Friday, June 19, 2009
Winding things down in the WSU Fish Wrap series are those plucky Beavers from Corvallis. And what "pluckiness" they showed last year, hmmm? Left for dead before the season even started, everyone sold big-time on OSU. And why not? The Beaver D in '07 was tough as nails, and the entire front-seven had moved on for '08. They were a winning outfit, sure, but they hung their hats on a nasty D to help carry the load. Take the teeth away from the Beavs, the thinking went, and they had the look of pushover-city.
Uh, never mind. Those same Beavs who everyone thought would come way back to the pack? They were 60 minutes of football from going to the freakin' ROSE BOWL.
How they do it, well, it's hard to exactly pinpoint. They don't have Oregon-style plasma's in every locker. They don't have "sick" facilities, although the Raising Reser campaign has created a great, cozy gameday setting. They aren't brought to you by Nike, ala Phil Knight and his super-millions. They don't even have high-profile rock-star recruits who call press conferences and then pick a hat from a table. So how do they do it??
I'll tell you how. Mike Riley. That's right, Mike Riley. Well, Mike Riley and his assistants anyway.
Riley gets the headlines, and rightly so. But he's got a great defensive coordinator in Mark Banker and offensive coordinator in Danny Langsdorf. Both assistants are as underrated as they come in the conference. But Riley is the guy who has brought it all together.
They recruit high-character kids who may not have the stars next to their names, but in the end, they are just as good - if not better - than Joe Superstar. They work hard at turning over the rocks, so to speak, to unearth talent they can project into the future. They preach a balanced offense and an attacking, aggressive style on defense that is fun for young men to get out and play. But whatever the reasons may be, there is little doubt that they buy into what Riley's cooking.
Anywho, let's see how they look coming out of spring. Are they ready to make a run at USC? Or will they finally take that step back that people have been predicting - to no avail - for some time? Let's see...
2008: 9-4, 7-2 in conference. A slow 0-2 start made it look like a long, tough season was upon them, but they did what Oregon State always seems to do. They circled the wagons and fought through it, all the way to the end. As stated above, one more win and the Beavs would have invaded Pasadena on New Year's. But alas, it wasn't to be, as the Ducks steamrolled the Beavs, 65-38, in one of the biggest games in OSU football history.
FANS ARE: Pretty happy, all things considered. The expectations, at least nationally, were that the Beavs would flirt with bowl-eligibility, but they certainly wouldn't contend in '08. But another nine-win, bowl winning season made the year a rousing success......but let's face it - the Civil War stung, and probably still stings. Heck, it stings me, and I'm not even a Beav! But to get so close, yet be so far from the promised land at the bitter end, in the fashion that they did against the hated Ducks? I can't imagine a worse feeling than what Beaver Nation went through at the end of that game. I guess that would be like what we, Coug fans, might have felt had the Ryan Leaf-led Cougs lost to UW to end the 1997 season?
And sure, it might have hurt worse if they missed a field goal or got screwed on a bad call, something along those lines. Some might say getting blown out like they did softened the fall, at least a little bit. Me? I don't think so. To lose to the arrogant, "superior" Ducks with everything on the line must still bring pain and suffering across Corvallis.
LAST TIME vs. WSU: A 66-13 drubbing at Reser Stadium. Not only was the team blown out, but so was Ocho Rojo's knee. The Cougs would lose promising QB Marshall Lobbestael to a blown-out knee that would shelve him for the rest of '08.
It was kind of an odd game. The Beavs stormed out of the gates for a 21-0 first quarter lead. But the Cougs showed life, and fought back to close it to 21-13. Then the wheels fell off, as Oregon State would score SIX TD's in the second half while pitching a shutout against the ineffective Cougar offense.
OFFENSIVE SYSTEM: They like to roll with three-WR sets, a tight end and a running back in the classic one-back/west coast hybrid system. They like to mix it up though, running some shotgun as well as the "fly sweep", where a WR in motion comes back across the line of scrimmage and takes the handoff. They also love to play-action out of the fly sweep, always trying to keep the opposing defense guessing.
'08 OFFENSIVE RATINGS: 5th in the PAC-10 in scoring offense (30.5 ppg), 6th in rushing O with 131.2 ypg, 2nd in passing offense with 249 yards per game. Overall they were 3rd in the conference in total offense, at just over 407 yards per game.
'09 RETURNING STARTERS: Looks like seven, if you count Lyle Moevao. Moevao had some shoulder surgery in the off-season and missed spring ball entirely, as the shoulder showed more damage than they initially thought. But Sean Canfield has started 11 games in his career, and won two starts last year in relief of Moevao, both on the road (at UCLA, at Arizona). He should be ready to go if Moevao isn't cleared for action.
TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER: Hmmm. Well, I guess we could go with the returning PAC-10 offensive player of the year?
Jacquizz Rodgers had an amazing frosh season, totaling 1253 yards and 11 TD's. He also hauled in 29 balls for 247 yards and a score out of the backfield. He was absolutely BIG TIME against USC, where he had 186 yards rushing, with many of the cut-back type runs that drove the Trojan D absolutely crazy. Small (5-6) but lightning quick, shifty as hell and what they say is "great vision", Rodgers could do some serious damage to the PAC-10 record book before it's all said and done.
How valuable was he? Rodgers injured his shoulder late in the year, and missed the Civil War. We know what happened there. He also missed the Sun Bowl, where the Beavers slogged their way to the most boring bowl game ever, a 3-0 win over Pitt. Without Rodgers, the offense was a different animal. With him last year, they could beat anyone. Even USC.
