Conference clashes kickoff in full swing this weekend, and they begin with rematches of two of last year’s top battles. Kansas State fell at the hands of the eventual-national-champion Sooners twice, and once by a mere field goal. UCLA and Oregon State combined for a total of 65 points in the second half alone, in the Ducks’ come-from-behind victory last season. Here is how they stack up this weekend.
Two times too many: K-State (2-0) wants revenge. Even though their 27-member senior class from a year ago is gone, they won’t forget what happened last season. Oklahoma (3-0) ran over K-State twice, once in the regular season and once in the Big XII title game where the Sooners won 27-24 — Oklahoma’s smallest margin of victory in 2000.
K-State’s defense will have to control Sooner running back Quentin Griffin, who is averaging six yards per carry so far. The Wildcats, however, have played tough defense in their first two contests this season. They responded last week with a resounding 64-0 win over New Mexico State. Two weeks ago, K-State’s defense put on another solid performance against USC, winning 10-6 with tremendous defensive pressure all game long.
A defensive struggle will most definitely ensue this weekend at Memorial Stadium, where the Sooners’ national-championship defense from a year ago has apparently improved. The team who wins the time-of-possession battle will win the game.
Deja vu?: UCLA (3-0) was in quite a similar position at this time last season. They were 3-0, heading into Pac-10 play. After defeating Alabama, Fresno State and Michigan, Bruin players, fans and coaches thought they were worthy of a No. 1 ranking.
Then the Bruins lost to Oregon by 19 points, and the downward spiral began. UCLA lost six of its final nine contests, including a shootout to the Beavers, who were down by 10 points in the final quarter, and scored 23 unanswered points to win the game 44-38 in the Rose Bowl.
Now, the Bruins are a much wiser team, and they face off this weekend against Oregon State – a team that Sports Illustrated ranked as its preseason No. 1 team.
Unfortunately for Oregon State (1-1), it has yet to prove that it can play at the same caliber as a year ago. The Beavers were pummeled by Fresno State to begin the season, and they needed to rally late in the game to overcome hapless New Mexico State. Three of their top wide receivers and two tight ends from the Fiesta Bowl-winning team in 2000 are gone.
With these threats gone at receiver, teams have been focusing more on running back Ken Simonton, who is seeking to be the first Pac-10 player ever to rush for 1,000 yards in four consecutive seasons. His numbers are mediocre this year, running for 211 yards in two games on 49 carries. But he has yet to dominate the way he did a year ago.
The Beavers defense has even bigger question marks, especially with the recent loss of strong safety Calvin Carlyle, who will miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury. Their defense already has been subpar, allowing 66 points in their first two games.
For Oregon State to win, it will have to force UCLA running back DeShaun Foster to fumble and turn the fumbles into points. Otherwise, Foster will run rampant, and the Bruin defense, which has been playing superb this season, will give Dennis Erickson’s squad another long day.