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September 9, 2011We all agree that the Sacramento State loss was one of, if not the worst, loss in the programs history, but that was last week. This week there is a new opponent, a better team than the Hornets and it's at their place, which raises more questions about the Beavers than I have space to write.
With the Beavers traveling to take on the Wisconsin Badgers, here are six keys to the game for the Beavers.
1. Musical Chairs at Quarterback
In what has become the most heated discussion among Beaver fans in recent memory, or at least a couple years, who should start under center come Saturday? It seems that most are divided with some calling for RFr. Sean Mannion to unseat incumbent starter junior Ryan Katz. An argument can definitely be made for each being the starter, but Coach Riley has decided to go forth with both QBs seeing time this weekend.
With Katz you have a veteran quarterback who has a cannon for an arm while also having the wheels needed to pick up yardage with his feet. The detractions on Katz are mainly in his decision making as he looks antsy in the pocket and hesitant in making his reads.
In my opinion, Katz doesn't have much faith in his offensive line as he was sacked 30 times last year and knocked on his back countless times more. Another contributing factor could be that Katz missed all of spring camp as he was recouping from off season surgery. While he was able to participate in some of the non-contact stuff, he was not able to do any live game-like simulations.
Those calling for Mannion to start saw a quarterback who really ignited the Beavers' offense last weekend in the 2nd half. Mannion has all the tools to be a great QB for the Beavers, but is he the quarterback of the future or the quarterback of today? In watching most all of fall and spring camp, I have watched Mannion improve rather steadily each week. But the question is, is he ready for the big time already?
I'm not buying into this 2-QB system. Many teams have proven that it just simply doesn't work. The coaching staff needs to decide on one QB and go with him. In doing so, it will instill confidence, while also allowing him to become the leader that every team needs at QB. My vote is to stay with Katz, for this week at least.
2. Who will replace the Nation's leading rusher?
This team just really cannot buy a break right now. The injury bug has been devastating to the Beavers here in the early goings.
The latest to go down is true freshman running back, Malcolm Agnew with lingering hamstring injuries that forced him to miss most of his senior year of high school.
As of last Saturday, the coaching staff looked brilliant in their decision to play Agnew as he was one of the few bright spots for the Beavers. As the game ended, Agnew found himself leading the nation in rushing yards. But then the hammies started to bug him and now he'll find himself sitting in Corvallis on Saturday rather than playing in Madison.
With Agnew staying home, that poses the question, who's going to step up and carry the load? Either sophomore Jovan Stevenson or freshman Terron Ward will get the start on Saturday, but expect to see plenty of Jordan Jenkins in the backfield, especially if the Beavs get down early as Jenkins is arguably the best blocker and receiver out of the backfield.
3. Can the defense get off the field?
This has been a problem for the Beavers over the last couple years. Granted the Beavers played perhaps the toughest schedule of any team in the nation, the defense didn't make things any easier as they allowed teams to convert on 3rd an alarming 47% of the time. Tough to win a game when you can't get a stop on defense.
This year the defense was supposed to be better, specifically the linebacking group as the upgrade in just pure athleticism alone is much higher than the past couple years. That wasn't the case against the Hornets as they converted 7 of 14 attempts on 3rd down, including several 3 & long situations.
The defensive line needs to continue to get after the quarterback while also not letting him break containment. The outside linebackers need to take away the flats, while the middle backer spies the QB.
Lastly, the defensive backs need to keep their eyes on the QB if they want to have any chance of breaking up a pass or better yet, snatching a pick out of the air.
4. Can the Beavers defense contain a mobile QB?
This point kind of goes hand and hand with the previous one as most opposing QBs are picking up rushing yards on 3rd downs, often scrambling to pick up 1st downs. Even the most un-athletic QBs seem to be able to pick up positive yardage scrambling against the Beavers defense.
The problem is, you can't really point to one scenario and say that they pick up yardage that way. QBs are scrambling for big yards after the pocket breaks down, they're running and gaining yards via the zone read, they're picking up yards on QB draw plays.
What it all boils down to is that the Beavers are not playing disciplined football. With Russell Wilson running the Badgers show, he is a very capable athlete who can run fairly well. He picked up 62 yards last weekend on 2 carries against UNLV, including a 46-yard touchdown scramble. It will take a disciplined team effort to keep him in check.
5. Show me something on offense
Every year there is much talk about the Beaver offense starting the season by running a very vanilla scheme as they wait to implement the entire playbook as the season goes on.
It was the same story last weekend.
That has got to change starting this weekend. With the let-down of not going bowling last season to the embarrassing and un-inspired performance of last week, the coaches need to feel the urgency to win now.
It will be a daunting task none-the-less as Wisconsin has a very good team, but it is not an impossible task. What it will take is for the coaches to hold nothing back, for once to be the aggressors in play calling and for the players to perform the gameplan.
6. Quiet the crowd early
One of the greatest and most renowned stadiums in all the country is Camp Randall, home of the Badgers. With over 82,000 screaming fans in the stands every weekend, they give the Badgers a decisive homefield advantage.
It will be imperative for the Beavers to get off to a strong start, in an effort to take the crowd out early and give the team some confidence. The Beavers need to punch Wisconsin square in the mouth on their first drive and put 7 up on the board if it has any chance of winning. An opening drive 3-and-out or a turnover will make for a very long day for Beaver fans and the team.