22.Aug.2012 The Art of War, and How it Relates to Football

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Some people don't like comparing football to war. Those people should stop reading now.

I agree, they aren't the same thing, but there are similarities and lessons to learn.

On that note, I'm re-reading The Art of War in an attempt to understand what goes into a successful "battle" (let's call it a "football game" for the sake of this argument and blog). From Sun Tzu's masterpiece:

The art of war, then, is governed by five constant factors, to be taken into account in one's deliberations, when seeking to determine the conditions obtaining in the field.

These are:

  • Moral Law
  • Heaven
  • Earth
  • The Commander
  • Method and Discipline

The Moral Law causes people to be in accord with their ruler.

Heaven signifies night and day, cold and heat.

Earth comprises distances, great and small, open ground and narrow passes.

The commander stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage, and strictness.

By method and discipline are to be understood the marshaling of the army in its proper subdivisions, the graduations of rank among the officers, [etc]

So let's relate these to football.

The moral law: basically, the players must respect their coach and unquestionably obey him.

Heaven: The Beavers could use things like the saturated air and rainy weather to their advantage. Oregon has done this brilliantly with their heavy run game and fast pace (an advantage in their native humidity but also a potential opponents' heat). Beavs should be a heavy run team with a short passing game–two things that excel in rainy conditions.

Earth: This would be the field. Since fields are standardized, it doesn't really apply, but I would argue that a grass field would give the Beav's an "Earth" advantage. Again, in damp conditions a muddy field would help the team familiar with it. By using field turf, it neutralizes that advantage over the opponent.

The Commander: Obviously, this is RIley. Wisdom (check), Sincerity (check), benevolence (check), courage (no), strictness (no). You can see why Riley is not the ideal leader.

Method and Discipline: This is where the Beavs most obviously fall apart. The correct players are rarely on the field or in the correct position to succeed, and the rank of "officers" (i.e. coordinators) is determined by nepotism, favoritism, and stubbornness more than rank.

Tzu goes on to say

By means of these [see below] seven considerations I can forecast victory or defeat

  1. Which of the two sovereigns is imbued with the Moral law?
  2. Which of the two generals has most ability?
  3. With whom lie the advantages derived from Heaven and Earth?
  4. On which side is discipline most rigorously enforced?
  5. Which army is stronger?
  6. On which side are officers and men more highly trained?
  7. In which army is there greater consistency both in reward and punishment?

Again, let's quickly break these down:

  1. Moral law = player respect for their coaches. The Beavs have this.
  2. Riley is rarely the better general, but it's exaggerated against coaches like Chip Kelly (who epitomizes Tzu's writing).
  3. Beavs could have advantages here, but they have freely chosen to neutralize them. This shows lack of understanding in their "army"…
  4. Beavs have poor discipline.
  5. Beavs rarely have the "stronger army" due to poor recruiting.
  6. Players receive good training (i.e. coaching), but their skill level is usually less than the opponent. In other words, there's only so much coaching up for the Beav army…
  7. Beavs really suffer in this department. There is no consistency in punishment, especially on the field. Riley enforces off the field issues well…

Again, I'm trying to understand what is wrong with our program. I watch other teams, and everything is so much easier. Something is not right in Corvallis. I think understanding the rigid mindset required to win any battle helps shed light on the flaws in our program. Hope this helps others' see the light.

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  • rsteve503 rsteve503 says:
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    I always distrust anything held to be full of wisdom, that has been translated from another language, and in this case, an ancient language. Translations are never exact.

    Then there is what Wikipedia has to say:

    “Sun Tzu considered war as a necessary evil that must be avoided whenever possible. It notes that “war is like fire; people who do not lay down their arms will die by their arms”[5]. The war should be fought swiftly to avoid economic losses: “No long war ever profited any country: 100 victories in 100 battles is simply ridiculous. Anyone who excels in defeating his enemies triumphs before his enemy’s threat become real”. According to the book, one must avoid massacres and atrocities because this can provoke resistance and possibly allow enemy to turn the war in his favor[5]. For the victor, “the best policy is to capture the state intact; it should be destroyed only if no other options are available”[5].

