Coach's Corner - Playing with intensity

Another Northwest rivalry is on tap this weekend as the Oregon State Beavers head north to take on the Washington Huskies. Once again OSU faces a must win situation and despite a long history of losing in Seattle, the Men in Black have had recent success in Husky Stadium winning the last two.

For the second consecutive week Oregon State is playing a team that barely lost to USC. The Huskies played the Trojans tough, losing 20-26 on the road last Saturday. The 4-2 Purple and Gold are a perfect 3-0 at home in 2006 with wins against San Jose State, Fresno State and UCLA. Their three wins at home are more victories at home then the last two seasons combined.

One of the challenges this week is containing the versatile quarterback Isaiah Stanback who can hurt teams with his arm and his legs. He is second in the Pac-10 and 19th in the nation in total offense with 250.3 yards per game and has completed 89 of 165 (53.9%) for 1163 yards, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions.

“They are doing a great job with what they are doing with Isaiah Stanback. He is playing very well,” Oregon State head coach Mike Riley said. “They have three guys that are being significant. This is a football team that has grown with in their program and know what they are doing, and they are a solid team.”

The other two guys that are playing well offensively are receiver Sonny Shackelford, Stanback’s favorite receiver, and the two headed rushing monster of Louis Rankin and Kenny James. Shackelford has 30 catches for 440 yards and five touchdowns. Rankin has 350 yards and two touchdowns while James has 279 yards for three touchdowns. Both are averaging over four yards a carry.

One of the bright spots from last week’s contest against Washington State was the introduction of the nickel package by defensive coordinator Mark Banker. It was effective forcing several coverage sacks and incompletions. This week the nickel will be used again, but the defense will have to pay special attention to Stanback and implement a quarterback spy or use a heavy blitz package.

“Some people tend to blitz in order to cut that down and try to squelch it early, and other teams tend to drop everybody and rush three guys to have awareness with vision on him,” said Riley who is 2-3 against Washington while at OSU. “Both of them are good and probably a mixture of them is a good idea. “

And while there are good vibrations in the north about their offense, it is exactly the opposite down south in Corvallis where the offense is struggling. As the losses pile up, the voices become louder for Riley to play redshirt freshman Sean Canfield, but most fans feel that Canfield will only play if it is a blowout or Moore gets injured. When asked about a rotation, Riley responded briefly, “That is still all status quo. There won’t be any announcement about that.”

In the last two weeks running back Yvenson Bernard has fumbled twice, inside the opponent’s red zone, killing important drives. And although he is second in the conference with 495 yards, he has had a quite year.

“He’s had 17 carries in the last two games and we’d like to get that to 25-ish,” Riley said. “I believe Yvenson is playing well. It’s uncharacteristic with the couple of fumbles that he’s had. I think as our team develops and grows, we do a better job with some balance, and he’ll get more yards.”

Part of that development has to do with the offense stretching the field. Quarterback Matt Moore has completed just one pass over 25 yards and rarely looks downfield. With a short passing game it is hard to get the running game going with everyone on the line of scrimmage. If the Beavers want to win this week they must find a way to stretch the field, take care of the football and convert on third downs.

“That’s the game in a nutshell,” Riley said. “I think it’s real important that you have early success in the downs, because they get people in third and long a lot and it’s been a major factor in the games.

“The success of running the football and keeping the blitzes at bay is a big factor in every ball game now that you see with what teams are doing on offense.”

Last year the Men in Black relied on the leg of Alexis Serna who was 6 of 6 scoring all 18 of the team’s points. The Huskies are much improved this time around, and most likely field goals won’t be enough to win, but Riley will take points whenever he can. One of the most important aspects that the offense must focus on is taking care of the football so they don’t take scoring opportunities away.

“The importance of taking care of the football (is important),” Riley said. “Who knows how this game will unfold? How it went last year - we took the kicks and that was enough to win the ball game. So if that’s what it takes, that’s what we’ll need to do to win the ball game.”

The post season is in the balance already and the players, on both sides of the ball, must play with passion and enthusiasm and lay it all out on the field. The team had a great week of practice last week, which resulted in a good showing for the defense. This week the practices have started out just as good, but can the success on the practice field’s for the offense turn into success on the turf in Seattle?

“I think everyone’s attitude has to be for each guy to take what he does and do it better and be enthusiastic about it,” Riley said. “I think we played with intensity and enthusiasm and passion and all that in the last game, I think it was a result of how we prepared and the attitude we had all week. And when the gates opened up, our guys were ready to go play and they competed.”

Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m. on FoxSports NW.


Notes:

  • FS Al Afalava may miss the UW game due to a concussion suffered against Washington State. Bryan Payton will start if Afalava is not available.

  • When Riley was asked about Moore throwing downfield, he basically said nothing. “There were some good things that way. He started to open up possibilities because we hadn’t had many of those, and we got some and we can hopefully build on those.

  • The defense will continue its heavy rotation at linebacker and on the defensive line, but Afalava’s injury may hurt. In the nickel package, Daniel Drayton would be the third safety or a an extra linebacker, Isaiah Cook or Dennis Christopher, could be used.

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