JUST HOW MANY GUTCHECK WINS do these guys have in them? Trailing 17-16 with 1:19 left and 80 yards…
The unsung, Part I
Indeed, the difference between winning and losing is often found in the slimmest of margins -- sometimes it's not the guy who make the tackle, it's the guy whose play allowed the other guy to make the tackle. It's sometimes not just the big punt return, it's a momentum capturing special teams tackle here; or a block, pass grab and tough two-yard run there.
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Some of the lesser noted -- the likes of whom may again prove crucial to the outcome against Arizona this Saturday -- whose names aren't as much the focus of post game prose include:
The problem with a killer punt is that it often sets up a killer return. On the Beavs' first punt against Cal, Johnny Hekker blasted one deep. The Cal return man caught it at is own 23 and barely had time to blink -- Hardin was immediately in his grill, wrapping up and depositing him on his wallet five yards downfield. It wasn't the first time Hardin has made a big special teams play this season, he set the tone against USC with a textbook tackle on the opening kickoff. Next year he'll compete for a spot at corner with honors candidates Brandon Hughes and Kennan Lewis set to graduate after this season. In the here and now, however, he's a gunner extraoirdinaire with 10 tackles on the season, six of them solo. And looking for more.
After struggling to find consistency most of the season, Mike Riley made it clear the punting duties were open to competition before the ASU game. Hekker came out swinging in Tempe, all he did was boot 55- and 59-yarders in averaging 48.8 hashes on five attempts. And he continued his strong play against Cal. His first punt was a 51-yarder, his last was a 29-yarder and the latter was just as good a boot -- it backed up and pinned Cal deep on their own 6-yard line with less than a minute to play. If Cal were starting on their own 20-yard line, they might have had some better options at a miracle drive. As it was, backed up deep, Kennan Lewis sealed the deal with a pick-6 two plays later.
Howard Croom, Brady Camp and Joe Halahuni
The Beaver tight ends have played a key role this season but not in the way forecasted from this vantage point. Oregon State's tight ends have not been a force on the receiving end but rather their blocking has helped spring Jacquizz Rodgers on many a run, they've deftly sealed the edge on the fly sweep and when staying home in max-protect, they've displayed a much improved blocking technique under the tutelage of OSU graduate assistant Tim Euhus. Against Cal, they got a little more involved in the passing game, with Croom and Camp combining on three catches for 17 yards and first down. And it was Croom who was out in front to ensure James Rodgers found the end zone for the critical score that made it 27-14 against Cal.
He's not exactly unknown as the first corner off the bench -- he's proven able in spelling Hughes and Lewis, and alongside them when the Beavs move to defensive packages off their base -- but one play against Cal demands a mention here. And it came in run support.. With the Bear running back picking his way through the line, a wide swath of green suddenly emerged on the left side -- there were 10 Beavers to the ballcarrier's right as he cleared the initial scrum past the line of scrimmage. If Clark doesn't make the tackle, the play at least goes for a long run and moves the chains, and it might have gone all the way. But Clark stood him up straight, Kevin Frahm came over and helped clean up. The net result from a run that might have gone 60-plus yards? A 1-yard gain.
He missed a few tackles against Cal but one he did stick was pivotal. With OSU up 17-14 in the waning stages of the first half, Cal called for a fake punt. They couldn't have asked for a better layout -- the Beaver front consisted of four down linemen. Even after Cal fumbled the snap, there was still room -- and time -- to make the first down straight up the gut...if not for Cornell. His read and react time was excellent, and he knifed in quickly to blot out the sun before Cal could regain the purchase on the pigskin. By the way, Pernnell Booth pounced on the fumble and Dwight Roberson was by his side a fraction of a second later. Check in tomorrow for mentions on those two, plus a few more of the Beaver unsung, in Part II.
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