    So…..if you want to see college football in this context, you would drop the sport. Not have a team.

    No long war ever profited a country? If WW2 had lasted only a short time, the US might not have got involved, and become the dominant power that it did become, with Germany, Russia, Japan and Europe, devastated.

    The Vietnam war was a long one, and it greatly profited the Vietnamese, in the winning of their freedom and uniting their country.

    I think he was wrong, to even try to generalize on something as complex as war.

    • angry angry says:
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      Yes, there’s a lot more to lose by going to war than by playing a football game, so I’m not saying they’re the same thing (said the opposite, in fact). But, I think that “battle” mindset is successful in football. Look at the teams/coaches who have had success in the past ten years, and then compare them against Tzu’s checklist for what makes a good army. Then think about how things are done at OSU…

      I think the point is made. If you don’t, cool.

  • bone says:
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    Very interesting post. Good stuff.

  • slamadam says:
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    cool post angry. the art of war is definitely on my reading agenda. what’s interesting is that it seems to suggest riley is a good leader, just not good enough compared to others when held to sun tzu’s standards. this reminds me of the chess analogy post you made some time last season (i’m too lazy to find it) which essentially suggested the same conclusion. seems like the facts about what riley is and what he isn’t is becoming more and more clear.

  • ObjCritic says:
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    unfortunately, the first battle is in recruiting. These rules do not apply here. See oregon, usc, ohio state, lsu.

  • Jack says:
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    I think you’ll find The Book of Five Rings to be more apropos. And you’ll likely find quote after quote from Miyamoto Musashi to your model.

    You can see the documentary by Mark Dacascos (yes, of B-grade “kung fu” movies and Iron Chef fame) online for a more succinct bio. But the book is comprehensive and right in line with what you’re trying to do here.

  • OStateBro says:
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    Well constructed post. Like it.

  • ChrisOSAlum ChrisOSAlum says:
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    I don’t think you are qualified to make judgements about the discipline of the football team from your armchair in California. I think you need to get to a practice once in a while…

    I love the quote from The Junction Boys where one of the Fathers lectures Bear Bryant after he pushes his kid to heat stroke. He says, “I’ve been to war, football is a game.”

  • HopefulBeav says:
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    This is actually a really interesting and well written analogy. Before people read too far into this, in no way am I saying (nor do I think Angry is) football players and members of the military make anywhere near the same sacrifice. But I do think if you look at the years where the Beavs were playing really well, we seemed to have most of these going in our favor. Over the last two years I would say most of these have not gone our way.

    I think ObjCritic has a good point too, but I see it differently than he does (or maybe I misinterpreted his post). I agree recruiting is currently the biggest obstacle and I point to that as a major (the major?) reason why even in our good years we were still never able to get to a Rose Bowl. An elite general/coach who has soldiers/players with a lot of heart can surprise and win a battle/game against the odds, but it’s very hard for a severely undermanned unit to actually win a war/conference title.

  • VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
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    OT- Anyone else watch the Pac-12 networks osu preview show with Neuheisel?
    First I’ve seen Riley mention getting back Rose bowl contention as soon as possible.
    Neuheisel predicts we go bowling.

    • Krogercomplete says:
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      God I hate slick Rick, and half their player info was wrong. Well, maybe not half.

      • Numbers says:
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        I like Slick Rick in this role. He works good as a nonsense and fluff guy. Not so much as a solid coach.

  • Kenny Beaver says:
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    Yes,saw it and heard the same from Riley. He definitely thinks that they can get back there but I think Washington is much better than 3 years ago and so is Stanford. Having to play both of them every year plus Oregon makes the task much tougher now than 3 years ago. WSU was also awful back then and should be better under Leach. Without better recruiting, there will not be a Rose Bowl because even if we win the North, there is still USC.

