If anyone still clings to coach Steve Sarkisian's we'll-go-undefeated-at-home declaration back in training camp - and doesn't believe the Washington Huskies will once again disappoint the purple-and-gold faithful today - you might want to consider who is in town.
These aren’t your Beavers of yesteryear, who once upon a time were getting blasted all over football fields across America. Fortunes are drastically different now, especially on the road, as Oregon State has won seven of its past nine Pacific-10 Conference games away from Reser Stadium.
Since 2006, the Beavers have won more conference road games than they have lost. After upsetting Arizona last week in Tucson, a victory at Husky Stadium today would keep the streak intact and go a long way toward validating this OSU team.
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“We would like to build that identity continually, that we can go on the road and win,” Oregon State coach Mike Riley said.
Whereas it seems Oregon State is finding its usual midseason groove, the UW is still trying to figure out how to produce a consistent effort, especially at Husky Stadium, where the Huskies have lost two of their three games this season.
“That is the mystery of sports, right?” Sarkisian said. “No matter if it’s football, basketball, baseball or whatever that may be, if there was just a formula, or a button to push (on executing properly), then everybody would have it ... and the best teams would always win.”
The Huskies have to hold their own in two areas today in order to win:
• It might not be entirely possible to stop Oregon State’s super-tailback Jacquizz Rodgers, but if he runs wild like he did a season ago – 159 yards in a 48-21 Beavers’ romp – the Huskies likely will be in for a long afternoon.
And now with the older Rodgers brother – receiver James – sidelined for the rest of the season with a knee injury, it’s possible Jacquizz Rodgers will be more active in the passing game, too.
“He’s obviously one of a kind,” UW linebacker Cort Dennison said. “He is shifty. He has a lot of moves, but at the same time I think he’ll hit you in the mouth. He’s not just a one-dimensional back – he’ll rock you, he’ll get after you.”
• All week – and seemingly all season – the Huskies have been shifting around their offensive line to find a combination that works.
Now with a more physical Erik Kohler (mononucleosis) out indefinitely, and three-year starter Cody Habben coming off a poor showing last week against Arizona State, the interior of the UW’s line is Gregory Christine at center, and Colin Porter and Ryan Tolar at guards.
Can that trio keep Oregon State’s Stephen Paea, whom Sarkisian called the “best defensive tackle in the country,” from causing trouble in the UW backfield, notably for a hobbled Jake Locker?
If last year’s game is any indication – Paea barreled over the likes of Tolar and Nick Wood at will – then the Huskies need to find more bodies to put on him.
“I thought (Paea) was good last year,” Sarkisian said. “I thought he was great after our game. So we are giving him a lot more respect this year. We need to know where he is on every snap.”
All week, the Huskies have been asked the same question: Is today’s Northwest showdown a must-win affair?
In agreement, they’ve answered, “No.”
They might admit otherwise if they walk off the field today with a 2-4 record.
“I think we get in trouble as a football team when we start looking at the ‘What ifs?’ down the road, and the consequences of a loss,” Sarkisian said. “We need to focus on the task at hand.”
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports