There was one thing I particularly noticed in the Pac-12 coaches Q&As outside of Lane Kiffin's angst for beef on a sesame seed bun.
Which opposing player are you most glad you no longer have to face?
Chip Kelly: "Jacquizz Rodgers. I'm a big fan of his. But it's not that we don't have to face him. We enjoyed the challenge."
Rick Neuheisel: "Jacquizz Rodgers. He's just a really, really talented player -- both as a runner and as a pass receiver, and he never fumbled. ... He even threw a touchdown pass against us."
Steve Sarkisian: "The guy was amazing!"
Jeff Tedford: "He can hurt you in so many ways. He's very difficult to tackle, tough and durable. He made a lot of big plays, so I'm glad to see him gone."
During the three years Quizz was the feature running back at Oregon State, the Beavers put up a record of 21-15, and more impressively 17-10 in the Pac-10. When Quizz and his brother James were on the same field, that record jumped to 18-10 and an astounding 14-4 in conference play. Although they were pretty tough on their own, together their collective badass selves were so difficult to deal with and negated many of the team's other talent deficiencies. They were real-life hobbits with dreads, stirring up trouble for the entire conference
When James went down last season, Oregon State's offense was never the same, as defenses keyed in on Quizz and overwhelmed the offensive line. The numbers reflect a drop from good/average to plain bad.
- Rushing yards per carry: 58th in 2008, 66th in 2009, 88th in 2010
- Rushing yards per game: 49th in 2008, 67th in 2009, 96th in 2010
- Yards per play: 37th in 2008, 42nd in 2009, 78th in 2010
Passing yards per attempt: 42nd in 2008, 47th in 2009, 87th in 2010
- Completion percentage: 41st in 2008, 10th in 2009, 63rd in 2010
Passer rating: 39th in 2008, 28th in 2009, 76th in 2010
Bill Connelly of Football Study Hall discovered that the Beavers offensive value dropped by nearly two touchdowns when James went down, and it makes sense. Jacquizz and James might not have looked imposing, but they were so swift and shifty and tough to defend against; they were so low to the ground that even the best linebackers had trouble wrapping them up and taking them down. Jacquizz provided the tough running inside that broke things down, James stretched the field with fly sweeps and outside runs, and the two helped open up other opportunities for the other players.
It wasn't the most explosive team, but they were efficient, and for a team like Oregon State, efficient was good enough to keep them in contention for Pac-10 crowns two years running. When one went down, the offense lost its dual threat ability, and the Beavers lost five of their last seven games (although their two victories against Cal and USC were beatdowns).
In either case, with no Jacquizz and a limited James, Oregon State needs to be ready to move on.
This defense looks pretty bad: The 2006-07 teams were the last squads that won without major help from both of the Rodgers brothers, but those teams had a stout run defense that stopped Pac-10 offenses on 3rd down. The Oregon State defense hasn't been like that in awhile; even with second round draft pick Stephen Paea drawing attention in the middle and defensive end Gabe Miller managing some pressure of his own, the Beavers were an average to below average run defense and just awful in pass coverage (100th overall in pass efficiency defense).
Oregon State doesn't look like they're any closer to having a formula for stopping the pass now that top cornerback Brandon Hardin is out indefinitely due to his shoulder troubles. Riley has had to switch multiple offensive players to the other side of the ball to give the defense a manageable two-deep chart. The backline can't get hurt, because their backups are ill-equipped to even play defense of any sort.
We haven't even gotten to the front seven, which has good linebacking depth but only two returning starters and a defensive line that consists of undersized defensive ends on the edge and defensive ends situated at defensive tackle. This might be good personnel against a smaller, spread-oriented team, but it's going to be hard getting penetration or holding footing if the linemen are down 20-50 pounds on their counterpart.
(I'm not saying the Beavers D will be historically bad, but it's not totally out of the realm of possibility that the Beavers defense is about to switch roles with the Cougars as the unit everyone's eager to face.)
New Beavers in the woodshop: AndyPanda of Building the Dam reports that Oregon State could be playing as many as seven freshman on opening day (and I mean TRUE freshman) along with five redshirt frosh. This includes Malcolm Agnew (slated to replace Quizz at tailback) and Brandin Cooks (spotting James at flanker until he recovers from injury), who won the starting jobs for opening week.
Even if these guys were all five-star recruits, it's hard to see that many first-time players upgrading the Beavers from their 5-7 campaign last season. Considering most of them look like developmental projects, this looks like a recipe for pain, pain, pain.
Mike Riley has done some amazing things the past few years in Corvallis in getting the Beavers to four straight bowl games, but he's going to have to work some true miracles this season. Riley's success in Corvallis seemed to dictate that coaching could overcome the talent gap, but it was the special talents of two special little playmakers (with the support of other players like Paea, Miller, Keaton Kristick, Sammie Stroughter, Joe Halahuni) that nearly propelled the Beavers to two Pac-10 titles. There are no such names this season, making it look like this is the year when the personnel issues finally drop the Beavers back to a level a bit below the rest of the conference.
Of course, Riley could defy the experts once more, and Cooks/Agnew becomes the second combination of the Rodgers brothers. And then we should all give up on the prognostication business when it comes to the wizardry that takes place in Oregon State, because it's just unexplainable without a book of football spells.