Side by side - Utah (0-0) at OSU (0-0)

Oregon State and Utah square off Aug. 30 making it only one of two games on opening weekend that features teams that went bowling last season. The Beavers have a perfect 13-0 non-conference record under coach Mike Riley, but it is the first time since 1998 that OSU has opened the season at home against a Division I member since hosting Nevada in 1998.

LAST YEAR: Oregon State capped off a 10-4 season with a 39-38 victory over Missouri in the Sun Bowl finishing at No. 21 in the AP poll. The Beavers went 6-3 in conference play to finish third in the Pac-10. WR/PR Sammie Stroughter was named an all-purpose All-American.

LAST YEAR: Utah concluded an 8-5 season with a 25-13 victory over Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl. The Utes went 5-3 in conference play to tie for third place. Senior defensive back Eric Weddle was named a Consensus All-American.

KEY INJURIES:
  • WR Sammie Stroughter (personal issues)
  • WR Kyle Brown (elbow)
  • WR Casey Kjos (hip)
KEY INJURIES:
  • LT Jason Boone (knee)
  • TE Colt Sampson (strained MCL)

WHEN OREGON STATE IS ON OFFENSE:  Who's it going to be? Sean Canfield or Lyle Moevao? Nobody, not even coach Mike Riley, knows at this point and that is why Canfield will play the first quarter and Moevao will play the second. Whoever performs better will get the nod in the second half.

Each does a few things a little better than the other.  Canfield is your prototypical drop back passer with a cannon for an arm.  Moevao is more of a scrambler.  Neither has that much collegiate experience with Canfield seeing limited action last season and Moevao having yet to take a snap in the Pac-10.

Some great news for the quarterbacks is they will be protected by one of the better offensive lines in the nation.  Four of five starters, all of which earned some type of postseason recognition, return from last season.  Aggressive left guard Jeremy Perry is one of the better offensive lineman in the nation as he has been named to both the Outland and Lombardi watch lists.

Center Kyle DeVan, who has been named to the Rimington Trophy watch list, is in his third consecutive year at center while right guard Roy Schuening has a team high 37 consecutive starts.  The versatile Andy Levitre has found a home at right tackle.

Junior Tavita Thompson is the newcomer to the offensive line at left tackle.  He has been in the system for three years and managed to hold off Mau Nomani and junior college transfer Michael Cole for the starting spot.  Adam Speer is the first off of the bench at either guard positions.

The heart and soul of the offense, and perhaps the team, is at running back where Yvenson Bernard resides.  Bernard, who earned first team all-conference honors in '06, does a little bit of everything as he is an excellent blocker, has great hands and is a great runner.

He is the Pac-10's active leading rusher with 2,648 yards and needs just 982 yards to rank among the top-10 for career rushing in the conference.  Over the last 21 games Bernard has rushed for 2,414 yards (114.9 avg) and 22 touchdowns. 

Backing up Bernard is former walk on Matt Sieverson, Andy Stewart and Patrick Fuller.  Last year's backup, Clinton Polk, missed all of fall camp due to academic issues although he is expected to suit up shortly.

Before the loss of Sammie Stroughter, one of the most prolific receivers in the nation, and a rash of injuries the Beavers were deep at receiver.  But Stroughter missed over two weeks as he worked through personal issues while Kyle Brown and the promising Casey Kjos both injured themsevels.

Stroughter is back practicing with the team, slowing working his way back into the swing of things.  He is not expected to suit up against Utah, but don't be surprised if he takes the field.

Replacing Stroughter in the lineup is the speedy Chris Johnson whom the coaches like to use on end arounds and other trick plays.  Johnson had four catches for 69 yards last year.  He is one of the team's best down field threats.

Lining up in the slot is Brandon Powers who is used more as a blocker than a receiver.  But, with Stroughter out of the lineup, Powers is the team's top returning wide receiver catching 39 passes for 433 yards and one touchdown last year.  Powers is often overlooked, but is an integral part of both the passing and running games.

At flanker is Anthony Brown, the most experienced receiver in terms of playing time on the squad.  He has been slowed down by injuries and off field issues his entire career, but appears to be in the best shape of his career both physically and emotionally.  He caught just 21 passes for 319 yards and two touchdowns last year and could easily double all of those numbers.

Backing up the split end and flanker positions are a pair of true freshman Darrell Catchings and James Rodgers.  Both turned in impressive fall camps running crisp routes while snagging everything with in reach.

WHEN UTAH IS ON OFFENSE: The conference's leading passer from 2005, Brian Johnson, returns after missing the entire 2006 campaign due to knee surgery. Johnson completed 63.6-percent of his passes for 2,892 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2005 earning second team all-conference honors.

