Head-to-Head: Make or Break Match-Ups for the 2009 Beavers
Laying out near the pool and catching a tan is great, but college football fans are beginning to switch their thoughts to defenders laying out opponents making a catch over the middle.
If you're reading this, you're one of us.
Former Beavers and-now NFL rookies-are plugging away trying to make a roster spot, while the teammates they've left behind at their respective Pac-10 Universities are revving up for what certainly should be a tight race in 2009.
It seems to be the same song and dance when talking pre season Pac-10 football. Who will challenge the all-mighty Men of Troy? Oregon, California, and possibly Oregon State as a long shot.
The usual suspects.
Arizona, Stanford, Arizona State, and UCLA round out the middle and could contend for a bowl game, and as of late, the Washington schools...well...we'll wait until something worth talking about happens.
Such broad topics of conversation only create shouting matches which turn into, "My dad could beat up your dad!!" followed by "Nuh-uhhh!"
For OSU there are three glaring issues facing the make up of their 2009 squad, new faces in the secondary, lack of depth at O-Line, and a heavy need for a pass rush.
Said three topics have been talked about ad nauseam.
There are points in the year when a season can take a turn for the better, or turn for the worse. Below are what I consider key match-ups within the match-ups. Hopefully these will provide a little more in-depth chat about the Pac-10 season, and OSU in particular.
Week Two - @ UNLV: This will be the first road test for the perennially slow starting Beavers. OSU should be 1-0 coming off an easy win in their home opener versus Portland State. So what's to be concerned about?
Junior quarterback Omar Clayton has recovered from a knee injury that forced him to miss the final three games of the 2008 season. Before the injury, Clayton was more than effective for the Rebels with over 1,800 yards and an 18 touchdown to four interception ratio.
Clayton will have weapons Ryan Wolfe and Phillip Payne back at wide-out. Wolfe now a senior and looking to improve on last years 1,000 plus yards and six touchdowns. Payne, who who missed three games as well, is now a sophomore and also should improve on his 15 yards per catch and seven touchdown season.
This offense is wide open, fast, and mixes just enough of a run game (Summers 740 yards and eight touchdowns) to make their passing attack that much more effective.
Key To The Game - Secondary vs. Spread Passing Game: UNLV certainly is no Penn State, or even Utah for that matter, however with a wide open pass-happy offense and the green OSU secondary, this could be a dog fight for the Beavers on the road early.
Something they're far too accustomed to.
The Beavers will need to put history aside and play fundamental football. They have the athletes and the system to be successful, it's a matter of performing early in the season, which they haven't as of late.
A great performance from the secondary in their first road test versus this style offense could go a long way in terms of player confidence and what D-Coordinator Mark Banker can do with his front seven for the remainder of the season.
Also, the next week defending Big East Champion, Cincinnati travels to Corvallis with a similar offensive attack.
Keep An Eye On - Pass Rush: Covering a wide out becomes much easier for a corner when the quarterback is pressured and timing is thrown off. Watch for the defensive ends for OSU to have a great day and take pressure off the young secondary. Timely blitzes from the linebackers and pressure off the edges will be crucial if OSU wants to walk away 2-0 headed back home.
Week Five - @ Arizona State: The Beavers travel to scorching hot Tempe Arizona for their first conference road game in a venue that hasn't been kind to the Beavers.
In 2007 OSU was on their way to getting their first road win since 1969 against the Devils, only to see a 19 point first quarter lead vanish and end up losing 44-32 thanks to Rudy Carpenter magic.
Carpenter is now gone and Danny Sullivan will step in and try to recreate the magic that Carpenter provided week after week.
Key To The Game - O-Line vs. ASU D-Line: Last year Arizona State played its best game in Corvallis, holding the OSU ground game to only 109 net yards rushing. Jacquizz Rodgers, seemingly the only bright spot, had 188 total yards in the closely contested 27-25 win.
This year the front seven, and D-Line in particular, will be even better.
With questions at one tackle spot for the Beavers they will have their work cut out for them against what could be one of the best D-Lines in the conference.
Dexter Davis and Lawrence Guy provide an inside-outside punch from the defensive line that will give any offensive front five fits. The bulky 6'2" 255 pound Davis recorded 11 sacks in '08 from his defensive end position along with a team leading 15 tackles for loss.
