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Beavers move on without James Rodgers

10/13/2010

Mike Riley was forced to address two realities this week that pulled his Oregon State team in different directions.

First reality: Receiver and return man James Rodgers, an All-America candidate, was done for the season with a knee injury. That's a huge blow for a team that appeared to be finding itself over the past two weekends, particularly on offense.

"You can’t spin the disappointment; I’m not going to try," Riley said.

Second reality: Injuries are part of the game and seven games remain for a team that believes it can be a factor in the Pac-10 race. The Beavers must not only move on, they've got to move on with even more focus and intensity.

"Nobody is going to blink," Riley said. "Everybody is just going to go forward and get ready to play the Huskies."

Oregon State's visit to Washington is critical for both teams. The Beavers (3-2, 2-0) can't afford a loss to a middling team if they hope to be in the conference race at season's end. Meanwhile, the Huskies (2-3, 1-1) can't afford to lose two in a row at home if they expect to earn bowl eligibility for the first time since 2002.

"We really recognized the fact that the margin for error right now for our football team in the Pac-10 is minimal," Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said.

The Huskies have their own problems: Quarterback Jake Locker has missed much of this week due to illness, which nagged him during a poor performance against Arizona State.

The gap between these two teams would seem to close with Rodgers out. How valuable is Rodgers? With quarterback Ryan Katz seemingly finding his rhythm, Rodgers was already over 100 yards receiving in the first half at Arizona. You could feel a passing game maturing. Then he blows out his knee on an apparent 56-yard TD pass that was killed by a penalty in the second quarter.

"James is just a huge threat," Katz said.

And now that threat is gone, so some combination of the Beavers' receivers -- Markus Wheaton, Jordan Bishop, Aaron Nichols, Geno Muñoz and Darrell Catchings -- needs to fill the void.

Nichols will step in for Rodgers at flanker, but count on rapidly improving sophomore Markus Wheaton becoming Katz's first option at split end.

It also would help if the Beavers' running game got going. While Jacquizz Rodgers -- James' brother -- has put up solid numbers (96 yards rushing per game with seven touchdowns), the Beavers are only averaging 115.4 yards rushing per game, which ranks ninth in the Pac-10.

"The running game is horrible right now," said Jacquizz Rodgers, opting to not sugarcoat things. "We've got to do better."

The task on all fronts, however, will be challenging. James Rodgers ranked sixth in the nation with 176.8 all-purpose yards per game. That's not easy to replace on offense and special teams.

“It’s hard to imagine," Riley admitted. "We’ve had three years of him all over the place, so the finality of not having him for this season probably is just hitting home to a lot of guys."

That's the first reality. The second is this: The Beavers beat Arizona State without Rodgers (he was out with a concussion) and still won at Arizona with him on the sidelines for the whole second half.

Losing Rodgers was a big blow, but the Beavers have shown they can win without him.

Which reality, ultimately, will prevail?