With Johnson at the helm, the offense ranked fourth in the nation in total offense at 337 yards a game. He had four 300-yard passing games and was the team's second leading rusher with 478 yards and eight touchdowns on 152 carries.

He will work out of a shotgun formation 75-percent of the time with the option thrown in the mix early and often.

If Johnson goes down senior Tommy Grady, a transfer from Oklahoma two years ago, will take over. Grady completed 7 of 14 passes for 102 yards, one touchdown and three touchdowns last year.

Protecting Johnson will be 2007 Preseason all-Mountain West Conference selection Robert Conley who is in his third consecutive season at right guard.

Left tackle Jason Boone, another preseason all-conference pick, tore his ACL in his knee in early August forcing him to miss 2007. Replacing Boone in the lineup is Zane Beadles, who started at left guard last season.

Senior center Kyle Gunther, who has been named to the Rimington Trophy watch list, returns after leading the unit with 38 knockdowns.

Left guard Corey Seiuli, one career start, and right tackle Dustin Hensel are the new comers to the offensive line.

Running behind the offensive is a trio of players vying for the starting running back position. Darryl Poston, Matt Asiata and Ray Stowers will all get touches in Corvallis.

Poston is the team's leading returning rusher as he carried the ball 145 times for 553 yards and five touchdowns. Asiata is a All-American junior college transfer who was the front runner for the starting spot until a left foot injury slowed him down in early August.

Stowers turned in great performances in the spring and fall, but has struggled to stay healthy as he has battled shoulder injuries in 2004 and 2005. He rushed five times for 23 yards and one touchdown last season.

The Utes top six receivers return from last year garning the nickname, "The Six Pack."

Derrek Richards, Brian Hernandez and Brent Casteel are the three starters with Bradon Godfrey, Marquis Wilson and Freddie Brown filling in.

The speedy Richards is the team's returning leading receiver with 60 catches for 717 yards and six touchdowns while the sure-handed Hernandez hauled in 47 passes for 424 yards and one touchdown.

Castell, a second team all-MWC selection last year, finished second on the team in both receiving (39/600) and rushing (51/262) yards. He led the squad with 10 touchdown receptions.

Godfrey (22 catches for 360 yards and one touchdown), Wilson (25 receptions for 398 yards and three touchdowns) and Brown (17 catches for 196 yards) round out the top six.

WHEN UTAH HAS THE BALL:  Eighteen players last year recorded at least one sack which is a big reason why the Men in Black led the Pac-10 in getting to the quarterback.  There are just two new starters in the lineup and both received plenty of playing time last year to make the transition seamless.

The nucleus of the defense starts with the three linebackers Derrick Doggett, Alan Darlin and Joey LaRocque.  Doggett, a second team all-conference pick last year, is one of the quicker players on the team and has the ability to take over a game.

His long arms give him excellent reach as he recorded two interceptions for touchdowns last year to go along with a team high 14.5 tackles for loss.

Darlin patrols the middle of the field where he hits like a truck.  A running stopping specialist who rarely gets knocked backward Darlin had 72 tackles, including 12.5 for loss and 5.5 sacks, both good for second on the team.

LaRocque is always around the ball as he led the team in stops with 98 grabs, including 6.5 for loss.  Underclassman Keaton Kristick is first off the bench and is a superstar in the making.

In front of the linebackers is a wealth of experience on the line.  Left end Jeff Van Orsow has a knack for getting to the ball carrier as he tallied a lineman high 48 tackles.  Right end Dorian Smith has a penchant for getting to the quarterback as he grabbed a team high nine sacks last year as a backup.

Assisting the ends in middle of the field is the tenacious Curtis Coker who does a wonderful of clogging up the running lanes.  Quick step Gerard Lee started to come on strong at end of the season last year and is slated to get his first career start at the other tackle spot.

Backing up the ends are pass rushing specialists Victor Butler and Slade Norris including the physical Naymon Frank.  The tackles are supplemented by the game proven Pernell Booth and William 'Akau'ola Vea.

Out of the entire defense, depth at cornerback is the primary concern.  Keenan Lewis and Brandon Hughes both return at cornerback for their third consecutive year; neither has picked off a pass in their collegiate careers.  They have combined for 43 starts and should be able to turn their experience into some heady plays this fall.  With Coye Francies being dismissed in the summer there is little to no experience coming off of the bench if either Lewis or Hughes gets hurt.

The safeties are set with hard hitting Al Afalava and Bryan Payton returning at free safety and former nickel back Daniel Drayton taking over at strong safety.

WHEN OREGON STATE HAS THE BALL: The defense returns just two starters, free safety Steve Tate and cornerback Brice McCain.

