Though #2 Oregon Ducks may have slipped just behind the Auburn Tigers in the BCS this week they are still in position to punch their ticket to the BCS National Championship Game. The opponent that they must defeat resides in their own backyard, as the Ducks will head the 45 miles north to take on the Oregon State Beavers in the annual Civil War. Most Duck fans want to look past the Beavers and start buying up the minimal and expensive tickets available for the game in Glendale, but that is not a luxury the Oregon team has.
Oregon State has been all over the map when it comes to consistency this season. They played the most difficult non-conference schedule in the nation, losing to TCU and Boise State and beating Louisville. But in league play the Beavers expected to challenge for the conference crown once again with the Ducks, Stanford, USC and Arizona. In fact the Beavers did come up with a big win on the road in Tucson against Arizona 29-27 and showed that they can compete with the better teams in the conference. However, the season turned south quickly when they lost easily winnable games against UCLA and Washington. Oregon State hit rock bottom when they lost at home to Washington State, thus ending an 18-game Pac-10 losing streak for the Cougars. Both teams had fans who were in tears after that game, Oregon State because they lost to arguably the worst team in Division I and Washington State because they didn’t know how else to react to such an unfamiliar situation. Then in true Beaver fashion they flipped directions again and beat USC at home in convincing fashion 36-7. So how do they carry that momentum? By getting smoked by Stanford last week 38-0 and mustering only 68 rushing yards and 285 total yards. So who knows how the Beavers will play? Oregon coach Chip Kelly? Oregon State coach Mike Riley? Bono? Chuck Norris? Oh I know, Stephen Hawking. If I were ESPN I would take the hint and stop asking Chip Kelly anything and just defer all questions to any of the others listed, as they would be much more cooperative. Going into the Civil War Oregon State need a win to become bowl eligible, and they will have to earn it against an Oregon team so close to making history.
Oregon State’s offense was designed around the Rodgers brothers, running back Jaquizz Rogers (also the name of my first born child if I have anything to say about it, which I won’t) and his older brother James. But James suffered a season-ending knee injury early in the year and the Beavers haven’t been the same since.
The absence of James Rodgers will allow the Ducks defense to focus on Jaquizz and the other weapons at the disposal of quarterback Ryan Katz. Coincidentally the major weapon that Katz has come to utilize is Markus Wheaton. That’s right Duck fans, another Wheaton. Markus’s cousin Kenny was the one who provided “the pick” for the Ducks against Washington in 2001, arguably the greatest play in Oregon Duck’s history. Wheaton, along with Joe Halahuni are the players that the Oregon secondary need to watch out for because that’s who Katz will look for if the Ducks front 7 can take care of Rogers and a sub-par Oregon State offensive line. The Oregon defense has struggled to find turnovers as of late, having led the nation in turnover margin for most of the year. Look for the Ducks to try and be aggressive in the passing game because Jaquizz has not lost a fumble in his entire Beaver career.
The Oregon offense still leads the nation in points per game (50.5) and total offense (541.7) and rebounded well last week against Arizona by putting up 48 points after scoring only 15 against Cal. Running back LaMichael James leads the nation with 158.8 yards per game and is considered by many to be firmly in second place in the Heisman Trophy race behind Auburn’s Cam Newton. James has not had his standard “big game” since October 30th against USC, and if he is able to fight through his nagging injuries and rush for 250+ yards and 4 touchdowns he could leap Newton if the Auburn QB struggles against South Carolina. James was named a finalist this week for the Doak Walker Award (nation’s best running back) and the Walter Camp Award (nation’s best player) and has been named to 2 All-American teams thus far. Quarterback Darron Thomas, linebacker Casey Matthews, and defensive back/punt returner Cliff Harris have all received accolades as well. The Ducks offense needs to go out on a solid note and make a statement on national television. Look for James to have a big game and for Darron Thomas to remain solid in the passing and running games this week. For those who want James to make a run at the Heisman they may want a relatively close game because if it turns ugly before the 4th quarter you may not see too much of “LaHeisman” on the field.
The quote machine that is Cliff Harris called Oregon State the “little brother” of the Ducks earlier this week, which could provide a little bulletin board material for the Beavers. But if Oregon State needs more motivation that trying to finish the regular season at 6-6 then they don’t deserve to be angry anyway. Chip Kelly will not let his players think about anything beyond Saturday afternoon and will have his team focused on winning the day. With ESPN’s College Gameday in town there will be plenty of media lurking around trying to make the Ducks nervous about blowing a shot at the title. Articles about Oregon State’s ability to take down top-ranked teams (ask USC) and a team’s susceptibility to losing when they have a chance to clinch a trip to the national championship game in the last week (again, ask USC) have been flying around all week. But this Duck team is special and everyone has known it since spring practice. They have a chance to go to the school’s first national championship game in its 115-year history. It would make the Beavers season if they knocked the Ducks out of position to achieve that goal. But with the national title and bragging rights on the line, it’s hard to see Oregon State finding the ability to play at the Ducks level.
Ducks win the day 55-17. The Oregon trail ends in Glendale.
About the Author
Written by Rob Parness
My name is Robbie Parness and I am a student at the University of Oregon. I'm a California native that loves to play, watch and talk about all kinds of sports. I would love to become a sports writer someday or work in sports in any capacity.