Sunday, October 10, 2010
Katz, Oregon State click at Arizona
By Ted Miller
TUCSON, Ariz. -- It is a fabrication to say there was an audible click -- click! -- and Oregon State's Ryan Katz became a good quarterback. But if you watched Katz run away from Arizona pressure and effortlessly send a ball 48 yards for a touchdown with a casual flick of his wrist, it certainly felt like something electric happened.
Ryan Katz passed for 393 yards and two touchdowns to lead Oregon State past Arizona.
That Katz you saw struggle against Boise State and TCU? He's apparently gone. And with the arrival of the new-and-improved Katz, it seems that the annual Oregon State turnaround has arrived simultaneously.
Katz hinted at a rising toward his tremendous upside -- he might have the best arm in the Pac-10 -- last weekend with a solid performance in a win over Arizona State. But no one saw 30 of 42 for 393 yards and two touchdowns coming.
"I could pretend and say, 'yes'," Beavers coach Mike Riley said when asked if he saw it coming. "I thought that when the game slows down for him he's going to be pretty good. Could I have predicted this? Against this defense, those defensive ends? It would be hard to predict that."
It wasn't just Katz's numbers. It was also the sophomore's poise and playmaking. The final stats say he rushed for just seven yards -- due mostly to 25 yards lost in three sacks -- but three times he tucked the ball under pressure and scrambled for third-down conversions.
Speaking of third down, that was a bugaboo for Katz and the offense through four games, see a 29.8 percent conversion rate that ranked last in the Pac-10. Not so against Arizona. The Beavers converted 10 of 15 third downs -- on the road against the nation's No. 2 defense.
"I just felt really comfortable out there," said Katz, who showed a veteran's knack for transforming questions about his individual performance into celebrations of the offense as a whole.
That comfort obviously makes everyone immediately think of Friedrich Nietzsche: "What does not kill me, makes me stronger." While the Beavers willingness to schedule road games vs. TCU and Boise State baffled more than a few observers -- and other coaches -- the prevailing wisdom behind the tough schedule now seems sound. Those games made a visit to the No. 9 team in the country seem a bit easier, and now the Beavers are 2-0 in Pac-10 play for the first time since 2003.
"The story is still being written," Riley said. "I don't want to pronounce, yes, this did it. But it certainly didn't hurt. Our guys have been in all sorts of atmospheres. We've played three top-10 teams. We seemed pretty resilient to pressure tonight."
And Arizona didn't. Or the Wildcats were just missing something. As good as the Beavers looked, it was hard to miss the absence of the pizazz the Wildcats featured during the win over Iowa.
"When you look at the entire game, we just weren't all there," said Wildcats coach Mike Stoops, who later noted a "big lack of concentration and focus."
"From a coaching and playing standpoint, our lack of preparation was very disappointing," Stoops said.
Early on, it seemed like Arizona's defense -- particularly ends Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore -- would overwhelm the Beavers offensive line. Each end had an early sack. But the Beavers made adjustments on the fly, and once Katz got enough time, he picked the Wildcats secondary apart.
Katz's performance overshadowed another big night for Arizona quarterback Nick Foles, who completed 35 of 46 passes for 440 yards with three TDs.
The Beavers win did have a heavy downside: It appears that All-American receiver James Rodgers suffered a season-ending knee injury. Though Riley wasn't prepared to provide specifics, he noted that Rodgers was on crutches.
"James condition is not good," he said.
Rodgers caught seven passes for 102 yards before going down, but it also appears that Katz has found another go-to target: Markus Wheaton hauled in seven passes for 113 yards, including that 48-yard touchdown that was pure Katz improvisation.
"That was beautiful," Riley said. "That came out of the blue. He's got other receivers down below but he just saw that thing open up and made a great play."
While it seems obvious that Katz and the Beavers are a far different team from the one that muddled through the arduous early-going, Riley would only go so far to admit "big strides" have been made.
"I'm not going to make any big announcements about anything -- the arrival -- we're just going to keep working," Riley said.
But as Riley and Katz walked back to the locker room, it certainly seemed like there was a clicking sound.