The Washington football team (3-6 overall, 2-4 in the Pac-10 Conference) returns to the road for a second straight week this Saturday when the Huskies travel to Corvallis to face Oregon State (6-3, 4-2) in a 12:30 p.m. game at Reser Stadium. The game will air live in the Northwest on FSN television. The Huskies suffered a heart-breaking, 24-23 loss last Saturday at UCLA, their fifth game of the year decided in the final minute or in overtime. Meanwhile the Beavers beat Cal, 31-14, at Berkeley. Oregon State now finds itself just three spots out of both top-25 polls. After the Huskies face the Beavers, they'll have an off week before closing out the season with two straight home games: Nov. 28 vs. Washington State and Dec. 5 vs. California.
THE STORY LINES
Another week and another chance for Washington to get their first road win since 2007. Last week was hard to swallow for Husky fans as they watched their team lose a game they had every chance to win. It took some home cooking at the Rose Bowl, some rookie coaching mistakes and collapses inside the red zone, but Washington again found a way to lose.
It only gets harder this week as they travel to Corvallis Oregon to play the Beavers. After a slow start to the season that saw them barely squeak by a weak UNLV then lose to Cincinnati and Arizona, it appeared Oregon State was looking at a rebuilding year. Think again as the Beavers have won four out of five including impressive victories over Stanford and California.
This is the final road game for the Huskies and their final chance to get the road monkey off their backs. For Oregon State, this game has even greater importance as they are still in the hunt for a Pac-10 title and the Rose Bowl. If the Beavers can take care of business against Washington and Washington State, they have a huge season ending showdown with rival Oregon with conference title aspirations possibly on the line.
One thing the Huskies will have going for them is a healthy Jake Locker. He was already out for the year last season when the Beavers came to Husky Stadium and spanked Washington 34-13. The season before Washington almost left Reser Stadium with a victory but a viscous and controversial helmet to helmet hit on Locker knocked him out of the game in the second quarter. The Huskies rallied and played tough, eventually losing 29-23, but who knows what could have happened if Locker was healthy.
"It will be a good opportunity to go out and play another football game," Locker explained. "It's always nice when you can go in not being too banged up. It's a fun stadium and a good environment so I'm looking forward to it."
Oregon State head coach Mike Rileyobviously has his eyes on the Husky playmaker and understand what he's capable of.
"I've been a real fan of Jake since he was in high school," said Riley. "They've done a tremendous job with him at the quarterback position. He's become a quarterback with all that athletic ability, which is a dangerous thing."
But it's not just Locker who has impressed Riley. Much like Husky first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian, Riley took over a program in the dumps. His success even since has been impressive and perhaps not talked about enough, and Riley sees some similarities.
"We weren't as good, way back when in 1997 when I was first here, as Washington is right now," said Riley. "As we got going, and the guys gained some confidence - you can see that in the whole Husky team just watching them on film, how hard they're playing, the confidence they're playing with, it's just like a whole transformation of a team. We started to experience it in 1998, you could feel it. We played some close ones, including the Huskies, 35-34, up there. We lost, but you could feel it. And I think those are part of that growth that take place that Steve and his staff are doing a great job with up there."
But if Washington wants to take the next step they must start winning these close road games and this Saturday could provide them with another great opportunity.
HUSKIES' HOPE TO PASS LATE SEASON QUIZZ
Beaver running back Jacquizz Rodgers is one of the best players in the Pac-10 if not the nation. He currently ranks No. 3 in the Pac-10 in rushing (989), No. 2 in touchdowns (15), and No. 15 in receiving yards (401). He's a threat no matter where he's lined up and the Beavers do a great job of getting him the ball in the offense.
He's not the biggest guy on the field (5-foot-7, 190-pounds) but he runs hard and is tough to bring down. The players known as 'Quizz has become a star for the Beavers and slowing him down will go a long way in decided is Washington can hang with the Beavers.
"He's unique in the fact that, for a guy that's not big in stature, he runs pretty physical," said Sark. "He bounces off tackles. He's not as slippery as he's strong. He can catch the ball. He does a great job of catching the ball out of the backfield and getting yards. A lot of times those smaller-in-stature guys…the physical pounding takes its toll on them, but this guy plays a physical game for a guy that's not big in stature. And he catches the ball extremely well."
