In Week 14 of our Thursday night primer, the National Football Post highlights some of the keys to tonight’s Oregon-Oregon State game, including top players and matchups that NFL scouts will be watching. For the first time in 112 meetings between the schools, the winner advances to the Rose Bowl.
What To Watch For
The Quarterback Play
Oregon State signal caller Sean Canfield might be the best senior college quarterback no one is talking about. Canfield has quietly put together a very impressive season and now is considered one of the draft’s top QB prospects.
He’s on pace to throw for over 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns with only seven interceptions and has improved dramatically under the tutelage of head coach Mike Riley. He’s done a great job taking care of the football all season, completing over 70 percent of his passes, and has been extremely effective converting on third downs.
But, what makes Canfield such an attractive quarterback in this matchup is his ability to handle the crowd nose, remain composed, and be efficient with the ball. Autzen Stadium in Eugene is going to be one of the loudest environments the Beavers have played in all year, and it’s the veteran leadership and poise of a senior like Canfield that will give them a chance to move the ball.
Oregon, however, certainly has some talent of its own at QB in Jeremiah Masoli, who might be the best dual run/pass threat in college football.
Masoli has rushed for over 50 yards and thrown for over 100 in each of his past six games and does as good a job as anyone hiding the ball until the last second on the Ducks’ option reads, forcing defenses to really struggle finding it.
But where Masoli has improved significantly over the course of the year is his ability to beat opponents through the air and keep defenses from crowding the line of scrimmage in order to stop the run. Masoli has averaged 240 passing yards over his last four games and is making it tough for defenses to win the numbers game vs. both the run and pass.
And, his threat of throwing the football should really be a factor, as the Beavers are undersized up front and can be expected to try to crowd the box with their linebackers, which in turn should give Masoli and the Oregon receivers a lot of one-on-one looks down the field.
The Beavers' X-factor
If Oregon State is going to have a legitimate shot at slowing down the Oregon spread attack, it’s going to start up front with the play of defensive tackle Stephen Paea.
Paea is an explosive, undersized interior lineman who has improved his technique and awareness tremendously since last season and possesses the type of burst to penetrate gaps inside and disrupt plays before they start. He’s currently has 5-and-a-half tackles for loss and has the ability to simply overwhelm the interior of the Oregon offensive line inside.
However, what makes the Oregon spread offense so tough to slow down is that Masoli and co. don’t always make their option reads based on the positioning of the opposing team’s defensive end, but on the location of a defensive tackle inside. The Ducks love to invite opposing DTs up the field (see Arizona’s Earl Mitchell), allowing them to run past the play, which opens up gaping holes inside.
So it will be vital for Paea to consistently find the football once he feels a free release. Paea is a very good athlete who has the ability to close in space and disrupt behind the line, but he needs to make sure he doesn’t run himself out of the play.
He’s Bringing the Wood, but Making Contact Won’t Be Easy
I can’t say enough about Oregon strong safety T.J. Ward and his ability to consistently impact a game vs. both the run and pass. Ward isn’t your typical strong safety prospect as he only stands about 5'10" and 201 pounds, but the guy is built like brick and plays with absolute reckless abandon when asked to close on the ball.
What’s even more appealing to me is that he isn’t a really gifted straight-line athlete but instead relies more on his instincts and footwork to quickly get out of his breaks and get good jumps on the ball. Plus, he’s consistently able to break down in space as an open-field tackler and generates an impressive amount of power for a guy his size.
Ward will definitely have his hands full tonight trying to bring down Oregon State’s slippery running back, Jacquizz Rodgers, who does as good a job as anyone setting up his blocks, exploding into daylight, and making defenders miss in space. He’s so laterally sudden that he rarely gets brought down by the first man and has the speed to consistently reach the second level and create in the open field.
The burden of keeping Rodgers from breaking a big one will fall squarely on the shoulders of Ward in what looks to be a matchup between of two of the nation’s best at their positions.
Sure, talent, game planning, and adjustments will play big roles in this one, like they do in any other football game. But when breaking down an in-state rivalry game like this, passion and mental mistakes always seem to be difference makers.
With Oregon having the luxury of playing at home in front of a loud, boisterous crowd, it’s nearly impossible to pick against the Ducks.
I still really like the Oregon State run game and Canfield’s ability to move the chains and handle the pressure of the Oregon defense on the road. However, I just think the noise and environment pull too favorably to the side of the Ducks, and if that offense is able to get on track early and force the Beavers to play from behind, it’s going to be too much to overcome.
I expect the Oregon Ducks to move to 10-2 and lock up their spot in the 2010 Rose Bowl.
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