Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Best case-worst case: Oregon State
By ESPN.com staff
Eighth in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-10 teams, starting at the bottom and working up from my vote in the Pac-10 media poll.
Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction.
Up next: Oregon State
TCU coach Gary Patterson looks at the scoreboard and shakes his head.
"We were lucky to win this one," he says. "Very lucky. That's a very good team and they pushed us around."
Nonetheless, a 24-23 loss doesn't offer Oregon State much consolation, even if it comes against the nation's No. 7 team. The Beavers outgain the Horned Frogs 435 yards to 305, but three turnovers -- two off tipped passes in TCU territory -- and a missed extra point explain the final tally. Jacquizz Rodgers' 135 yards rushing and 65 yards receiving and two TDs are only a footnote.
After a week off, the Beavers take out their frustration on overmatched Louisville. QB Ryan Katz throws two TD passes-- one to each Rodgers brother -- and Jacquizz rushes for 188 yards.
Up next: a visit to No.3 Boise State.
"We have a chance to do something special here and really get everything back from that tough loss to TCU," coach Mike Riley says.
That's exactly what the Beavers do. With the Broncos forced to double-team defensive tackle Stephen Paea inside, end Gabe Miller sacks Kellen Moore three times. The Broncos are unable to run the ball consistently, and the constant pressure gets to Moore, who's uncharacteristically off-target. Meanwhile, Katz plays a mistake-free game, distributing the ball to the Rodgers brothers and breaking off a handful of backbreaking first-down scrambles.
"[The Rodgers brothers] are the two most dangerous players in college football," Katz says afterwards "They make it easy for me. Jacquizz should win the Heisman, but what they really should do is give it to both of them."
What ensues is a six-game winning streak. The Beavers, at 8-1, ascend to No. 6 in the national rankings. With unbeaten, third-ranked USC coming to town, ESPN's "College GameDay" makes its first trip to Corvallis.
"I know Jacquizz Rodgers is the odds-on favorite to win the Heisman Trophy at this point," GameDay's Chris Fowler says. "But isn't the bigger story that they may be the best brothers combination on the same team in college football history?"
Replies Lee Corso, "It probably won't happen, but wouldn't it be neat if they both were invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony?"
The Trojans jump ahead 14-0 in the first half, with Matt Barkley connecting on two long TD passes to Ronald Johnson and the defense bottling up the Rodgers brothers until Jacquizz slips away for a 56-yard scoring run just before the break. A 23-yard toss from Katz to James Rodgers ties the score in the third, but the Trojans retake the lead early in the fourth when Allen Bradford bursts in from 2-yards out.
Heisman Trophy winners typically produce a signature highlight. Jacquizz Rodgers already has potential candidates for that, but none more spectacular than the screen pass he transforms into a 62-yard, game-tying score with 1:10 left.
The only problem is Johnson silences the euphoric Reser Stadium crowd with a 65-yard kick off return to the Beavers 35-yard line. Three plays later, with five seconds left, Jacob Harfman boots the game-winner from 44 yards.
"This was a tough one," Riley says. "But we've still got a lot to play for. We've got to get re-focused quickly because if we don't Stanford is going to kick our butts."
The Rose Bowl is still up for grabs: The Beavers, Stanford and Oregon only have suffered one conference defeat. After the Beavers dispatch the Cardinal, 30-28, everyone knows the stakes: It's a Civil War for the Roses II.
Riley gathers his players in the locker room.
"Oregon State hasn't been to a Rose Bowl since 1965," he says. "That's going on 46 years. Every person in this stadium knows what's at stake. You carry the hopes of everyone who wears black and orange. Tonight you have an opportunity to make a permanent mark, to be remembered and to create a memory that you will be able to return to fondly for the rest of your lives. But that team over there in that other locker room has an advantage over you. They think they are better than you. They carry that confidence. It's a smirk, isn't it? They are smirking at us in our house. I want you to see that smirk in your mind's eye right now. Hold on to that. If at any moment tonight you start to doubt or start to falter, think of that smirk. Now let's go knock it off their faces."
Speeches don't win football games, though. The game plays out much like the 2009 version. With two minutes left, Oregon leads 27-23 and faces a fourth-and-3 from the Beavers' 33-yard line. Ducks coach Chip Kelly opts to go for it. Quarterback Nate Costa drops back and, under pressure from Paea, shovels the ball to LaMichael James, who breaks to his right toward the sideline. One yard. Two yards. But at the marker he meets safety Lance Mitchell, who blasts James backward inches short of the first down.
Fumble. Keith Pankey recovers at the 50.
On first down, Riley shocks everyone by running a draw play to Rodgers, who bounces outside and is forced out of bounds at the 7-yard line. With just under a minute left, Rodgers gains four yards up the middle. The Beavers use their final timeout. Rodgers goes for two. The Beavers hustle to the line. 11, 10, 9 goes the clock.
Rodgers. Touchdown. Rose Bowl. Pandemonium in Reser Stadium.
With his brother at his side, Rodgers wins the Heisman Trophy. And the Beavers beat Iowa 28-24 in the Rose Bowl and finish 11-2 and ranked fourth.
A brutal nonconference schedule sometimes offers opportunity. But playing a pair of top-10 teams ultimately ends up meaning Oregon State is 1-2 heading into conference play.
The Beavers bounce back to beat Arizona State at home, but after consecutive road losses to Arizona and Washington, it becomes clear that sophomore quarterback Ryan Katz is a different player on the road, which is to be expected with a young, first-year starter. Teams crowd the line of scrimmage to stop Jacquizz Rodgers, run bracket coverages on James Rodgers and dare the offense to use other weapons to win. It can't, at least not consistently.
Still, after beating California and Washington State at home and UCLA on the road, the Beavers sit at 5-4 overall and are again in good position to play in a quality bowl game.
But the back-loaded schedule is brutal. USC whips the Beavers 30-17. Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck throws four TD passes in a 35-24 win.
A final opportunity for redemption: Oregon and Stanford are tied atop the Pac-10 (USC also has one loss but is ineligible for the postseason). If the Beavers beat Oregon in the Civil War, it will knock the Ducks out of the Rose Bowl.
But LaMichael James, the nation's leading rusher, outshines Jacquizz Rodgers, rushing for 193 yards and three TDs in the Ducks' blowout, 35-17 win.
"I don't get into that comparing myself to Rodgers -- I leave that to the media and fans," James says afterward. "But you guys did see the game, right?"
James wins the Heisman Trophy and the Ducks roll over Ohio State 27-14 in the Rose Bowl.
Beavers offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf is hired as the head coach at Nevada, while defensive coordinator Mark Banker is hired by Pete Carroll to run the Seattle Seahawks' defense.
Jacquizz Rodgers opts to leave a year early and join his brother in the NFL draft.