Midweek Notebook: Week 10

Photo: <b>Oregon State sophomore Jacquizz Rodgers</b> is second in the Pac-10 in all-purpose yardage. His brother James, who also plays for the Beavers, leads the conference in that category.
Salgu Wissmath/File
Oregon State sophomore Jacquizz Rodgers is second in the Pac-10 in all-purpose yardage. His brother James, who also plays for the Beavers, leads the conference in that category.

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The Cal football defense hasn't had much success over the past two seasons against little guys who can run with the football.

Last season, the Bears didn't have a problem slowing down bruisers like Michigan State's Javon Ringer and Stanford's Toby Gerhart. But they were sliced and diced by Arizona's Keola Antolin (5-foot-8) and Oregon State's James and Jacquizz Rodgers (both 5-foot-7). Jacquizz rushed for 144 yards and a touchdown in the Beavers' 34-21 win over Cal; James returned a kickoff 86 yards to the end zone and scampered for another 18-yard score.

A little over a month ago, Oregon's 5-foot-9 LaMichael James continued the trend with 118 yards on the ground.

All that doesn't bode well for this weekend, when the brothers Rodgers -- who currently rank No. 1 and 2 in the Pac-10 in all-purpose yardage -- bring their act to Memorial Stadium.

"(Jacquizz is) hard to tackle, because he's fast, shifty and low to the ground," Bears safety Brett Johnson said. "I'm kind of a taller guy, so I practically have to get down on my kneecaps to tackle the guy."

A lot of defenses seemed to have that problem last season, when "Quizz" was named Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year after averaging 113.9 rushing yards per game. As Cal found out, the younger Rodgers is very adept at waiting behind his blockers and then slipping through gaps that are, as Johnson said, "about a foot wide."

"It's really hard, especially coming from safety," Johnson said. "You're coming downhill so fast to fill the gap, if he stops and changes you're like, 'Hey, where did he go?' All the linemen are 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4, he hides behind them really well and uses the blockers really well. He's got good vision."

The maddening part for defenses is trying to keep an eye on James at the same time, particularly with the variety of ways in which Oregon State gets the ball into both players' hands. Jacquizz is second in the conference in rushing yards per game (115.2) and second in receptions per game (6.1). James leads the Pac-10 in both receptions (7.5) and receiving yards (88.2) per contest.

While Cal coach Jeff Tedford said that the Beavers are using Jacquizz in largely the same ways that they did last season, it's James who is getting more involved in the OSU offense.

"Last year I thought he was a big fly-sweep runner and reverse runner and throwing little bubble screens and things like that, and now you see him down the field catching balls at different levels," Tedford said. "Seems like he's just become more of a part of their offense in everything that they do besides just a role player."

The Bears (6-2, 3-2 in the Pac-10) were burned deep again last weekend by Arizona State on an 80-yard touchdown pass. That makes four straight games in which they have allowed a scoring play of at least 66 yards. It's a tall order, but the onus this Saturday will be on Cal's defense to keep the Rodgers brothers from breaking out like they did last year.

"Tough group to stop," Tedford said. "I don't know that you're ever going to stop them completely. You just hope to limit them because they are very explosive."

Uphill Slope

Riding a string of three straight wins, several players at Tuesday's media conference said that the team's confidence is back up to where it was before its losses to Oregon and USC.

"It's the best situation we could be in after the bye week," quarterback Kevin Riley said. "The game on Saturday wasn't pretty by any means, but we won at that's all that matters. I'll take that any week. We just have to fight out. Every game we have left is going to be a fight. (We've) just got to find ways to win."

Quick Hits

-- Tedford said that Jahvid Best's ankle is "fine," but still sore. Best sat out most of Cal's final drive against the Sun Devils after twisting his ankle on the first play of the drive.

-- Left guard Matt Summers-Gavin and nose guard Derrick Hill are still day-to-day.

-- Tedford said that the kicking competition between Vince D'Amato and Giorgio Tavecchio will continue to be evaluated throughout the week.

-- Kickoff time for Cal's game against Arizona at Memorial Stadium on Nov. 14 will be announced on Sunday. The game will either be at 4 p.m., televised on Versus, or on ESPN starting at 7:20 p.m.


Contact Matt Kawahara at [email protected]

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