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      Anyone else seeing that Colorado helmet on the ducks jersey in the back ground. They’ve had it that way for all the preview shows so far. Bugs the shit outta me, come on someone fix it!

    • Numbers says:
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      Stanford is gonna suck this year and just get worse. I have far more faith in Banker and Langsdorf than I would in David Shaw.

      • WFO WFO says:
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        Yep. Harbaugh was that team. Yes,I know Luck was a stud,but if Harbaugh was still there the next guy would do great too.

        “What’s your deal?”

      • angry angry says:
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        Yep. Same.

  • Jack says:
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    OT… Proof that OSU never could stop the option… and always had shanked punts.

  • Jack says:
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    Oops… Forgot the proof.

    • Numbers says:
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      Little bit biased? They didn’t show a single positive OSU play. Did MSU make an exchange trip to Corvalis?

      • Jack says:
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        Our history against MSU (2-6-1):

        1915: OSU 20 – @MSU 13 (10/30)
        1942: OSU 7 – @MSU 7 (11/28)
        1948: @OSU 21 – MSU 46 (10/30)
        1949: OSU 25 – MSU 20 (11/12 in Portland)
        1950: OSU 13 – @MSU 38 (9/23)
        1951: OSU 0 – @MSU 6 (9/22)
        1952: OSU 14 – MSU 17 (10/4 in Portland)
        1953: OSU 6 – @MSU 34 (10/31)
        1971: OSU 14 – @MSU 35 (9/25)

        1971 was the last time we played MSU. It was also the last time a Big 10 team (Iowa) visited Corvallis.

    • bone says:
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      Or win a out of conference game on the road early in the season.

    • angry angry says:
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      hahahah
      wow, they play exactly the same.

  • bendbeaver bendbeaver says:
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    Your quote here is interesting: “I watch other teams, and everything is so much easier. Something is not right in Corvallis. ”

    I would say that you’re probably looking for what’s wrong with OSU’s program, and cherry picking what’s right in other programs and ignoring what the problems are in those programs. Fans of other teams can identify as many issues with their team as you do with the Beavs. Every pac-12 team has the goal of going to a good bowl game (how many is that, 4 bowls?). That means in December there will be 8 teams fan base saying “something is not right in ___________”.

    I understand it’s a Beav page, but your concerns generalize to other teams.

    P.S. saying Kelly epitomizes Tzu’s writing is an example of cherry picking.

  • bone says:
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    Hey angry, I’m at the practice today. Richie might be seeing the field this year….. As a long snapper. Looked pretty good.

  • MonkeyLuven MonkeyLuven says:
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    I would also read The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli. It is more philosophical in the sense that it covers more than just the battlefield, but also politics, human qualities, moral principles, and the need for realism over idealism. One of my favorite quotes is military based though:

    “One must not permit a disorder to persist inorder to avoid war, for war is not avoided thereby, but merley deferred to one’s own disadvantage.”

    • angry angry says:
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      Isn’t that “the end justifies the means”…?

      I read that like..20 years ago but don’t remember much.

      • MonkeyLuven MonkeyLuven says:
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        To an extent. But it gets deep. It focuses mostly on what a prince who comes into power must do to maintain their power. That’s where the whole, “it’s better to be feared than loved” saying originates.

        • bone says:
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          Or Riley could take a page out of Michael Scott’s book. “I want people to be afraid of how much they love me”.

        • angry angry says:
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          oh yeah, i vaguely remember that. i’ll reread it since i only remember 1% of the book

          • JD says:
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            ha. I know that I read it and possibly remember which class I read it for but I don’t know if I remember 1% of the book.

  • locusimperium says:
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    who is the RB rivals is talking about?

