CORVALLIS, Ore, – Oregon State reconnected with Jacquizz Rodgers on Saturday. If the Beavers cannot reconnect their defense before visiting Kellen Moore and No. 3 Boise State, it may not matter much.
The Beavers (1-1) moved up a spot to No. 24 this week after surviving a scare at home against Louisville. Rodgers ran for 132 yards and two touchdowns and caught five passes and another touchdown in the 35-28 win.
Oregon State will be on the biggest stage in college football this week when it travels to Boise State. The Broncos are 2-0 after tossing aside then-No. 10 Virginia Tech and demolishing Wyoming.
"It's the moment you've been waiting for," Rodgers said.
The big question is whether the Beavers are ready, particularly on the defensive side, where they gave up a 21-point third-quarter lead and were torched for 453 yards by a suspect Louisville team that is 1-2.
For the second straight game, the Beavers were driven to distraction by an experienced mobile quarterback who made big plays with both his arm and his feet.
On Sept. 3 it was senior Andy Dalton of then-No. 6 TCU. On Saturday it was Adam Froman of the Cardinals, who passed for 288 yards and a touchdown and ran for 46 yards and two more touchdowns.
Moore, the Broncos' junior left-hander is just 6-foot and 187 pounds, but he is a two-year starter who has never lost a regular season game. Not as mobile as Dalton or Froman, Moore has been incredibly efficient, passing completing 69 percent of his passes as a freshman and 64 percent last year. He has thrown for 585 yards and five touchdowns this year.
There were good signs for the Beavers Saturday, mostly related to Rodgers, who cracked 100 yards for the first time in four games, all Beaver losses stretching back to last year's Civil War. The junior, who the Beavers have been pushing as a Heisman candidate, averaged 111 yards rushing and six catches a game last season.
He did not catch a ball in Oregon State's season-opening loss to then No. 6 TCU on Sept. 3, and was not much of a difference-maker on the ground.
That changed Saturday, as Rodgers was re-established as the focal point of Oregon State's offense. Rodgers and sophomore quarterback Ryan Katz, starting his second game, have improved at getting their timing in sync. Katz was a workmanlike 15 of 26 for 142 yards, and continued to showcase a big arm that is probably the strongest the Beavers have ever had.
Ironically, it was a defensive play — a late-game interception by James Dockery — that allowed the Beavers to walk away victorious. That came on a rare mistake by Lousiville quarterback Adam Froman, a poor pass that should not have been thrown.
"Really, the only people who stopped us was us," said the senior quarterback, who threw for 288 yards and ran for 46, including two touchdowns.
"It was too close for our first (home) game," said Dockery. "We were expecting a better performance."
But for two critical blown opportunities by the Cardinals the Beavers might be winless heading to Boise State.
The Cardinals failed to convert on fourth-and-1 on the Beaver 2-yard-line on their first drive. On the second drive, Oregon State safety Suaesi Tuimaunei punched the ball out of Froman's hands and out of the back of the end zone just before Forman broke the goal line for a score.
Louisville had rolled up 100 yards of total offense and should have been up 14-0. Instead the game was still scoreless.
Katz connected with tight end Joe Halahuni for a 3-yard touchdown, Rodgers ran for two scores and caught another. With 9:28 left in the third quarter, Rodgers took a direct snap and handed off to split end Markus Wheaton for a 28-yard touchdown run. With a 35-14 lead, the Beavers appeared to have the game in hand.
Froman cut the lead to seven after a 5-yard touchdown run and a TD pass to tight end Cameron Graham. He had Louisville driving again at the Oregon State 49 with a minute left in the game when he threw the ill-fated pass that Dockery caught.
But the Beavers were mostly unable get a pass rush on Froman, which put strain on the secondary and allowed Froman to beat the Beavers with his freelancing. Even worse, by the fourth quarter the Beavers were missing assignments and blowing tackles.
"They battled like crazy," Riley said of Louisville. "It was really good for us, a tremendous test."
The bigger test comes next. Bronco Stadium and its blue turf have not been good to the Beavers, who lost there 53-34 in 2004 and 42-14 in 2006. Then again, no one else plays well visiting Boise State either. The Broncos have won 56 straight regular-season home games dating to 2001.
"It's an exciting opportunity," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "It should be one of the great matchups in the country next week."