Is Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers the Next Barry Sanders?

Drew BartonAnalyst ISeptember 25, 2008

In the first game of the season, the Oregon State Beavers showed their Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde nature. They performed brilliantly in some areas of the game and countered that with some gaffes that looked to potentially have serious long-term effects.

It started with junior quarterback Lyle Moevao. On the bright side, he was very productive and ended up with some very gaudy statistics.

On the dark side, he showed some weaknesses that could prove easy to exploit. Slightly undersized at 5'11", he sometimes struggled to find throwing lanes and had a horrible time trying to hit the crucial 8-10 yard out routes. 

It did not help that their feature running back, freshman Jacquizz Rodgers, was never really featured and had only 14 attempts rushing. Nor was heralded running back Ryan McCants used particularly heavily.

The next game saw Penn State obliterate the Beavers. Fortunately, they next had an easy game against Hawaii, followed by an off week to prepare for the No. 1 USC Trojans to come to Corvallis.

During that time period they prepared wisely. They went back, looked at what was working and what wasn't, and made the adjustments.

The first adjustment was a great one. When Moevao dropped back to pass, the coaching staff stuck with his strengths. His throws were mostly screens, slants, and stuff over the middle. Not once did they go to the out routes he struggles with.

That is good coaching. It also seems to indicate that the development of Moevao has been accelerated.* 

There are a lot of reasons to love Moevao, but perhaps the best is this: Take a look at the grin on his grill, even when the Beavers came off the field following a three-and-out. The man loves to play the game and isn't afraid to let it show.

Then again, it must be fun to play the game when you are facing the No. 1 team in the nation, kicking their teeth in, and watching a guy run like nobody has since Barry Sanders. 

Far and away the best player on the field all night was Smurf-sized Jacquizz Rodgers. Standing somewhere between 5'6" and 5'7", checking in at a hardly scary 193 pounds, he still made a huge impact that will be felt for years to come. It will continue to be felt because of what we saw Thursday night.

Rodgers is fast. As the broadcast team repeated ad nauseum, he is difficult to find and tackle. But there are numerous undersized running backs that have rolled through college football in the last couple of decades.

There are even a few who have put up numbers similar to the line Rodgers had against USC: 37 carries for 186 yards and two touchdowns. 

However, there are things that set Rodgers apart from the vast majority of those players. His yardage was piled up the hard way, in relatively short chunks. Four times he reached double digits on runs; 10, 11, 14, and 15 yards. There were no 80-yard breakaways to inflate the average. He just found small holes.

That is what sets him apart. He has field vision reminiscent of the great, almost incomparable Barry Sanders. Time and time again he found holes where there were none. He squirted through holes that were barely large enough for even his small frame, and once he was through he did not quit.

The quick side shuttle steps, the explosive acceleration through the hole, and then the ability to set up and read downfield blocks turned runs that should have been losses of a yard or two into runs of five yards, seven yards, eight yards, and so forth. It happened again and again and again.

Very good running backs find ways to do that on occasion. Jacquizz Rodgers seemed to do it on every play.

That is no slight on the Oregon State offensive line. They were blowing the vaunted USC defense off the ball and creating spaces for Rodgers to blow through. Wideouts Sammie Stroughter and James Rodgers both had a few devastating blocks to spring Jacquizz. 

However, it was the talent of Jacquizz that turned those minuscule holes into the chain-moving runs that demoralized the USC defense. It was a thing of beauty to watch.

Just four games into his career, it is certainly ludicrous to claim that Jacquizz Rodgers is even remotely comparable to Barry Sanders. Sanders did it for over a decade between college and the pros.

Though he did not walk away with the career rushing title, he is certainly in the conversation of greatest running backs of all time. It is a short list with perhaps three or four names: Jim Brown, Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders...I am sure someone could come up with another one or two they thought belonged. 

Sanders was awesome to watch. For years he carried subpar Lions teams near or into the playoffs on his swift feet, agile cuts, and devastating elusiveness. He made the Lions must-see games even for people neutral about the Lions as a franchise they might root for. He simply was that much fun to watch.

Rodgers is not yet in that class. Let him do it for three or four years at OSU and then again in the NFL for a decade—if NFL scouts overlook his size—but he is not there yet. Nevertheless, the prospect of watching him follow in the steps of Yvenson Bernard and Steven Jackson is pretty exciting for Beaver fans. 

Should he prove consistent in demonstrating the field vision, agility, and toughness to tackle, it will be a pleasant few years while he is in Corvallis. Meanwhile, this game alone should enter him in the pantheon of Oregon State greats. 


* After the first game, I commented that, "It is entirely possible that by the end of his career Lyle Moevao will develop into an accurate passer. The key word there is develop."