Much like the wiseguy at the top of mafia family whose goons keep getting whacked by the revenge-crazed vigilante, Oregon State better watch its back.
The Beavers rolled up 463 total yards in a 38-28 victory last season that wasn’t all that close. Jacquizz Rodgers ran for a career-high 189 yards and four scores, and Stanford couldn’t climb out of the 31-7 hole it was in at halftime.
“They just whooped our butt; every which way it could be whooped,” Andrew Luck said. “They really took it to us in Corvalis. We know they are a tough team capable of beating anybody, and I think they are a little better than their record indicates.”
Oregon State has traipsed through one of the toughest schedules in college football. By the end of the season, it will have played three of the four currently undefeated teams: The Beavers opened with TCU in Texas, played Boise State at home two games later and will end the 2010 campaign by hosting Oregon in the Civil War.
And if you thought Cal was a Jekyll-and-Hyde team, Mike Riley’s club is impossible to get a beat on. It downed Arizona in Tucson but lost to Washington the next week. After a strong home performance over Cal, it dropped back-to-back games versus UCLA and Washington State. That’s right Wazzu, at home, 31-14.
After than embarrassment, most put a fork in Oregon State. But then the Beavers rebounded with perhaps their most dominating performance of the year in a 36-7 decision over USC last week.
This team is dangerous because you don’t know which one is going to show up.
Similar to the Arizona State matchup, many perceive this could be a letdown spot for Stanford. But they’re overlooking the fact that the Big Game wasn’t as “big” in the players’ eyes. And this is a group that doesn’t lose focus.
“The feeling I got afterward wasn’t like the Big Game made our season,” said Sione Fua. “We were happy and everyone enjoyed getting the Axe back but you could tell it was almost like we were already looking forward to the next week.”
The formula for preventing the Beavers from duplicating last year’s production is simple—limit Rodgers. This equation previously had two variables in it, but James Rodgers was lost for the season in Week 6. (Good news for opponents now, but the bad news is that he has applied for a fifth year of eligibility as a medical hardship.)
“It changes their dynamic but they’re still an explosive team,” Richard Sherman said of losing the older Rodgers. “They have weapons; they just have to use them in different ways now that he is out.”
Jim Harbaugh also admitted that losing Rodgers hurt OSU’s offense. But the staple of Mike Riley’s offense hasn’t changed.
“We are still seeing a lot of fly sweep, a lot of bubble (screens),” he said. “They attack, attack, attack the perimeter and then hand off to (Jacquizz) Rodgers on the zone schemes. And he picks his hole or cuts it back. That’s the challenge.”
The adjectives used to describe the younger Rodgers’ style of play are scary. Elusive, speedy, athletic, strong and shifty are just a few. He is unequivocally one of the best backs in the nation, “lightning in a bottle” as Harbaugh put it.
“He’s so small and elusive that he can make you miss,” Fua said. “He’s not very tall but he also plays with a low pad level so you’ve got to get low to tackle him. You can’t arm tackle him because he’ll just break through. It is hard to see him behind the big O-linemen so you’ve just got to trust the blocking schemes that you’re seeing and stay in your gaps.”
Fua said that the defensive gameplan will be to stop the run first, and then put the Beavers in situations where Stanford can blitz and bring pressure up front.
But Oregon State has a wild card up its sleeve. Ryan Katz has blossomed faster than many expected in his sophomore season and has left a “one that got away” impression on Harbaugh.
“I remember him being out here for the Nike camp, when coaches were still allowed to go to it,” he said about recruiting Katz. “I was watching him throw the ball and that voice that comes from offstage is telling me ‘This is the guy. This is a good football player. Look at the tight spirals. He throws the ball very accurately.’ I didn’t listen to that voice enough and I should have.”
The Beavers won’t blow you away with gaudy defensive statistics. But they did hold a potent Trojans offense to 255 total yards last weekend. They have also knocked out a pair of starting quarterbacks this year (Matt Barkley and Kevin Riley).
A player to watch on this side of the ball is Stephen Paea. He has 12 tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles over the last couple of games.
“He looks like he’s a man among boys,” said Luck. “He’s so strong, so physical and fast. I know our O-line is looking forward to the challenge. They always say they want to play the best and he’s definitely one of them.”
Every week it seems like the Cardinal faces one of the top pass-rushing teams in the country. And then that attack is slowed to a crawl against the Tunnel Workers Union. The Beavers are no different, ranking 10th among FBS leaders at 2.9 sacks per game. Something will have to give Saturday.
About the Author: Bootleg Senior Writer Scott Cooley has worked in the sports media industry throughout his professional career, including serving as a writer for an ESPN production house and a professional football franchise. His work has been published in multiple print and online platforms including ESPN.com. He currently writes for yours truly, as well as Bookmaker, Covers and Red Hott Locks. Cooley specializes in football, baseball and basketball with an emphasis on sports betting. Cooley and his wife reside in California, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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