Tate is the team's leading returning tackler as he made 102 stops, including 8.5 for loss, good for second on the team. McCain led Utah with five pass breakups in 2006. He also added 28 tackles and one interception.

Joining Tate and McCain in the defensive backfield are converted receiver Sean Smith at cornerback and Joe Dale at strong safety, who will both be making their first collegiate starts. Smith and Dale combined for eight tackles last year.

Former USC commit Gabe Long and sophomore Kenape Eliapo man the middle of the defensive line. Both played as backups last year with Long recording 23 tackles, including 1.5 sacks, and Eliapo notching seven tackles, including one sack.

Martail Burnett, one of the top ends in the Mountain West conference, mans the left end where he as started for two consecutive years. He is a all-conference candidate after earning honorable mention honors in '06. He led the team with 10.5 tackles for loss that included a team high 5.5 sacks.

Walk on Greg Newman was recently awarded a scholarship and will start at right end. He had 11 tackles, two for loss, last season.

A host of players including ends Paul Kruger, Koa Misi and Alex Puccinelli, and tackles Aaron Tonga, Lei Talamaivao, Casey Sutera and Neli A’asa will all see playing time although Puccinelli is the only one with NCAA experience.

As with most defenses the heart and soul lies with the linebackers where middle linebacker Joe Jiannoni roams. Jiannoni has started since his sophomore year and recently earned all-MWC honors last year after tallying a team second best 92 tackles, to go along with eight for loss and four sacks.

The "stud" linebacker spot is manned by senior Malakai Mokofis who grabbed 38 tackles, including 5.5 for loss, and one interception. Kyle Brady, a part-time starter the last two years takes over at rover. Brady recorded 46 tackles, including five for loss, to go along with four pass breakups.

Another part-time starter, Stevenson Sylvester, is the first off of the bench. Sylvester had 23 tackles and one interception a year ago.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Special teams have been quite a story this fall.  On the first day of fall camp Kyle Loomis unexpectedly quite the team forcing kicker Alexis Serna into punting duties.

Serna is a proven kicker who is automatic from 40 yards in and and has the leg to make 60 yard attempts.

As for his punting, he doesn't have the hang time that Loomis has, but can consistently kick the ball 40 yards in the air.  Serna improved on a week to week basis and should have no problem performing under pressure as he has won several games with his leg before.

The fearless Taylor Kavanaugh will be fielding punts in place of Stroughter.  Kavanaugh probably won't break one for a touchdown, but he will make the return game exciting as he is not afraid to sacrifice his body.

Returning kickoffs is Gerard Lawson, who returned one 100 yards to pay dirt against Hawaii last year, and Anthony Brown who has never returned kicks while at OSU.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Punter/kicker Louie Sakoda, a Ray Guy and Lou Groza candidate, returns after being named the MWC's Co-Special Teams Player of the Year in 2006.

He connected on 16 of 20 (80%) field goals, with the longest being a 45-yarder, and a pefect 43 of 43 extra points.

Sakoda averaged 44 yards per punt, good for 11th in the nation, with 30 of his 59 punts being downed inside the 20.

Returning kickoffs is Brice McCain and Brent Castell. McCain averaged 22.4 yards per return, with a long of 54. Castell averaged 17.4 yards with a long of 25.

Castell will also return punts along with Marquis Wilson, who finished second in the MWC in punt return average (11.2) last year.

OREGON STATE CAN WIN IF: Last year the Beavers were 6-0 when Bernard rushed for over 100 yards. With a new quarterback and Stroughter out, the team will rely even more on Bernard and the offensive line to lead the way.

If Oregon State controls the line of scrimmage, they can eat up the clock and slowly demoralize the Utah defense.

UTAH CAN WIN IF: Utah has won four of its last five games against Pac-10 competition, so the current coaching staff knows what it takes to defeat a Pac-10 team.

Getting to the new quarterback, knocking him to the turf a few times and getting into his head will be one of the goals defensively.

Also, loading up the box and stopping the run will be key. If the Utes can stop the run, this forces OSU to pass which will put more pressure on a young, inexperienced quarterback.

OREGON STATE WILL LOSE IF: The new quarterbacks get rattled and try to do too much.

UTAH WILL LOSE IF: They can't stop the run.

If Utah can't stop the run, then the Beavers will control the clock and the game. This also takes a great amount of pressure off of the new quarterback allowing the Beaver offense to get into a rhythm.

OREGON STATE 2-Deeps:
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UTAH 2-Deeps:
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Dan Norz is the publisher of BeaverFootball.com. OSU are hats are off to you, Beavers, Beavers fighters through and through... Dan Norz is the publisher of BeaverFootball.com. Man, I wish Scout had a Utah publisher so I didn't have to research and write this side of the article. :-)

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