I have to admit that I'm starting to worry about Saturday's game. Even though I wrote yesterday that it's time to move past Big Game, the game was replayed yesterday afternoon and I got sucked in to watching it again.
After watching the players celebrating on the sideline and cavorting with the Axe, it was immediately clear why these rivalry games should be the last game of the season. How could this team be expected to regain its focus? How could they be expected to put that Axe away and turn their attention to a team six hundred miles away?
I have faith in Jim Harbaugh, and I have faith in Andrew Luck, but even so I thought it might be a good idea to take another look at the Beavers. I reached out to Cliff Kirkpatrick of the Corvallis Gazette-Times for his take on Oregon State football and some thoughts on the game. Enjoy!
Kirkpatrick: When the Beavers look at recruits they try to project what they will be in four or five years. That's why their recruiting classes rank so low, but then send a steady stream of players into the NFL. The Beavers develop players physically and mentally with a steady system. The stability in the coaching staff helps this along.
GMC: The Beavers played an insanely difficult schedule this year (four of the top six teams in the current BCS poll), but there were also surprising losses. Which is the real Beaver team -- the one that hammered USC last weekend or the one that lost to Washington State two weeks ago? How did things go so wrong from the Beavers this year?
Kirkpatrick: The real team has the potential to play like it did against USC. That wasn't a fluke. However, there's a killer instinct missing. The Beavers play up for a USC, but thought it could show up and beat a Washington State. That's why games are so close. That attitude might have contributed to the UCLA and Washington losses, too. There's no reason for not having at least two more wins.
GMC: We've seen lots from Oregon's LaMichael James -- both as he ran through and around the Stanford defense and in highlights from the rest of his season -- but Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers doesn't get as much publicity as James. Can you compare these two backs?
Kirkpatrick: They are very similar. Jacquizz Rodgers received plenty of publicity the last two years when the Beavers were winning more, and knocked off No. 1 USC. LaMichael James this year is on a dominating No. 1 team. He has a standout offensive line, while the Beavers haven't run blocked well all year. Rodgers works hard to shed tacklers in the backfield instead of the secondary. Rodgers, however, is more complete of a back because he's such a good receiver, pass blocker, and run blocker.
GMC: The Cardinal defense has gotten better each week, but they still have trouble defending teams that can get the ball to fast, athletic receivers in space where they can make plays. Whom do the Beavers have that fit that description?
Kirkpatrick: Markus Wheaton is the big-play guy now that James Rodgers is out for the season with a knee injury. Wheaton is a speedy guy with good hands. He'll run reverses, catch it short and do something with the ball, or be a deep threat. Jordan Bishop has been an occasional deep threat. Jacquizz Rodgers is who the Beavers get in space and let make plays.
GMC: How will the defense handle the Cardinal offense? I'm guessing that Stephen Paea will be part of the equation, but what else can we expect to see from the Beavers on that side of the ball?
Kirkpatrick: It's a stop the run first kind of defense. The Beavers will take away the ball carriers, let the secondary go one-on-one with the receivers. Once Stanford is one dimensional the Beaver pin their ears back and take out the QB. That's how they approach it every week. The best way to stop OSU's defense is with a running QB. You send the receivers deep, let the defensive line rush by the QB and he has open field to run on a regular basis.
GMC: Finally, what's your prediction? How's this game going to turn out?
Kirkpatrick: Since Andrew Luck can run, I expect him to take advantage of the Beavers that way. Once he does that enough, the secondary will run support too much and Luck and hit the deep pass. OSU's offense should put up numbers but won't be able to keep up with Stanford. The safe prediction is Stanford over the Beavers. That being said, if the Beavers play with the attitude of the USC game and execute they can pull an upset because they match up well with the exception of Luck.