    • angry angry says:
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      Lawrence Mattison, 3 stars and one other offer (Houston)

      Tym Pearson joins as a walk-on…he was a decent recruit in ’09

    • Jack says:
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      Just saw that… Lawrence Mattison. He was offered long ago, so I’ve checked on him every once in a while. He was leaning toward TCU forever, but a TCU forum said early this week they have since stopped talking to him because they have one RB and one primary target on the hook.

      He visitied UTSA the other day, and they seem excited about him. There was a quote on one of their blogs that he has them #1 because he doesn’t want to redshirt. He wants PT.

      Good stats… will draw comparisons to Jackson if he comes here.

      • Jack says:
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        Btw… the reason Mattison is lightly recruited is because he was a troubled child who now has a story of personal redemption. If you read some of the articles written about him from last year, you’ll find that he was “this close” to just being another dead banger at 20 if it wasn’t for a mom who shipped him off to live with an uncle in North Carolina.

        Yes, it’s actually a neat deal about someone with some serious skills… big back with sub-4.5 speed… and likes contact.

        • ncaa_viOlation ncaa_viOlation says:
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          I really like to see a back who isn’t afraid to run over the defense instead of around them. Sometimes a straight line is the quickest way to get from point A to point B, and if there’s a defender in the way, make him sorry for putting himself in that position. He might think twice about it next time.

      • ObjCritic says:
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        I like this kid, and he’ll likely get bigger. I hope they can get him signed.

        • Jack says:
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          The tape above is of him playing at 250#. He’s lost 25# to get in shape for this year. Obviously, the tape doesn’t show someone with 4.47 speed, which is what he recently timed.

          • Mud&Sticks Mud&Sticks says:
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            Wonder if he’d consider switching over to LB?

      • slamadam says:
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        i like him, tough runner, can jump over db’s who go for his ankles, definitley knows how to go between the tackles. he’s getting damn good blocking on a lot of these plays though, may not be the case if goes with the beavs.

    • Jack says:
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      Twitter feed from Adam Gorney is all I follow for Rivals. He teases about Beau Herschberger and OSU. Are we finally going to offer the kid?

  • bone says:
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    Terrain ward is a very solid player that does a lot of thigs very well. Except pass, just ran a halfback pass and he had cooks wide open and under threw him by like 10 yards and got picked. A pretty funny play from practice today.

    • rsteve503 rsteve503 says:
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      I find that disturbing, not funny. The coaches cant learn who can throw a HB pass, and who cant? Or are all the running backs that bad at passing? Yikes.

      • bone says:
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        Maybe storm can throw better and that’s why he got the nod over ward. I’m sure we won’t see ward throwing ball anytime soon.

      • BeavInEugene says:
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        Ummm, generally the time to try these plays and see who can and cannot run them is in…wait for it, are you sitting down? This might come as a shock. PRACTICE! Hell, it isn’t even practice, its Fall Camp.

        When do you expect the coaches to know?

      • bendbeaver bendbeaver says:
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        What’s actually disturbing is that bone spelled his name Terrain.

        • Dwill03 Dwill03 says:
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          If Bone was updating us while attending practice (most likely on his phone), I would chalk that up to auto-correct. Bone, are you going to attempt a Silversteam-esque write up?

          • bone says:
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            Yeah damn smart phone. But I don’t think I can live up to the legend that is silverstream. I just try and report a few things that I saw.

  • GoBeavs90 says:
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    Storm Woods is officially the starting RB. Not a surprise.

    • angry angry says:
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      Interesting. I think we’ll see a lot of Agnew even if he’s not the starter…

      Curious to see what Woods can do. I had him ranked slightly higher than Agnew on signing day
      http://angrybeavs.com/rankings/4722

      • capitalcause says:
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        Interesting to look at that list again — Trosin was certainly a big bust on your list…Whatever happened to Jackson? What was the reasoning again for having Woods, Agnew and Wynn as far down as you did? Not bashing, just find reviewing this stuff interesting…a time capsule…

        • angry angry says:
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          Trosin was a bust a OSU due to off the field issues, but I think he’ll still be productive.

