Frightening! Bernard may sit out USC game

It is strangely spooky and, oddly fitting since it is around Halloween, that the last time Oregon State and USC squared off star running back Yvenson Bernard was on the sidelines and that this time around the Beavers could again be without their team's leading rusher.

The seemingly indestructible Bernard injured his left shoulder in the second quarter last Saturday against Stanford. He had an MRI Monday which showed his injury to be a sprain, the best of news in this type of situation.

“The word is that it is a sprained shoulder," coach Mike Riley said. "Which is good news, it’s not separated or broken or anything like that."

Good news indeed. And while Beaver Nation doesn't need any reminding that OSU beat the Trojans last year without Bernard, it would be a bloody blow to the team's running and passing games.

Bernard did not participate in any contact drills this week as he worked on his agility on the sidelines as  potential starters Matt Sieverson and Clinton Polk received much needed reps.  The 5-foot7-, 201-pound dynamo will be making the trip to Los Angeles, which means he will play, and he recently downgraded the amount of pain he is in from a five to a two.

"Basically this is a day-to-day thing," Riley said. "How he tolerates the pain and how it feels later in the week (will determine if he plays or not)."

"We will probably be talking about this each day and we will see where he is at. But you guys know Yvenson if it’s possible he will probably be there.”

The effect of Bernard out of the lineup is downright scary as the following statistics point out.

  • He is the team's leading rusher and third in the Pac-10 averaging 101.8 yards per game.
  • He has a team high 10 touchdowns, tied for most in the league by a running back.
  • The team has won nine of its last 11 games when he rushes for 100-plus yards.
  • He is the team's leading receiver with 32 catches and is 11th all-time in school history for career receptions.
  • He has gone 162 rushes without a fumble.
  • And the list goes on and on.

Eliminate Bernard's statistics and you take away 65-percent of the rushing attack and nine percent of the passing attack and that doesn't include his excellent blocking ability which takes pressure off of quarterback Sean Canfield giving him more time to throw - a disturbing reality.

In fact, with Bernard out of the lineup Stanford grabbed four of their six sacks and the two sacks with Bernard in the game weren't his fault. Another aspect of the offense that suffers as bad as a vampire in sunlight when Bernard is out of the lineup is third down conversions and the variety in play calling.

The Beavers converted a ghastly 4 of 15 third downs last weekend, but three of the conversions came when Bernard was in the game. He didn't touch the ball on any of the three conversions, but he was certainly a factor in each conversion.

His experience allows the coaches to call more plays and vary their formations that include lining Bernard up at fullback and James Rodgers at tailback and the deadly fly sweep that plays off Bernard ghoulishly good moves in between the tackles and Rodgers stinging speed to the edge.

Alas, there is no need to crimson drive a nail into your orange and black coffin just yet. Hard running Matt Sieverson subbed in carrying the ball 16 times for 68 yards while Clinton Polk ran eight times for 28 yards last weekend. Both earned praise from their teammates and coaches for their play.

"Matt and Clinton went out there and made some plays," Riley said. "They did a really nice job with Yvenson out."

Sieverson doesn't have 28 Days Later zombie speed and won't break off any big runs against USC, but he does give the team a reliable, tough runner who isn't afraid to stick his nose into the thick of things and grind out tough yards. He also does a great job of keeping his legs and won't fumble the ball away.

Polk has the ability to take one to the house and has experience against USC as he rushed for 100 yards on 22 carries while adding three receptions for 16 yards last year - a solid all around performance in his first career start.

But, the Polk of last year would have looked for contact to crush some skulls while the Polk against Stanford shied away from contact like James Caan did from Kathy Bates in Misery. Plus, Polk did have trouble holding onto the ball late last year fumbling twice, including a crucial one against UCLA on the road.

If Bernard cannot play or does not start Riley is planning on starting Sieverson with Polk coming off of the bench. Ball security and protecting Canfield, as always, will be paramount. And while Sieverson's and Polk's running ability will be scrutinized, it is there pass blocking skills that are one of the main keys to OSU leaving California with a victory.

Oregon State hasn't won in Los Angeles since 1960, when Tommy Prothro's team defeated #6 USC 14-0 in the season opener, - a score this year's team is eerily capable of bringing to life.

Trick or treat? Tune in to ABC at 5 p.m. this Saturday. See this article for television coverage details.

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