Of course Riley likes having a player like 'Quizz on his roster and believes he should be in the running for Pac-10 player of the year honors and for good reason.
"I would push 'Quizz for any honor you guys want to talk about," exclaimed Riley. "I think he's as good a football player as there is around. Right now, he's the third-leading rusher by a fraction to Gerhart and LaJames at Oregon, and he's the second-leading receiver in the conference and I think he's third in all-purpose yards in the conference. He's even thrown a touchdown pass now, so he's our MVP for sure, along with, I'd go with his brother. They can tie, you know. We've got some real exciting players."
DON'T FORGET ABOUT ME BRO
'Quizz's older brother James Rodgers sometimes gets forgotten by fans around the Pac-10, but certainly not by opposing defenses and coaches. Not only does he lead the Pac-10 in receiving yards (786) and is tied for the lead in receiving touchdowns (6), he's also one of the best return men in the conference. He's the type of player Oregon State will get the ball to anyway possible. They will throw quick slants, bubble screens, they will hand it off to him and make sure he touches it on returns. The fact is, the Rogers brothers are as good a one-two punch as there is in the Pac-10.
"You know, somebody was talking about that (Rodgers siblings) the other day, and I even asked them to do some research if they'd ever heard two brothers doing this like this where they are in the league standings statistically," explained Riley. "James and 'Quizz are 1-2 receiving, and 1-3 in all-purpose. I don't know. It's a very unique deal. I look up at the heavens and thank God, I don't even know how we got them. It was just kind of one phone call from a friend, and we end up with these two guys here. We do all that recruiting, and you end up with James Rodgers in the month of January - like one month before Signing Day - when we started recruited him, and you end up with two brothers like this. It's pretty fortunate."
With such a dynamic duo the Beavers are facing a lot of eight-man boxes and you don't win in the Pac-10 by being one-dimensional.
"I think we see more people in the box a lot of time because of 'Quizz, and that's very natural," said Riley. "When you have a good runner, and a productive run game, then you've got to be able to adjust. You don't want to let that (many people in the box) take you out of the run, that's not very smart. We had a poor game running the ball against Cal. They had a good scheme, and they've got good players up front and that combination we just didn't handle very well. Thank goodness we protected OK so we could throw. That's why balance is so important in this game. You try keep people honest. It's been very important somebody else step up."
That person has been Beaver quarterback Sean Canfield. The senior from Carlsbad, CA leads the Pac-10 in passing yards with 2,381 (right ahead of Locker 2,203) and is second in completion percentage at 69.6. He's not asked to throw down-field too much, but he's been very effective running the Beavers offense and getting the ball into his playmakers hands.
"He's playing at an extremely high level," said Sarkisian. "One thing they're doing a nice job of, he's not getting hit much. You look back at him earlier in his career, he was taking a bunch of sacks and getting hit a bunch. Now with what they've been able to do running the football, with their play-action game, with his ability to throw the ball down the field, they've become a very dangerous offense. He's standing tall in the pocket, he's confident. He's getting his completions in the short game, and he's making you pay on the deep ball. You touched on it, and I'm just agreeing with you: he's playing at a very high level.
THE BEAVER D
The Beavers always have a solid front seven on defense no matter who they plug in. That has continued this season as they only allow 100.33 yards per game ranking them No. 15 in the country.
"When you look at Oregon State for years, you go all the way back to the Richard Sieglers and the Bill Swancutts and the Nick Barnetts, you can go all the way back to those guys. And you look at this group now, and there are some things that are very similar. One is they're very good upfront," Sark said. "These guys, obviously it starts inside and works its way to the 'backers. It seems like they play upwards to 10 defensive linemen. They roll them through. They play hard.
But their secondary is a whole other issue this season. The Beavers have been gashed through air and are allowing opposing quarterback to complete 60 percent and are giving up over 11 yards per catch. They rank No. 98 in interception percentage and No. 113 in total pass defense.
"I'd say they're growing, and probably played as well overall this last week as they've played," Riley said of his secondary. "We are, I think, started four new guys, and it's only natural with their ability, they'd grow. I've really appreciated their work and the fact they are getting better. Our whole defensive picture has kind of been a work in progress, and I think there's a lot of individuals in that group that have gotten better as the season as gone on.
JUST SOME STATS