Something Pitch Duck This Way Comes

FIRST OFF, let's give credit where credit is due. All you have to do is look at the numbers, and the intangibles, and the '08 Beaver defense deserves a wealth of praise. But two recent OSU opponents have found a degree of success -- with one particular play. And how the Beavs defend that play might just spell the difference when Oregon State and Oregon meet in a titanic Civil War on Saturday.

Consider the numbers -- the Beaver defense has held its last four opponents under 300 yards of offense -- while racking up 24 tackles for loss including 16 sacks.

That, as they say, is great stuff.

The unit is ranked 12th in the nation in total defense and likely has several soon to be named All-Pac-10 players on its roster.

And when it has come down to getting big stops late at critical moments in pressure packed games, the Oregon State stop corps has been downright stingy. That, as they say, is great stuff intangible-style.

BUT OREGON STATE's last two opponents, Cal and Arizona, have each found a not insignificant amount of success on the quick pitch slant designed to take advantage of an aggressive Beaver defense.

The biggest key to the quick pitch slant, as run by Cal and UA against the Beavs, is the quarterback sell. The o-line properly executing their slant blocks is crucial, yes. So is the receiver blocking in sealing the edge.

But it is the quarterback's selling of misdirection with a step to the left (or right) -- in the hopes of freezing the D for a split second, particularly the linebackers and defensive backs, before turning and flipping the ball back the other direction to the RB -- that often makes or breaks it.

It's a great way to try and neutralize speedy defensive ends, like Victor Butler and Slade Norris, who are becoming almost impossible to stop off of the edge at times.

Arizona used their quick pitch to great success this past Saturday, they finished with 139 yards rushing. That isn't to great a total under many circumstances -- except when you consider it is the highest rushing yardage allowed by the Beavs since the Penn State game (239) in Week 2.

And with two recent games in the books that featured on center stage the success of the quick pitch, you can expect Mike Bellotti and company to test the Beavs with their version(s) of it -- early and often.

Throw in the fact that Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli is considered by friend and foe alike to be a far better runner than passer, and you can also expect some option off of it.

THE DUCKS AVERAGE a Pac-10 best 268.1 yards per game on the ground and 3.5 rushing touchdowns a game. And the Beavers last year by no means shutdown the Duck running game one year ago in the 2007 Civil War. UO had 195 yards on the ground this past November.

And Oregon State led the nation in rushing defense last year.

The Beavs on Saturday could be most susceptible to quick pitch and misdirection plays early -- when adrenaline is high and the potential to over-pursue is at its peak. So don't be surprised if the Ducks have a couple of big plays early on.

But don't be too discouraged either. Indeed, if the Ducks do have some big plays early on there will certainly be no panic on the Orange and Black sidelines and there should be none in the stands as well. Why?

One thing that OSU defensive coordinator Mark Banker has done a wicked strong job of this year -- halftime adjustments.

Stopping the run: Beaver opponents the last four games

Arizona: 139 rushing yards, 3.4 ypc, 1 rushing TD, 7 TFLs, 3 sacks

Cal: 85 rushing yards, 2.8 ypc, 1 rushing TD, 10 TFLs, 5 sacks

UCLA: 48 rushing yards, 1.8 ypc, 0 rushing TD, 8 TFLs, 3 sacks

ASU: 78 yards rushing yards, 2.4 ypc, 0 rushing TD, 9 TFLs, 5 sacks

If Oregon State is to limit the success on the quick pitch, until they feel out the Ducks offensive game plan, an even greater premium than normal will be on solid one-on-one tackling in order to negate any big plays. And Beaver defenders need to find the right balance between aggressiveness and staying at home.

Don't misunderstand this, the Beaver defense is aggressive. That's who they are. It's why they've been successful. And they shouldn't go away from it.

But early on, finding the balance with some sharp, fundamental stay-at-home sticks might be the solid first step that sets up a third straight Civil War victory for the men in black and orange. And a trip to the Rose Bowl.

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