The funny thing about any “game of the year” in college football is that they seem to, for lack of a better word, “reproduce” as the season goes on.
The Ducks opener against Boise State was the “game of the year” for the Broncos to keep their BCS hopes alive. That is about all I want to say about it. If I am forced to remember anything else, I may cry.
Five consecutive wins later, and Oregon played USC in the “game of the year” to decide the fate of the Trojan dynasty. On Halloween, the Ducks treated their fans to a sweet 47-20 final.
A defensive meltdown against Stanford and a home win against Arizona State later, and the Ducks faced off against Arizona in the desert for the right to control their own destiny for the Rose Bowl, in the latest “game of the year” in the Pac-10.
ESPN’s Game Day could not have picked a better venue. A back-and-forth game was finally settled in the second overtime as Jeremiah Masoli tumbled into the endzone over two Wildcat defenders to finish the “instant classic.”
But another team has also been taking care of business.
After some issues early in the season against Cincinnati, Arizona, and USC, the Oregon State Beavers have finished strong (as they have tended to do during both of Mike Riley’s tenures as head coach), and for the second year in a row, have the opportunity to go to the Rose Bowl if they can beat Oregon.
Oregon State’s coaches have tried to downplay the revenge factor, but there is no denying the fans (and some of the players, if you were paying attention to Twitter) are relishing their chance to inflict the same pain on the Ducks that they endured a season ago.
That they could make up for last year and reach the Rose Bowl with a win makes this Thursday a perfect opportunity the Beavers are in no mood to waste.
But standing in their way is an Oregon team that demonstrated last week they could overcome mistakes to find a way to win in the clutch.
It all adds up to the first time in 113 meetings between these two teams where either winner is guaranteed a birth in the Rose Bowl.
It is the de-facto Pac-10 championship game.
It is the game for bragging rights in a state where almost every resident has some ties to one of, and often both, universities.
It is the Civil War.
It is the game of the year.
So what do these teams need to do to come out on top in what many consider the most important game in the history of this heated rivalry?
For the Ducks, it would be nice if they could simply do what they did last year and score more than 60 points. But a repeat of that performance will be tough to come by.
The Ducks’ offense came through when the chips were down in Tucson, but the late game heroics seem to have distracted most observers from the fact that the Wildcats contained Oregon throughout most of the second and third quarters.
For that stretch of the game, Arizona was able to do what no other team has done all year: shut down LaMichael James.
With that threat taken away, the Ducks were treading water. Only later in the game, when they were forced to respect the pass, did the Wildcats allow James to contribute again, and it cost them a victory.
The Beavers’ best bet on defense is to find a matchup against Jeremiah Masoli running the ball that they feel confident with, like the Wildcats had with their safeties, and have the rest of their defense concentrate on shutting down James. With their two leading rushers stymied, the Ducks would be forced to go to the air.
That isn’t as bad a situation for Oregon as it was before the start of Pac-10 play when Masoli was struggling with his throws.
But it is a much more manageable situation than having to deal with all the plays the Ducks can throw at a defense when the option runs are working.
Unlike last year, Oregon State comes into this game with both of the “Super Rodgers Brothers” ready to go. That alone could be the difference between victory and defeat, assuming the Beavers defense keeps the score manageable.
Oregon’s defense will have to step it up a notch if the Ducks hope to spoil their rivals’ finale once again. The past several weeks have seen Oregon’ weaknesses exploited by opponents, and these deficiencies need to be addressed in order to beat the Beavers.
The biggest concern for defensive coordinator Nick Allioti and company is finding a way to stop power runs. The Ducks have great overall speed on defense, but the line is undersized and Stanford, Arizona, and even Arizona State (in a limited way) had success when they ran inside, where they could seal off pursuit from the perimeter and simply bowl the athletic Oregon defenders backwards.
Oregon State has a good offensive line, and Jacquizz Rodgers excels going up the gut where he can hide behind his linemen and dart through the gaps. He isn’t as strong as Toby Gerhart, but he presents an entirely different set of challenges to would-be tacklers.
Complicating matters is that Sean Canfield and the Beavers passing game are the most productive in the Pac-10. Canfield is completing a staggering 70 percent of his passes, and with James Rodgers at his disposal, a big play is never far away.
If Oregon is to have success on defense, they must get Oregon State out of proper down and distance situations. This will allow the Ducks to use their speed and multiple blitz packages to pressure the quarterback and get their dynamic offense back on the field.
Assuming turnovers and special teams play are about even, the winning team will be the one that gets the most production out of their star running back.
If the Ducks can do that, it will lead to big plays from their spread formations.
If the Beavers can run well, they can grind out drives that will sap Oregon’s undersized defenders and let them break the game open late.
When it comes to the running game, physicality determines who will succeed. So it will all end up being decided by which team can get in the best hits.
In a rivalry like this, it should never be any other way.
MY CALL: Oregon Ducks 31, Oregon State Beavers 27
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