He combines with his brother, James, to form one heck of an explosive tandem. Check it out:
DEFENSIVE SCHEME: 4-3, but they don't sit back and wait for things to happen. These guys are fast, physical and they force the issue, never shy to blitz from anywhere to bring pressure.
'09 RETURNING DEFENSIVE STARTERS: Just three starters are back, one tackle and two linebackers. The entire secondary will feature four new starters. We've heard this before, but still, it's an extremely young defense.
'08 DEFENSIVE RANKINGS: One of the better D's in the PAC, they would finish 2nd in total defense (312.2 ypg). They were just 6th in rushing defense, giving up 131.2 yards per game. That was a little disappointing, as they are normally right near the top in rushing D. But they were good against the pass, finishing third in passing yards per game (180.9) and fifth in pass efficiency defense. Best of all, they were second in the conference in sacks, with 39 (Oregon led with 40).
TOP RETURNING DEFENSIVE PLAYER: It's tempting to go with the playmaking d-tackle, Stephen Paea. He was honorable mention all-conference last year, and had 41 tackles with 11 for loss, including five sacks from the defensive interior. But I'll go with Keaton Kristick, the all-everything senior linebacker.
Kristick is the leading returning tackler on the team, with 82 stops at outside linebacker. Good size at 6-3, 226, there was some speculation this spring that he might move to inside linebacker on occasion. Kristick is that good. He had an impressive 14 tackles for loss in '08, third on the team, including 3.5 sacks. He should have an all-conference type senior year and is one of the most complete linebackers in the PAC-10.
TOP THREE POST SPRING PRACTICE QUESTIONS:
1) Can the D really reload this year? Or is this the season we finally see them come back to the pack?
It's a tough nut to crack, and the D could really see some adjustments this year. While last year the hype was that they lost their entire front seven, they did return a lot of experience in the secondary. But this year, however, it's a different deal, with all four spots in the defensive backfield up for grabs. The losses of leading pass-rushers up front, Slade Norris and Victor Butler, could really hurt. Without those two guys, there might be a lot more attention paid to Stephen Paea inside. Norris and Butler combined for 22 of the team's 39 sacks in '08, one of the top pass-rushing tandems in the PAC-10. Losing that ability off the edges, all in one swoop, could really hurt. After all, this is an aggressive, pressure defense that relies on a strong pass rush and tight coverage from their corners. If the pass rush takes a hit, well, the trickle-down could lead to some real trouble for the secondary. D-coordinator Banker is great, but is he THAT great? We'll see.
2) Is Jacquizz Rodgers really THAT good? Or now that people have seen him, will he have the dreaded sophomore slump?
While yes, the sophomore slump can certainly happen? I think it's fair to say that Rodgers is the real thing. At least that's the consensus from what you hear around the conference. Everyone who has seen him thinks he's the real thing. He did benefit from a strong, experienced offensive line, but it's not like this kid is a one-trick pony. He's the complete package, and even at his size, showed the ability to run inside against the likes of USC last year. His cutbacks and moves are something else, and he'll be a headache for every team they face in '09.
The shoulder injury is a concern, not so much that it's like a blown knee or foot injury or whatever. Those types of injuries are never good for a running back, just like an elbow injury is never good for a major-league pitcher? But the idea that his smaller frame can survive the pounding that a feature back takes over a long 12-game schedule might have some folks holding their breath this year. You may also see him head to the sidelines quickly if there are some games where they are either way ahead or way behind. The tires are only good for so many miles, and Rodgers led the conference with 259 carries last year. As the old saying goes with running backs, it's not the years, it's the mileage that matters.
3) The predictable, "How's the schedule?" question?
Pretty reasonable, at least early in the season. They open with three of their first four at home, and the lone road game is at UNLV. Their non-conference slate consists of Portland State, UNLV and Cincinnati at home. The Bearcats will be tough, but it's in Corvallis, so you probably have to like OSU in that one.
Where it gets hairy is later in the year. Overall they have five PAC-10 road games, including at USC, at Cal and of course, the Civil War, at Oregon to close out the year. But at home, they get Arizona, Stanford, UCLA and UW, all games they should be favored to win.
WSU FOOTBALL BLOG SEZ: Knowing what we know about Oregon State, it would be foolish to pick against them. Wouldn't it? Riley is now 5-0 in bowl games, one good way to measure the ability of a coach when given time to game plan, get healthy, scheme and tweak for an opponent. And the Beavers are the trend-setters in terms of closing hard and fast. In '08 they won seven out of their last eight after starting the year 2-3. Even better, since '06, the Beavs are now 22-5 over October, November and December.
As astonishing as it might seem, this is the third-best program in the PAC-10 since the turn of the century, behind only USC and Oregon. Think about that. That's not a one or two or even three-year fluke. This is nine straight years, and counting, that they have been third-best in the conference. This, from a program that holds the D-1 record, suffering through 28 CONSECUTIVE LOSING SEASONS!?! From 1971 - 1998, Oregon State went an amazing 65-238-6. YUCK!
The Cougs have only beaten OSU once in the last five times they've played, a 13-6 defensive struggle in Corvallis in '06. Otherwise, it's been all Beavs. In fact, Oregon State has won the last two by a combined score of 118-30. OUCH. OSU plays UW at home 11/14, then at Pullman on 11/21. They then have a bye before the Civil War on 12/3.
OSU has now now morphed the program into one that has layers upon layers of depth. 2008 is exhibit ONE on how far they have come as a program. Who knows, but ten years ago, an OSU team losing that many experiences bodies coming into '08? They would have rolled out a three-win clunker. Ten years later? They are a game from Pasadena. We tip our hats to Oregon State, and hope that one day, Paul Wulff can build this thing into something like the Beaver Nation has right now.
That's about it for a Friday. Enjoy it, and as always, GO COUGS!