THE BEGINNING served as microcosm for Oregon State's slugfest 34-21 win over Cal -- the Bears came out swinging on special teams. But James Rodgers followed with a bigger punch. Then it was Sammie Stroughter's turn. Indeed, each time Cal gained momentum, OSU answered right back. And when the clock struck zeros, OSU remained in control of their Rose Bowl dreams with two games to play.
It started out with a bang. The Beavs gave up a long kickoff return and with a facemask flag to boot, the Bears started their opening drive on the OSU 26-yard line. Four plays later, Cal was in the end zone and the Beavs were in a 7-0 hole just a little over two minutes into the game.
Not for long.
James Rodgers went 86 yards to the house on the ensuing kickoff to knot the score. The Beavs never trailed in the game after that. Because the defenses took over the game for the rest of the half. And Oregon State's was better -- not by a lot -- but by enough.
OREGON STATE ALLOWED Cal only 232 total offensive yards on the afternoon but that figure could have been, shockingly, even lower. Sandwiched around some great Beaver D in the first half were a number of missed tackles, including two that would have been sacks. OSU also gave up a 30-yard lateral pass for the Bears' second touchdown.
Still, the Bears had only 139 yards of offense at the break -- but that was still more yardage than the Beavs. Oregon State mustered 129 hashes the first two quarters (33 total rushing, 96 passing). But the difference was the Beavers were more productive with their yards, winning the field position battle and holding a 17-7 lead before the trick pass trimmed the halftime margin to three.
Stephen Paea, (2 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 6 tackles), Victor Butler (1.5 sacks, 7 tackles), Keaton Kristick (5 tackles, 1.5 for loss, 1 pass break up, 1/2 sack) and Dwight Roberson (1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 5 tackles) keyed a relentless Beaver D.
Even when OSU didn't sack Kevin Riley, which they did five times on Saturday, they brought pressure and forced errant throws -- linebackers David Pa'aluhi and Keith Pankey, and d-end Slade Norris among those who spent the day closing fast. That it's taken until now in this story to mention who the Beavs' leading tackler was, Greg Laybourn with 8, illustrates the kind of day it was.
IT CAN'T OFTEN be seen enough on a television broadcast but corners Brandon Hughes and Keenan Lewis are such a huge part of making this defense go and the duo did it again on Saturday. Riley was just 11-for-25 for a mere 117 yards -- and a big reason why was that when he did have enough time, Lewis and Hughes took away most of his options.
Safety Al Afalava had a very rare missed tackle early in the game and spent the rest of the day more than making up for it with 4 tackles and a pass break up. And how good was the Beavs' run defense? Consider that the Beavs held Cal to 85 total rushing yards, and 65 of those came on one run.
THE RODGERS BOYS seized the spotlight in the second half, along with Stroughter. Jacquizz Rodgers started ripping off his signature 7-, 8-, 9-yard runs after being held to 36 yards in the first half -- yet he went over the 100-yard mark before the period ended. The Pac-10's leading rusher finished with a robust 144 ground yards and a touchdown.
James Rodgers, nicknamed Quan to his brother's Quizz, had 117 return yards, led the team in receiving with six catches for 50 hashes and added another 22 on the ground and two touchdowns.
Stroughter's stat line -- 61 punt return yards, 29 rushing yards on one carry and two receptions for 32 yards -- doesn't do his play justice, probably because blocks don't show up in the box score and clutch grabs count the same on the stats page as do others.
Lyle Moevao, back under center from a shoulder injury, didn't have his best day at 14-for-28 for 145 yards and no touchdowns. But say this for OSU's quarterback -- he's fearless. And he also makes plays that don't get enough notice.
After a poor throw or decision Saturday, Moevao got right back on the horse and he moved the Beavs into position for critical points -- two field goals and a touchdown -- much of the time against long odds. How long? Moevao converted a first down on second-and-30 and third-and-15 on one scoring drive. Both were bullets, to Morales and Stroughter, respectively.
THE DECISIVE DRIVE of the game, from the Beavs 29-yard line, netted no points. But it took 6:11 off the clock and left Cal with only 42 ticks to go 94 yards. (Punter John Hekker, after a stellar turnaround performance the week before, turned in another solid outing against Cal.)
At the end, Lewis returned a badly thrown desperation pass 25-yards for the Beavs' final score. But before that, typifying the OSU time consuming drive, Quizz was hit after four yards on one carry..and then churned out five more to the delight of the sold out Reser crowd.
Next up, the Beavs face Arizona, who lost to the Ducks Saturday in a wild one, 55-45. And with two games remaining, Oregon State holds their own Rose Bowl fate in their hands. The "little" things that aren't so little, like the receiver and tight end blocking by the Beavs on Saturday, are a big reason why.