into the AP top 25. Last week, the No. 19 Bruins (3-0) played their first game as a ranked team since Sept. 15, 2007. This qualifies as one of those "separation games." Both have scored wins over ranked opponents, yet both have a "show-me-more" burden weighing them down from a shaky recent history.
"For us, it wasn't about change," Mora said. "It was about creating. We weren't trying to change anything. We were trying to create what we believe is the right attitude, the right mindset, the right culture, the right work ethic, the right system -- all of those things to fit what we want to be as a football team and we reinforce it every day with what we do. Our players have responded well. They are hungry to win ... when you have that combination and you have a coaching staff that is committed to creating a culture we believe will help us win, I believe you are able to experience some success."
"They are a good looking football team on both sides of the ball," Riley said. "They are playing extremely well and have been productive. We'll have to tackle well in the open field. They really spread you out. They have a young quarterback that is operating their offense very, very well. Good receiving corp and a great running back. We really need to minimize big plays. That's a key issue. In order to do that we have to tackle well in the open field."
Oregon State is also leaning on a young quarterback, though Sean Mannion has a year of experience under his belt. He's interception-free through one game, completing 61 percent of his throws with a touchdown in the win over Wisconsin. With two sacks and eight tackles for a loss, expect UCLA defensive end Datone Jones to try and make life miserable for Mannion and Co. Through the first three weeks, Jones has emerged as one of the premier defensive playmakers in the conference.
"I don't believe schemes make players, I think players make schemes so I think the credit goes to Datone," Mora said. "And I think the credit also goes to Angus McClure, our defensive line coach who's done a tremendous job with him. I think you also have to credit a couple of the backups that are pushing Datone on a daily basis ... Great competition pushes great competitors to new heights. And I think Datone is a very good competitor who is getting good coaching and getting pushed by some other guys and he's starting to realize his potential."