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By Cliff Kirkpatrick
With college football full of upsets this season, the next game for the Oregon State football team figures to be an interesting one. The Beavers have been known for knocking off someone they shouldn’t. Last year’s victory over Southern California was the latest. Stanford already picked off the Trojans, so that leaves second-ranked California available.
The Beavers get their shot at an upset special as 14-point underdogs going into Saturday’s Pacific-10 Conference road game with the Golden Bears. “It’s a big week for us, and we have a lot to get ready for,” coach Mike Riley said. “It’s going to be a great opportunity.” Opportunity is Riley’s code for a good, but difficult situation. The Beavers have played well at Cal in recent years and the team is coming off a confidence boost after soundly defeating Arizona last weekend. A loss here isn’t crushing to the postseason. However, playing well in defeat could go a long way for the team’s morale, and a win could changed the complexion of the season.
“We are going down there expecting to win,” Riley said. “It’s going to be hard. They are talented, and well-coached. The whole team has athletic ability. We’ll have to play our best game. We have shown good capabilities, and it’s time to prove it on the road.” Two of those recent victories at Cal have been under Riley. He found the right attitude, game plan and matchups when in Berkeley. Success has come after Steven Jackson and Yvenson Bernard had monster days running the ball. Bernard carried the ball 42 times for 194 yards and two touchdowns in 2005. “It’s just one of those things,” Riley said of winning at Cal. “I have no idea. We just have to get ready to play a good game. “We can’t take anything for granted. But when (the running game) is going like that, there’s a lot of things you can do.” Making the game difficult is Cal’s solid passing game. Junior quarterback Nate Longshore is coming off a strong season and has standouts DeSean Jackson and Levelle Hawkins as receivers. That’s a tough matchup for the Beavers because cornerback Keenan Lewis is out two-three weeks with a sprained knee. Tim Clark takes his place, and he has limited experience compared to Lewis.
“Cal is going to be an interesting game because they have so many weapons at receiver and great running backs,” cornerback Brandon Hughes said. “What we are going to do is ride the momentum of this last win and don’t be content with anything, and compete.” One of Cal’s strengths is tailback Justin Forsett, averaging 5.4 yards a carry. He’s a seasoned senior who is finally in the starting role, and excelling as the featured back. However, the Beavers have the best run defense in the country, allowing only 43.3 yards a game. Much of that is from the pass rush with the minus-206 yards on 26 quarterback sacks going against the rush numbers, but they do a solid job stopping a ball carrier, too.
“One of the keys to our defense is we have a lot of guys who stay fresh and have a lot contribute,” Riley sad. “The foundation point is rush defense.” Special teams will be tested against the Bears. Jackson and Hawkins are two of the top returners in the Pac-10. The team’s punt return average is the best in the conference with at 13.3 yards a game.
Although OSU punter Alexis Serna showed more consistency the last game, he’s still only averaging 32.9 yards. Staying away from Jackson is vital. “We’ll have a plan for punting, for sure,” Riley said. “You have to be very smart. We are very aware how good Cal is, how fast they are and the special athletes they have.”