          Jackson retired due to knee issues, so again, hard to judge…

          Regarding Woods and Agnew: I just think the players above them are better…still do. Probably need another two years before looking at this list again and seeing how accurate it was. I think overall it looks pretty good. Might have bumped Fernando up a bit, and Barnett surprisingly hasn’t done anything yet. Those are the ones I’m not happy with.

          If you look under rankings you can view other classes, too.

        • ObjCritic says:
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          Has anybody that’s been to practice noticed if Noa Aluesi has any significant promise? Physically, he really has the change to grow into a different DE than OSU usually has. I have also seen/heard him talked about at DT. Current roster has him at DE.

      • ncaa_viOlation ncaa_viOlation says:
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        Agnew has the speed to be our kick and punt returner. I don’t think its in Poyer’s best interest to be playing that role any more than he has to. Too much risk for injury and he is too important to this team on defense.

        • Beavergopher Beavergopher says:
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          My hammy

        • WFO WFO says:
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          I thought Stevenson was getting return reps?

          I agree, Poyer should not be returning kicks.

        • ObjCritic says:
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          Is Cooks returning punts? I like the idea of maybe Ward and Cooks on KO returns, Cooks on PR. I agree on giving Poyer a break, though I’d make an exception if they let him run the wildcat.

          I think Cooks is going to be a big contributor this year. The O skill positions have so much potential this year, they really could spread the ball around – Wheaton, Cooks, ‘Boom, Mullaney, Caleb Smith, Connor Hamlett, Woods out of the backfield…

        • Max says:
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          Don’t underestimate the importance of special teams. I think in today’s game you have to make your best open field athlete the returner.

          Worked well for LSU and Oregon last year.

    • WFO WFO says:
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      Love it.

      Looks like Quizz put his money on the right guy.

      Here’s hoping Agnew can stay healthy with a lighter load cuz I still like his game.

    • Bill says:
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      His blocking must have improved tremendously.

      Only drawbacks I see here are the similarities to McCants. Big strong back with lots of potential. Great player in practice but game not so much.

      • GoBeavs90 says:
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        I don’t see many similarities, really. Woods has a lot more talent. I’m excited to see how he does.

    • ObjCritic says:
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      Maybe he holds onto the ball better than Agnew? Also, Riley did say earlier that Woods had become a very good receiver out of the backfield.

      I like it; I think he runs with a little “anger” (from his HS film) and I don’t think he’s as upright and wooden as McCants.

      • WFO WFO says:
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        It’d be nice to keep Agnew healthy and fresh for a dozen or so fresh legs carries in the 4th quarter. Dude’s a bruiser and he’d be a hell of a load to get ahold of after 3 quarters. Just not too many so he doesn’t get hurt. 🙂

  • bone says:
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    A Storm is brewing in Corvallis!

    • Jack says:
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      Oh gawd!

      Does that mean the O-line will be called the Storm Front?

      • rsteve503 rsteve503 says:
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        Please, god, have the media not notice this, and use it and blow it up until we start winning some games.

      • krogercomplete says:
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        I hope to god I see “Storm Front” displayed somewhere prominently in the next few weeks.

        • osubaby osubaby says:
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          Storms’ name is fitting for the state of Oregon. Storm and Woods, that rocks!!

          • angry angry says:
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            He has one of the best names ever. If he’s good, he (and OSU) will get hype for his name alone.

            Also, I am thinking of changing my name, legally, to Storm Woods….love it!

  • angry angry says:
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    negative rankings on this post?
    I guess JP is lurking…

  • BeaverBill BeaverBill says:
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    I too saw the Pac-12 network OSU preview (most of it… finish after work). I to was surprised at how positive Nuginhisal was. One thing that really stood out to me was comments by Wheaten. He said he was attracted to OSU when they beat USC in 2006.

