OREGON STATE IS up against it this week as maybe the Beavers (4-5, 3-3 Pac-10) haven't been challenged all season. And that's saying a lot, considering Oregon State has played TCU and Boise State. But this time around, it is far more than the opponent -- even as difficult a problem as USC (7-3, 4-3) may pose.
"Besides USC we've got our own issues and those are big issues," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "There are a lot of issues to deal with here, let alone the USC Trojans.”
The Beavers can't stop runners, can't corral passers and can't do much themselves on offense. They've lost consecutive games to UCLA and Washington State, and with a finishing schedule of the Trojans, Stanford and Oregon, reaching six wins and being in a bowl game for the fifth consecutive season seems way out of reach. Right now, winning a game against anybody is a daunting task for Oregon State. Riley, however, does not agree.
"We have the capability to do it," Riley insisted. "It hasn't been that long ago that we played a good overall game, a game that appeared to be a turn-the-corner game" in beating Cal.
"I'm not going to lose the faith that we don't have the potential to play that kind of a game," Riley added. "That's our job as coaches to get our team ready to do that."
--Oregon State needs to defeat USC to avoid its first three-game losing streak since 2002, which was Dennis Erickson's final season when the Beavers finished 8-5.
--The Beavers won't play USC again until the 2013 season. The new Pac-12 schedule will require each team to miss two league opponents, and Oregon State's misses the next two seasons will be the Trojans and Colorado.
--Jacquizz Rodgers needs his average game of 108 yards to move into the Pac-10's top 10 career rushers. Rodgers has 3,586 rushing yards to rank 12th in conference history. BeavGreeat Steven Jackson, who rushed for 3,625 for Oregon State, is 11th. USC's Ricky Bell with 3,689 yards is 10th on the league list.
SERIES HISTORY: USC leads Oregon State 59-10-4 (last meeting, 2009, 42-36 USC).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The problem lately has been simply keeping the offense on the field. In consecutive losses to UCLA and Washington State, the Beavers have averaged a possession time of 22:04 and 50 plays, or 25 fewer plays than their opponents. Oregon State hasn't been able to get far enough into its playbook to show the balance it would like to exhibit, and which might make it more successful. In the past two games, Jacquizz Rodgers has a total of 29 rushes.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Beavers haven't been able to slow down the rush of late, allowing an average of 215 rushing yards in losses to UCLA and Washington State. Now comes USC -- six times this season the Trojans have piled up over 200 rushing yards. Oregon State is thin at defensive tackle and the ends aren't making enough plays, leaving the Beavers vulnerable to good rushing teams.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't have any argument. Our only argument will be to play better." -- Oregon State coach Mike Riley, on the challenge of being ranked last in the Pac-10 in several media ratings.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: USC at Oregon State, Nov. 20 -- The Trojans (7-3, 4-3 Pac-10) have lost their previous two games at Reser Stadium, when USC was ranked third and first in the country, respectively. USC might not be that kind of team this season, but the Beavers (4-5, 3-3) aren't exactly playing like they were in 2006 or '08, either. This could be a season-saving game for Oregon State, but are they up to the challenge?
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Oregon State offense needs to produce more than the 14 points it put up in each of the past two games to keep up with USC. More of an issue is the Beavers finding enough balance for the offense to stay on the field, and not let the Trojans take advantage of an Oregon State defense that can't hold up for as long as it's been asked the past two weeks.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Ryan Katz -- USC will center its defense on stopping the running of Jacquizz Rodgers, who led the upset of the Trojans two years ago. That puts it on the quarterback to deliver. In a similar situation last year, Sean Canfield responded by completing 30 of 43 passes for 329 yards and three touchdowns as the Beavers hung close with the Trojans before losing 42-36. And if there is a vulnerable area on USC's defense, it's the secondary.
S Lance Mitchell -- He and fellow safety Suaesi Tuimaunei will be challenged to offer run support, without being sucked in by USC quarterback Matt Barkley faking handoffs and then passing the football. The USC wide receivers are too much for Oregon State's cornerbacks to handle on their own, so the safeties will be playing on a dangerous edge between run support and coverage in the middle of the field.
P Johnny Hekker -- While inconsistency remains an issue, about once a game Hekker has a poor kick, often in critical situations, there will also be a definite challenge this week in getting enough hang time on kicks and being put in the right spot with USC's Ronald Johnson one of the nation's top returners, averaging 17.3 yards per return. USC's offense will be enough of a challenge without getting great field position from a punt return.
--Defensive tackle Brennan Olander still hasn't made a decision on whether to have surgery, but Oregon State coach Mike Riley said he doesn’t think Olander won't play again this season. Probably the only way Olander could play again was if the Beavers qualified for a bowl game, and that seems unlikely if last week’s game against WSU was any indication.
--There were no lineup changes in the starting units announced, even after two poor performances almost across the board for the Beavers. There is the possibility of more playing time for linebacker Cameron Collins with Tony Wilson in question due to concussion symptoms early in the week. A former safety, Collins has normally been inserted at middle linebacker in obvious passing situations, but with his speed it might be a time for extra use against USC.