November 27, 2008

Pac-10: Oregon State closes in on historic title

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A Republican senator from Arizona lost the Presidential election and Oregon State was bound for the Rose Bowl.

That sentence might appear an example of looking ahead, especially with the Beavers needing a win over Oregon on Saturday to clinch a Rose Bowl berth. But it's actually a case of looking back.

The last time Oregon State appeared in the Rose Bowl was just after the '64 presidential election in which Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) lost to Lyndon Johnson in a landslide.

And just a few weeks after Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) lost a lopsided race to Barack Obama whose brother-in-law is Oregon State's basketball coach the Beavers are hoping to clinch a return trip to Pasadena.

Obviously, karma is on Oregon State's side, but the Beavers need more than that to prevail in the "Civil War" against Oregon, which has won four of its past five.

Oregon boasts the Pac-10's highest-scoring offense and the conference's best rushing attack, led by tailbacks Jeremiah Johnson and LeGarrette Blount, who both have rushed for more than 800 yards and average more than six yards per carry. They will test an Oregon State defense that ranks second in the Pac-10 but has allowed more than 30 points in each of the Beavers' three losses.

Could the combination of Oregon's offense, the pressure of playing an archrival with the Rose Bowl at stake and the likely absence of leading rusher Jacquizz Rodgers, who has a shoulder injury, be too much for Oregon State to bear?

"We have a good defense and they will stretch us with that offense," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "There's a lot we'll have to deal with. It will come down to the tangible part assignments, blocking and tackling and making some plays. That's what we'll be focusing on.

"We've been in a hole, we've had our backs to the wall and some tough games. I think we're pretty well prepared for a big game."

The Beavers got into an early hole with season-opening losses to Stanford and Penn State, which both exceeded 200 rushing yards. But they reversed their fortunes with a stunning 27-21 upset of then-No. 1 USC.

Since then, Oregon State has had the edge in the Pac-10 race over the Trojans, who keep winning and waiting for the Beavers to fall. An Oregon State loss would open the way for USC to win the Pac-10 championship and return to the Rose Bowl for the fourth consecutive season.

But other than a last-second loss to Utah in a non-conference game, the Beavers have kept winning, and one more win clinches the Rose Bowl.

"I think we have to maintain what we've been," Riley said. "We certainly can't change. I think being on that right edge is really important in ballgames, and there is the added emotion of the Civil War and everybody talking about the residual effects of this game.

"I don't worry about our guys playing tight. You play tight if you are not prepared. We'll prepare like crazy."

  • Best matchup
    UCLA at Arizona State, 9:30 p.m.
    Oregon at Oregon State, 7 p.m.
    Notre Dame at USC, 8 p.m.
    Washington State at Hawaii, 11 p.m.
    Oregon State offensive line vs. Oregon's pass rush. Ducks defensive end Nick Reed has 26.5 career sacks and needs 2.5 more to tie the school record. This season he leads the Pac-10 with 10 sacks and heads a pass rush that has produced 31 sacks the ninth-highest total in the nation. Whether the Ducks can mount consistent pressure will be a key issue against Oregon State. The Beavers' offensive line has allowed just 11 sacks.

  • Players to watch
  • Oregon State's tailbacks. Whoever starts at tailback for the Beavers figures to have a key impact on the game. Freshman Jacquizz Rodgers, the Pac-10's leading rusher, has a sprained shoulder and his availability has been termed "very doubtful." If he cannot play, the Beavers will turn to redshirt freshman Ryan McCants, who has rushed for 282 yards and two touchdowns this season.

  • Who's hot
  • Oregon State defensive end Victor Butler has 5.5 sacks in the past four games. USC has been torrid in the second half. The Trojans have outscored opponents 171-25 after halftime. In the fourth quarter, they have a 91-12 scoring advantage. Washington State kicker Nico Grasu converted all three field goals he attempted in a 16-13 overtime win over Washington last week. Arizona's Mike Thomas and Washington State's Brandon Gibson each has caught a pass in 25 consecutive games. Jahvid Best has rushed for 1,083 yards, giving Cal a 1,000-yard back for the seventh consecutive season. USC's current six-game winning streak over Notre Dame is the Trojans' longest ever against the Irish.

  • Who's not
  • Arizona has lost three of its past four. Only a victory over lowly Washington State has broken the Wildcats' fall. With its 37-16 loss to California last week, Stanford finished 5-7 and won't appear in a bowl game for the seventh consecutive season. Arizona is the only Pac-10 team with a longer postseason drought, but the Wildcats will be in a bowl this season. Washington has scored just 46 total points in its past five games.

  • What they're saying
  • "We have way more athletes than those guys and we're more fundamentally sound than those guys. We're better than those guys. When we go out and play our game, they can't compete with us." Cal linebacker Worrell Williams after last week's win over Stanford.

    "I don't know. I can't really worry about that or control that. I hope it's good. I know that I feel like I've tried to be a good Sun Devil, the best I can be, and I hope people will at least respect that." Arizona State quarterback Rudy Carpenter, contemplating how fans will respond when he's introduced at Senior Night on Friday.

    "They have a high-potent offense, but we've seen enough spread offenses. Every offense can pull out a surprise, but we've seen the majority of plays we are going to see. I think we are ready." Oregon State linebacker Bryant Cornell, on facing Oregon.

  • Etc.
  • Arizona running back Nic Grigsby has rushed for 952 yards and needs 48 more to become the Wildcats' first 1,000-yard rusher since 2001. California punter Bryan Anger set a school record by averaging 60.2 yards on four punts in last week's victory over Stanford. He had punts of 76 and 75 yards. Oregon tailback LeGarrette Blount has 15 rushing touchdowns, which ties the school record set by Saladin McCullough. It also ties Stanford's Toby Gerhart for most in the Pac-10 this season. Paul Wulff became the first Washington State coach to win the Apple Cup in his first season since Jim Sweeney in 1968. Arizona State freshman safety Clint Floyd is expected to be back in action against UCLA. He has been out since Oct. 11, when he suffered a lacerated kidney in a loss to USC. USC strong safety Kevin Ellison is likely to play against Notre Dame. He has missed three games after having arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. UCLA offensive lineman Micah Kia is expected to start against Arizona State on Friday, which will be his first starting assignment since facing California on Oct. 25. He is expected to start at left guard; he started at tackle against Cal.

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    Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for He can be reached at

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