    Winning is key to attracting good players. I’m worried about a staff that isn’t the best at recruiting and now has the last 2 seasons on record. USC has a tradition of winning which brings in the talent even though they have been hit with sanctions.

    In the words of Al Davis, “just win baby win!” My hope is we win this year and unlike Al Davis, do it with integrity. If we don’t win this year and next, we are headed for the dark ages again.

  • GoBeavs90 says:
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    Riley says he wants to “Get Vaz some time this season” and he’s really high on him. I REALLY wish he wouldn’t have said this, especially after what happened last season.

    • angry angry says:
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      Vaz has some J. Smith in him…

      • ncaa_viOlation ncaa_viOlation says:
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        really? I haven’t seen him play enough, but from the sample I’ve seen, he’s doesn’t have the ice water in his veins that Smith had. Hopefully we do get to see him a little this year. He’s put in the time to be a player and might just need to get his chance. That being said, Mannion will be very difficult to supplant and I don’t see Vaz doing it during his career.

      • Beavergopher Beavergopher says:
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        to each his own…….

    • bone says:
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      I wouldn’t mind seeing Vaz play in games. But only in the case that we have built a big lead or, God forbid, Mannion goes down with injury. But Vaz had a couple of very nice throws today.

      • rsteve503 rsteve503 says:
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        Hey, the number two is just an ankle sprain or jammed finger from being no 1, so it is REALLY good that Vaz is doing good things. That is some real insurance, man.

    • ObjCritic says:
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      I think he should get some strategic, non-garbage time with the first unit. A series in the third qtr of the opener would be nice as the opener should have a high energy game feel for the players. A series in the third of some other competitive winnable games, and all the garbage time he can get.

  • Jack says:
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    OT… I’m jealous. Vid of pre-match Barca v. Real Madrid taken by OSU hoops.
    http://www.telly.com/XZ6OR?fromtwitvid=1

  • bone says:
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    Connor Hamlett impressed me today at practice, big target and made a couple of full extension grabs in traffic. Caleb Smith looked good also.

    • Alex says:
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      According to Scout, Hamlett has been a very effective blocker all fall camp, the best of the TE’s and vastly better than Prince.

  • Beaverbill Beaverbill says:
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    Watching 2006 OSU vs USC right now. Serna was such a stud, really miss that guy.

  • progressivebeav says:
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    Storm seems like a good kid:

    Can’t wait to see him run.

  • Beaver Byte says:
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    Storm Woods being named the starter adds some extra intrigue to the start of the season. I like the move. He probably has the most durability of our top runners. Hopefully Agnew is healthy all season and can provide a great counterpoint to our attack with Ward and Jenkins also very effective when called upon.

    Can Storm Woods be a 1200 yard rusher?
    http://beaverbyte.com

  • ObjCritic says:
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    OT, but here’s an interesting read on WSU’s freshman receiver:

    http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/cougarfootball/2018979366_cougarfootball24.html

    I think this is going to be an interesting game for the Beavs, and one they may lose. Playing against the Air Rad all day with some shallow CB experience after the starters may be a problem.

    I like how they track and report data to spur competition and motivation:

    “…competitiveness is a byproduct of his position group, where every film session is preceded by a chart review of how many balls were caught, how many dropped and how many yards gained after catches.

    It was within that subset that Marks began to push Wilson.”

    I don’t know if OSU tracks numbers like that. But I do think OSU/WSU is going to be a competitive and entertaining game.

    • Numbers says:
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      I guessing it’ll be a shellacking. I just don’t know which side will be on top yet…

  • ObjCritic says:
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    The Seattle Times Bud Whiter’s picks OSU as his “Sleeper” team for the Pac-12 North:

    http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/pac12confidential/2018978768_the_team_everybodys_sleeping_on.html#continue

  • JD says:
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    8 days til tailgating!!!

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