And that Guy guy, a freakish 6'5" 295 pound D-Tackle, destined for the NFL.
Incoming freshman Michael Philipp may end up getting the starting nod at the second tackle spot due to an injury to the former front runner Timi Oshinowo. If so, this will be the four star recruits biggest test early in his career.
What To Watch - Play Calling: These are the games that coaches earn their money. Screens, draws, and roll out play action passes will help disrupt what Coach Erickson and Craig Bray want to do on defense.
If OSU can keep the D-Line guessing and on it's heels, with not much offense coming from the Devils, OSU could win easily. If the D-Line is in the backfield all night, it'll be tough for OSU to come out victorious.
Week 11 - Washington: Annually OSU loses a game in conference they have no business losing. 2008 Stanford, 2007 UCLA, 2006 Washington State..etc.
If OSU isn't careful the 2009 Huskies could be added to that list.
Jake Locker is back from injury and has the backing of a new coaching staff. Locker will be looking to blow up the Beavers and shockingly could be vying for a bowl bid if all goes well in Seattle.
Key To The Game - Contain Jake Locker: On what was a bizarre early November game in Corvallis in 2007, Locker was carted off the field via ambulance. Luckily he returned later with only a sprained neck.
Locker is looking for redemption against OSU for what was a vicious, yet legal hit, not only that, but also to solidify himself as one of the best dual threat quarterbacks in the nation.
The focus should be on not allowing Locker to use his feet and force him to throw the ball. His dreadful 47 percent completion percentage and 14 touchdowns to 15 interceptions from 2007 are what Banker and Co. are hoping to tap into with constant pressure and proper containment.
OSU's linebacking trio is athletic enough to contain Locker. Mark Banker will need to focus much of his time and energy on watching Locker's tendencies or else he could run wild on the Reser Stadium turf and the above list will add yet another name.
What To Watch - O-Line: By mid November, OSU will have figured out its identity on offense. This game could showcase some young names on the offensiveve line and get running back Jacquizz Rodgers well over the 100-yard mark.
If OSU can run the ball with a purpose and with consistency, Washington will be unable to win in a shoot out with the Beavers.
Week 13 @ Oregon: "The Grand Daddy Of Them All," well as far as most Oregonians are concerned. Two teams fighting for top spots in the conference will meet on the stripped Autzen turf in what should be an offensive showcase.
Last season OSU was one win away from a Rose Bowl, only to see roses strewn about the walk way around the field after a classic beating handed down by a far superior Chip Kelly lead spread attack.
Hopefully Jacquizz Rodgers will have a say in how the 2009 version turns out.
Key To The Game - Mark Banker vs. Chip Kelly: How in the world can a 53-year-old from Plymouth, Massachusetts have any impact on the outcome of a game?
While OSU constantly churns out top notch defenses, Banker has yet to successfully slow down a spread attack (Penn State, Utah, Oregon). With Oregon's being the best run first spread game in the nation, he'll have his work cut out for him yet again.
If Banker can balance aggressive first down defensive play calling and get the Ducks in long second and third down situations, the Beavers will have a much better time than in 2008.
What To Watch - Jacquizz Rodgers: The tiny talent was out with an injury for last seasons finale versus the Ducks. If Rodgers can stay healthy and be ready to go against Oregon, OSU will have a great chance to pull it out on the road.
Last season saw Lyle Moevao throw for over 350 yards and five touchdowns, this all with no rushing threat. If there is a threat to keep linebackers at home, OSU's offensive balance will be the determining factor.
This assuming Banker can figure out how to slow the rush attack of Oregon. We all saw what happens in a shoot out against Oregon.
Other Keys To The Season:
1) Beat Cincinnati. This will go a long way for the Beavers, not just for the 34-3 loss in 2007. It should mean they're 3-0 to start the season, ranked anywhere from 20-15, and have beaten a former conference champion and BCS qualifier from the year before.
2) Win all home games. OSU plays Portland State, Cincinnati, Arizona, UCLA, Washington, and Stanford at home. With the tough road schedule in conference, the Beavs can't afford to drop a game they should win, especially at home.
3) Stay Healthy. Seems redundant, every team in the nation says this. But depth at running back and on the O-Line is scarce and for OSU to remain atop the Pac-10 standings they need to remain healthy.
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