Incredibly, it's thrice, into the breach

STEPHEN PAEA

"ONCE MORE UNTO the breach, dear friends, once more." Shakespeare must have been a fan of the Beavers. And how do you explain a team that not once, not twice but possibly thrice will pull off a turnaround as stunning as what looks to be coming once more in 2008? Oh sure, we're getting ahead of ourselves. But is there anyone out there who doesn't think it's going to happen?

If just doesn't work this way in college football. A team doesn't start 2-3 in 2006 -- and look all out of sorts against Boise State and Cal -- and then reel off 8-of-9 wins including two over Top 25 teams, to end up ranked themselves at season's end. No, that's a rare feat.

And a team just doesn't follow it up by starting with the same 2-3 record in 2007 -- and look all out of sorts against Cincinnati and UCLA -- and proceed to reel of 7-of-8 wins to close the season, including two over Top 25 teams, to once again finish ranked themselves at season's end.

And surely, a team could not the following season start out 2-3 one more time -- and look all out of sorts against Stanford and Penn State -- and then reel off....

No. Once was improbable enough. Twice was ridiculous. Three times? Absurd is not strong enough a word. And yet the stars are once again lining up, draped against a black and orange sky.

OH, THERE'S NO doubt Oregon State has some very tough tests coming up. And danger also lurks in every virtual "sure thing", such as the hapless Washington Huskies this week. Because there is no sure thing in college football. That's why they call them upsets.

But Oregon State, they look ready to roll.

At running back, Jacquizz Rodgers, who has more shake and bake than Betty Crocker on a pallet of maracas. A quarterback, Lyle Moevao, who is really coming into his own now, with confidence and verve overflowing. An offensive line and tight end group that is not consistently dominating, but they are outworking everyone they face. A receivers group, led by Shane Morales and Sammie Stroughter, that is making the easy, and difficult, catches. And for good measure, James Rodgers, ably running sweeps on fly.

A defense that is not just playing 11 flying hats to the football, but is missing few beats while rotating a cadre of players. Injuries to key starters like Brandon Hughes and Al Afalava and the holes they create are being, to an acceptable degree for the most part, filled. Linebackers who were not having a decided impact earlier, guys like Keaton Kristick, are making plays with exclamation marks. Defensive backs are knocking down passes, stuffing the run and punishing would-be trespassers venturing across the middle.

One defensive end, Victor Butler, dominated the first quarter of this season while the other, Slade Norris, has dominated the second. Imagine what will happen if they both play their best football at the same time over the season's second half. And what of the defensive tackles?

AS WAS PENNED here prior on BF.C, it was after the first drive by Hawaii in Week 3 that something began to, suddenly and perhaps inexplicably, click.

The starting defensive tackles, Stephen Paea and Pernnell Booth, and the OSU point of attack on D, whom fans had pointed to as a weak link the first two games, each a painful loss, began to not just win the battle, but to dominate.

Everything fed off of that -- the offense included, who suddenly replaced inconsistent flashes with steady, ground churning, high flying success, and that has become, more and more, the norm.

Paea already has 6 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks -- those are numbers you see with a blitzing 'backer or a defensive end through six games, not a defensive tackle. Defensive tackles, even the best ones, don't usually have great stat lines. And Booth, his line being more what you would expect of a DT, is still clogging the middle and disrupting opposing offenses.

THE BEAVS PLAYED their best half of football to date against USC, and then hung on in the second and seized momentum when good team do, in crunch time.

A win that was all but in the bag against Utah was but perhaps a last, cruel laugh from the football gods. Ah, Oregon State, don't you know by now? You must start out 2-3 and a win here, well that just won't do. You have Washington State up next, after all.

As painful as the Utah loss was, what shouldn't be lost in the detritus that was the final 2:18 in Salt lake, is that Oregon State came out and dominated defensively in the second half against a Top 15 team -- in their house.

And what of that ending in Salt Lake? A final lesson, perhaps, on the importance of finishing, and one that may be realized in a game yet to be played down the stretch. Looking beyond Utah, at the bigger picture, it is Booth and Paea, (and it would be remiss not to also mention the contributions of Brennan Olander and Latu Moala,) who have keyed a defense now ranked No. 26 in the nation -- and rising.

ON PAPER, looking at the remaining regular seasons foes, Washington (0-5) is struggling mightily. Arizona State (2-4) doesn't look even close to being the ferocious squad so many media wonks predicted at the start of the season. UCLA (2-4) had a terrific opener, and not much since.

Cal (4-1) is shaping up as a hard-hitting, thrilling, and pivotal matchup -- in Corvallis. Arizona (4-2) looks either to be a challenge, or, once again could be in that ol' familiar, uncanny 'Zona spiral by the time they face OSU. Oregon (5-2) is Oregon. They've made the late season loss an art form. And in regard to Oregon winning those late season, big-time games, while some may say they suck at it, I won't. Oh. Oops.

The Beavs have one Pac-10 loss. They face every other team tied or ahead of them in the league standings except for one, and Stanford has yet to play USC. It is not difficult to see how OSU will almost certainly hold their own fate in their hands. If the Beavs run the table, Oregon State is almost certainly going to the Rose Bowl.

And so once more, into the breach.

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