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September 25, 2008

Oregon State looks to make a statement

It has been two years since it happened, but Jeff Van Orsow's big play is still fresh in the minds of Beaver fans.

Southern California had just scored to pull within 33-31. As the Trojans lined up to go for two and hopefully tie game, Reser Stadium erupted into a fever pitch. The noise was deafening. USC quarterback John David Booty took the snap, quickly dropped back and threw the ball.

But his intended target never even had a chance to make the catch, as out of nowhere, Van Orsow's hand reached up and batted the pass down, allowing the Beavers to escape with a victory over the No. 3 ranked Trojans.

And while that's a scenario Beaver Nation would love to see unfold again tonight, the odds are stacked against them more this time around. USC (2-0, 0-0) is the top-ranked team in the country and is coming off a very convincing win over Ohio State, a 35-3 rout on national TV. OSU coach Mike Riley, however, said anything can happen, just look at what happened in 2006.

"The lesson can be learned - no matter what people think, or what the pick is, or what the perception is - it's all about playing the game," Riley said. "It's been proven time and again across the country: USC hasn't fallen into the trap, but it isn't about the best team always winning."

Wouldn't you know, tonight's contest will be on ESPN and will the first time the network has broadcasted live from Corvallis. For the Beavers (1-2, 0-1) to avoid the same fate Ohio State endured, they will need to play perfect.

They have plenty of momentum to build off of; they played their first turnover-free game of the season against Hawaii. The end result: a 45-7 blowout victory. But OSU will need to execute even better to upset the Trojans. The offense stalled at times against Hawaii and it can't afford to do that tonight. In fact, it needs to strike early and often against USC.

The question is can the offensive line open lanes for running back Jacquizz Rodgers and give quarterback Lyle Moevao enough time to find his receivers downfield? It's a tall order considering the Trojans feature one of, if not the best, defenses in the country. It's an extremely fast and physical unit that knows how to make plays.

"That's where their game is hard, because teams that try to throw downfield find it hard to find time to sit in the pocket," Riley said. "These guys are really good pass rushers, so it becomes a pressure situation. The only way to negate that pass rush is to have balance, and that is what you have to find. That is how they play the game, they say we are going to stop the running game, then we are going to pass rush you in the worst passing situations we can get."

If OSU's running game gets shutdown, its passing game must be able to pick up the slack, and vice versa. While Rodgers has been spectacular this season, the Trojans will be determined to stop him, so Moevao must be ready to carry the Beavers. Maybe this will be the game he finally shows off his scrambling ability.

He has plenty of weapons though in Sammie Stroughter, Shane Morales and James Rodgers and knows how to use them. He's averaging 307 passing yards per game, while completing 61 percent of his passes. But he will be put to the test by the Trojans and it will come down to how well the line plays again.

And just like 2006, the Beavers will need to force turnovers. That's how they were able to jump out to quick start and withstand USC's furious second-half rally. To do this though, the defense needs to get pressure on Trojans quarterback Mark Sanchez. It needs to get in his face and rattle him early on. If he is able to get into a groove, it could be a long night for the Beavers. After all, Sanchez has only completed 68 percent of his passes, thrown seven touchdowns in two games, against two interceptions.

"The pressure is going to have to come," said OSU defensive end Slade Norris. "We will have to hit him a few times and make him uncomfortable. He has a great arm and a very quick release; he is a good quarterback. We have to do all we can to upset that."

Football is a game of momentum. So if the Beavers can be disruptive early and prevent USC from getting into a rhythm early, their chances of an upset are much better. A few heads up or hands up plays might also be enough to swing the game in OSU's favor. Wouldn't the latter one be ever so fitting?

BeaverBlitz.com's Five Things To Watch

1. OSU's pass rush: The Beavers have to be able to get pressure on Sanchez. It doesn't matter how good OSU's secondary is, any QB who has day to throw will tear them apart. And Sanchez isn't just any QB.

2. OSU's linebackers: It's no secret USC is Tailback-U and this season is no exception. The Trojans feature four extremely capable backs that can hurt teams in a variety of ways. While the Beavers played much better against the run last weekend, USC's backs are far more talented.

3. OSU's offensive line: If they can give Jacquizz Rodgers and Ryan McCants enough space to run though, it would take a lot of pressure of Moevao, who will likely be running for his life a lot tonight.

4. OSU's kicking game: The Beavers can't afford to squander any scoring opportunities, so they need to need to convert any field goals they attempt. Hopefully, Justin Kahut is good to go.

5. Lyle Moevao: This is a huge game for Moevao. If he plays well, even if it's in a losing effort, he should firmly erase any doubt about his quarterbacking ability. Look for him to scramble more as well. It should be fun to watch him in action tonight.


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