Back to back losses to Cincinnati and Arizona brought an end to the early season exuberance that two season opening wins over Portland State and UNLV had produced. It resulted in a week with little to talk and write about, because Lunchpail U. went back to work.
And it paid off, as the Beavers not only played their best game so far this season, they played a better brand of game, after that week of quietly working on the details that cost them wins they could have had at home the last two weeks.
Oregon State got off to a quick start against Cincinnati, but didn't capitalize on their opportunities. In Tempe, a fumbled attempted punt gave Oregon State a golden opportunity. And instead of settling for a Justin Kahut field goal in the opponent's red zone, the brothers' Rodgers wasted no time giving the Beavers a 7-0 lead.
Jacquizz Rodgers headed for a 32 yard touchdown against Arizona St. (AP photo)
A three and punt Sun Devil possession led to another Rodgers assault. James' 33 yard punt return, the best punt return of his career so far, and a nine yard catch set up Jacquizz's 32 yard touchdown run, and the Beavers were up 14-0 less than seven minutes into the game.
The Sun Devils answered with a ten play, 62 yard drive that produced a field goal, but the Beavers responded with an eight play drive that covered 77 yards, and ended with James' Rodgers' 25 yard touchdown catch on the first play of the second quarter.
The drive was significant, because it marked the return of some field stretching passing plays, something essentially absent since the first play of the season. But even more important than James' scoring catch was the work by senior former walk-on, former community college player Damola Adeniji. Adeniji had catches for 20 and 15 yards, starting what would be a career best night (so far). Adeniji also added a career longest 41 yard catch that was instrumental in the field position battle in the second quarter.
Damola Adeniji (80) makes a catch against Arizona St. Cornerback Pierre Singfield. (AP photo)
The 21-3 start was great, but it's not as though all would be well with the Beavers.
The defense that has been the subject of much concern and criticism made some significant progress, but still showed some signs that warrant concern, and it started with the next possession.
The Sun Devils ran off 11 plays, and nearly five minutes, driving to the Beavers' 20 yard line. Ben Terry forced a fumble, and Matt LaGrone recovered it to thwart Sparky, but it was a sign of trouble to come.
Oregon St.'s Matt LaGrone (19) pressures Arizona St. QB Danny Sullivan (15) (AP photo)
The Cincinnati game was notable for the disastrous third quarter, where the Beaver defense couldn't get off the field, and the third period in Tempe bore a resemblance. Sun Devil quarterback Danny Sullivan led a 10 play, 77 yard drive that took nearly five minutes, and cut the Beavers' lead to 21-10. Oregon State struggled to move the ball, and didn't get many opportunities to do so, as the next two Sun Devil drives took up about six and a half minutes.
The Beavers mounted the pivotal drive of the game early in the fourth quarter, as Sean Canfield had perhaps his best four minutes yet for OSU. Canfield connected with Adeniji for another 22 yards, Aaron Nichols for 15, James Rodgers for 37, and finally Adeniji for the touchdown that put the Beavers up 28-10.
Sean Canfield throws against Arizona St. (AP photo)
The long second half drive problem arose again, sort of, as Arizona State ran off 22 plays, and marched 94 yards, for their last score, though admittedly, Oregon State was playing clock ball, knowing the Sun Devils needed three scores, not just one long drive.
Jacquizz Rodgers was held under 100 yards rushing for the third game in a row, being limited to 82 yards on 17 carries, and also under 100 yards of total offense, and a nearly nine minute disadvantage in time of possession is part of the reason why. Especially when combined with the Arizona St. defense, which is the best the Beavers have faced this season.
James Rodgers had 10 catches for 114 yards, and over 200 yards of total offense to offset the job Arizona St. did in shutting down Quizz, especially after the first drives.
James Rodgers (8) makes one of his 10 catches for 114 yards against Arizona St. (AP photo)
And though the offense bogged down for a while, credit has to go to the linemen as well as Canfield for an improved brand of offense. Canfield completed 18 of 30 passes, including 8 for more than 10 yards. More importantly, Canfield threw only one interception, and was only sacked once, largely eliminating the big mistakes that had more than offset all the good plays made the last two weeks.
The Beaver defense also at least didn't stand pat, making three changes in the starting lineup. Brennan Olander replaced Latu Moala on the line, Cameron Collins continued to play in place of Suaesi Tuimaunei at safety, as he did in the latter portion of the Arizona game, and Brandon Hardin replaced Tim Clark at cornerback.
Brandon Hardin (17) intercepts a pass in the second quarter against Arizona St. (AP photo)
Hardin was the change that made the biggest impact, as Brandon had an interception, four tackles, and also broke up a pass. Clark still contributed five tackles for the Beavers in his modified role.
But even with the changes that did produce added pressure, only one sack of Sullivan resulted. And Sullivan threw for 338 yards, completing 32 of 58 passes, as the Sun Devils ran up total 406 yards. Arizona St. receiver Chris McGaha had 15 catches for 165 yards, both game high numbers. That kind of performance can't be repeated if Oregon State expects to make a run at another nine or ten win season.
Special teams continued to be a positive factor, as Johnny Hekker averaged over 44 yards per punt on five punts, and dropped two inside the Sun Devil 20 yard line. The best play was a punt Jordan Poyer just ran down and caught on the fly. Kahut contributed strong kickoffs as well, and Arizona St. totaled just 5 yards on their six kick returns.
Relatively few saw the Beavers' blue collar effort, as the announced crowd of 45,373 clearly included some sold tickets that went unused, and some more that left early, as the dissatisfaction with the Sun Devils was evident in the Tempe crowd, who are growing restless with former Oregon State coach Dennis Erickson's progress.
Further, the feud between Comcast, owners of the Versus network that carried the game, and Direct TV, which blacked out that portion of the audience, and continual problems with the streaming audio by KPAM 860, forced a lot of Beaver nation to miss out on what was a landmark victory. The win in Tempe broke a 16 game road losing streak to Arizona State that extended back 40 years.
Oregon State Coach Mike Riley celebrates the Beavers' first win against Arizona St. in Tempe in 40 years.
The only success the Beavers have enjoyed in Sun Devil Stadium since 1969 was the 2001 Fiesta Bowl victory over Notre Dame. Who unfortunately survived a Washington goal line possession, and pulled out a 37-30 overtime win over the Huskies that would have been a major intersectional win for the Pac-10 earlier in the day.
The win kept the Beavers (3-2, 1-1) within a game and a half of the Stanford Cardinal (4-1), who defeated UCLA 24-16 Saturday to take sole possession of the Pac-10 race, with a 3-0 conference mark. The Cardinal, and running back Toby Gerhart, who carried for 134 yards and three touchdowns against the Bruins, pay a visit to Corvallis Saturday, for a 4 PM game to be televised nationally by Fox Sports Network's family of regional channels.
Stanford is the second-ranked rushing team in the Pac-10 and is No. 12 nationally, running for 221.8 yards per game. Oregon State will counter with the conferences' No. 3 rush defense, which is No. 12 nationally. The Beavers are allowing 87.4 yards per game.
Stanford's Toby Gerhart leads the Cardinal into Reser Stadium next. (AP photo)
Another game where the Beavers will have to have a sense of extreme urgency. Hopefully the next in a long series of games of urgency. Because in the tight Pac-10 race, there are only going to be two types of games. Urgent ones, and ones that ones that don't matter, because you have been eliminated.