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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Beavers working toward Rose Bowl berth

    There aren’t many surprises about the Oregon State football team. The Beavers aren’t flashy. They’re not going to overpower teams. They’re not going to out-finesse teams either. But they’re going play hard, they’re going to play as a unit, and they’re not going to beat themselves – and that’s a combination that has the No. 21 Beavers in position to play for their first Rose Bowl bid since 1965.

    “”You can’t put the cart before the horse. Everybody is naturally going to bring up that because it is a possibility, but we don’t dwell on it,”” said Oregon State head coach Mike Riley. “”We’ve learned that if you don’t live in the moment and do your best then you’re not going to win, so that tends to bring your focus right back to what’s important.””

    Outside of a few skill players on offense, even football experts would be hard pressed to name starters on Oregon State. But that doesn’t stop the team from putting up impressive numbers.

    The Beavers rank 15th in the nation in total defense (288.9 yards per game), 22nd against the run (109.3) and have the 26th best turnover ratio with each of those marks being behind only USC in the Pacific 10 Conference. The scariest part about those numbers is they do it without star players.

    “”They really complement each other well. They don’t do a ton of stuff defensively, but as a result they execute their defense very well,”” said UA offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes. “”That’s the way they are offensively, too. That’s just kind of their football team, it’s a good solid team.””

    The Beavers are even more sound on the offensive side of the ball and a big part of that is their super freshman running back Jacquizz Rodgers. He busted onto the scene with a 186-yard, two-touchdown performance on 37 carries in a 27-21 upset win over then-No. 1 USC. He hasn’t veered off that course since: he’s gone on to set the Pac-10 freshman rushing record with 1,233 yards, a category he also leads in the conference.

    “”It’s weird. You’ll watch him and he’ll just glide. It’s just, boom. That quick,”” said UA defensive coordinator Mark Stoops. “”That little stuff you really just can’t coach, you can’t teach. You just have a God-given ability to see and be able to make the cuts and find air, find creases, and that’s what he does. … It’s his vision and the ability to make those cuts. He’s moving fast, but he’s patient. He’s just got very good vision.””

    And Jacquizz isn’t the only Rodgers making his presence felt on the Beavers’ offense. His older brother James, a sophomore, is second on the team in rushing (250 yards and four scores on 29 carries) and in receiving (48 catches for 603 yards and four more scores). James also returns punts and kicks and ranks third in the conference, ahead of Jacquizz, in all-purpose yards per game (148.6). In all, the Rodgers brothers account for 296.3 all-purpose yards per game and 21 of Oregon State’s 41 offensive scores.

    “”They’re classy guys. You’ve got to give them credit. They’re gonna come ready to play every down, we just have to give it our all,”” said UA linebacker Ronnie Palmer. “”They’re both exciting players to watch on film. They’re quick. If you’re sitting back on your heels they’ll run you over – at least they’ll try to.””

    And if the Rodgers brothers aren’t running wild, it’s because Lyle Moevao is throwing the ball all over the field. Believe it or not, the Beavers have the Pac-10’s best passing attack (244.6 yards per game) and senior wide out Sammie Stroughter leads the conference in receiving yards (69.1 per game). The duo of Moevao and Stroughter could have been more potent this year, but Moevao injured his shoulder in a win over ASU and is slowly working his way back to 100 percent.

    At least the UA will have a little inside information on how to contain the junior as UA senior safety Nate Ness played with Moevao at El Camino Community College in Torrance, Calif. However, Ness said, “”Lyle grew up a lot since El Camino. He looks real good.””

    And so does the entire Beaver team, Ness added. They play as the very definition of what a team should be and that’s why Oregon State is two wins shy of a conference title. Arizona should be a significant roadblock for the Beavers’ trip to Pasadena, but Oregon’s head coach said there’s not a chance they are is looking past their latest test.

    “”What I said about a month ago was, ‘Let’s just live in the moment,'”” Riley said. “”‘Let’s play games and let’s go, and … if we just do our best each week then we can look up at the end and see where we’re at.'””

    Kimball’s Keys

    Pound the Ground – Arizona might be thought of as a pass-first team, and Oregon State might lead the conference in passing offense, but the ground game will likely decide this game. Rodgers and Rodgers or Grigsby and Antolin. Whichever duo hears their names called more should be smiling by game’s end.

    Keep it to Yourself – The ball that is. Oregon State has the fewest turnovers in the Pac-10 at 14. Arizona is next with 15. Each school has a turnover ratio of +6, tied for 26th in the nation. The school that gives up fewer freebies, or the one that forces the most depending on how it’s looked at, should come out on top.

    Energizer Bunny – The Wildcats shouldn’t have a problem getting amped up after last week’s performance. The Beavers won’t either because of their possible berth in the Rose Bowl. The team that does the best, and longest, impression of the relentless fuzzy pink bunny will be on their way to a better bowl game.

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