Posted by Jerry Hinnen
There's basically two candidates for the upset of the 2010 college football season: James Madison taking out Virginia Tech , just the second-ever victory for an FCS team over a ranked opponent, and Nevada ruining Boise State 's dream season with their wild overtime victory.
But neither of those would hold a candle to a hypothetical Oregon State victory over the top-ranked Oregon juggernaut the Beavers will host in Corvallis this Saturday, in the 114th edition of the Civil War. The Ducks are, of course, a perfect 11-0, boast the top-ranked offense in the country, and one hiccup at Cal aside have won their other 11 games by an average of 32 points. Oregon State, meanwhile, is a disppointing 5-6 and is coming off a 38-0 humiliation at the hands of Stanford .
But the Civil War has some history of chaos , particularly when one team or the other is on the cusp of a championship. Could the Beavers make it happen? It won't be easy, but it won't be impossible, either. Here's what they'll have to do:
Shorten the game with Rodgers. It's mostly beside the point to say the Beavers need to "control the clock"; Chip Kelly 's hyperdrive offense scores so quickly that even gaining more yards than any other attack in the country, the Ducks still rank 103rd in the FBS in time-of-possession. But OSU will have to hog even more of the ball than the Ducks normally concede, because the more possessions Oregon can pack into the game, the more cracks they get at the Beaver end zone, the more fatigued the OSU defense will get as the game wears on, and the greater the toll the Ducks' superior talent will take. OSU needs to approach the game the way a Princeton-offense basketball team would a first-round NCAA Tournament game; the fewer possessions there are, the greater impact one or two fortunate bounces and big plays could have in the underdogs' favor.
So how do the Beavers do that? The heaviest dose possible of Jacquizz Rodgers . The Beavers' dynamo has been at his best in big games in the past, and will have to be again to keep the chains moving, the clock running, and the Duck offense off the field.
Rattle the Ducks on the road. Oregon has been incredible just about everywhere, but they've been far more vulnerable on the road than at home in their virtually-impregnable Autzen Stadium fortress. They allowed more than 600 yards to Arizona State in Tempe in their worst defensive performance of the season, winning largely on the strength of a cavalcade of Sun Devile errors that led to six turnovers; the Ducks' worst offensive performance came in Berkeley, where they managed just one offensive touchdown and anaverage of 3.8 yards per-play, nearly two yards lower than their next-worst performance.
The Beavers haven't been particularly good at home -- their decisive loss in Corvallis to Washington State is probably the single worst performance in Pac-10 play this season -- but if they can play with enough emotion and energy early to keep the crowd well in it, the Ducks have shown they might not respond all that well.
Win the special teams battle. This is much easier said than done with All-American Duck returner Cliff Harris around, but special teams have typically been a Mike Riley strength -- they kept the Beavers competitive in their meeting with Boise almost singlehandedly -- and they simply can't afford to lose this phase of the game when they have such an uphill climb on first-through-third down. Preventing a big Oregon special teams play and making one or two of their own would go a long, long way towards evening the scales.
Sell out against the run. With an offense as powerful as Oregon's, there's no good way to defend it; packing the box means that Darron Thomas will have more opportunities to hit a backbreaking pass downfield. But the only time Oregon's been halfway contained -- in the aformentioned trips to Cal and Arizona State -- it's started with limiting LaMichael James and the Duck running game, which averaged just 3.47 yards an attempt vs. the Sun Devils and an ugly 2.95 vs. the Bears. The Beavers' star defensive tackle Stephen Paea will need to play the game of his life.
Don't turn the ball over. A team like OSU simply won't beat a team like Oregon wasting possessions and helping the Duck offense with turnovers. There's not much else to say there.
Even if Oregon State does all of the above, they're still not likely to actually emerge with more than a moral victory; Oregon is just that good. But they'll at least have a fighting chance, and if they catch a couple of breaks with the officials and in the turnover department, who knows? There could be one more shocker left in the college football season after all.