Oregon State is no stranger to slow starts in conference play. Once again, the team has done a remarkable job rebounding.
The 23rd-ranked Beavers look to extend their conference winning streak to six games as they continue to pursue a share of their first Pac-10 title in eight years on Saturday with a home game against California.
Oregon State (6-3, 5-1) lost its season opener against Stanford on Aug. 28, dropping its first conference game for the fifth straight season. Coach Mike Riley vowed that his team would learn from that game, and it looks like the Beavers have delivered.
In its next Pac-10 game nearly a month later, Oregon State upset top-ranked Southern California 27-21, the first of five straight conference wins. It’s the Beavers’ longest Pac-10 win streak since they won their last six games in 2000 to claim a share of the conference title with Oregon and Washington.
Bouncing back from a bad start to conference play is nothing new for Oregon State. In 2004, it won five of six after losing its first two Pac-10 contests. In both 2006 and 2007, it followed 0-2 conference starts with six wins in its final seven Pac-10 games.
The Beavers, though, have a special feeling about this season’s turnaround after routing UCLA 34-6 last Saturday at the Rose Bowl.
“It would be a dream to come back here in January,” quarterback Sean Canfield said.
Oregon State is one win behind USC in the conference standings, but owns the tiebreaker over the Trojans by virtue of its upset win in September. The Beavers haven’t played in Pasadena on New Year’s Day since the end of the 1964 season.
Though they admit they’re looking forward to bowl season, the Beavers don’t want to get too far ahead of themselves.
“Our guys knew what the story was tonight,” offensive guard Adam Speer said last Saturday. “We have three games left, so we must step back and take a deep breath.”
Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers ran 31 times for 144 yards in last week’s win, giving him 1,089 rushing yards in his first nine games - a Pac-10 record for a freshman. He ran for a touchdown and also caught a TD pass from Canfield.
It’s unclear if Canfield will make his third straight start in place of Lyle Moevao, who has been sidelined with a shoulder injury. Canfield has been very solid the last two weeks, completing 35 of 50 passes for 440 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions.
Canfield was the starter in 2007 before a shoulder injury prematurely ended his season, and lingering problems from surgery kept him on the sidelines this year while Moevao flourished in the starting role.
“My arm felt great today and my timing is getting back to where it should be,” Canfield said after last Saturday’s win.
The Golden Bears (6-3, 4-2) were held to 165 total yards in a 17-3 loss at USC, their lowest total in nearly nine years. Senior starter Nate Longshore was replaced by sophomore Kevin Riley after halftime, and neither quarterback was particularly effective.
Tedford on Tuesday, though, said Riley would start against the Beavers.
“His escape dimension and athletic ability gives you more options on offense,” Tedford said in his earliest midweek announcement of a starting quarterback since September.
Tedford knows USC’s Football Bowl Subdivision-leading defense had a lot to do with Cal’s struggles, but he also faults his team for some critical mistakes, including having a touchdown waved off due to an illegal receiver downfield.
“You can’t beat yourself in situations, have penalties, get a touchdown called back, especially when you play a defense like that,” he said.
His offense could have its hands full again this week against an Oregon State defense which has held opponents to averages of 14.3 points and 260.3 yards over the last four games while forcing 10 turnovers.
The Beavers have won seven of the teams’ last nine meetings, including a 31-28 victory over the second-ranked Golden Bears last Oct. 13. Cal, however, has won its last two visits to Corvallis by a combined 90-20 score.