Beavers face UCLA, hope to keep Pac-10 title hopes alive

PASADENA, Calif. — The Oregon State Beavers will be at the Rose Bowl this weekend, paying what they hope will be the first of two visits over the next couple of months.

In the thick of the Pac-10 race, the Beavers earn a berth in the Rose Bowl if they can win their next four games.

That stretch begins with UCLA on Saturday afternoon in Pasadena.

Although OSU coach Mike Riley is stressing that his players can't look ahead, it's difficult not to think what it might be like to play in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.

"It would be a dream come true. It's bigger than the Super Bowl," defensive tackle Stephen Paea said. "That's what everybody is talking about, so it's been 65 years since we won a Rose Bowl. That's a long time."

The Beavers' last — and only — victory in the Rose Bowl game was a 20-16 victory over Duke in 1942. They've appeared in the game just three times, mostly recently a 34-7 loss to Michigan in 1965.

"Much has been said about their Pac-10 title hopes and being in the driver's seat and so forth and it's well-earned with the way they've played and performed to date," UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said. "It'll be a tall order for us, but one that we look forward to, especially playing in front of our home crowd.

"Mike Riley's done a great job with that team. The running back (Jacquizz Rodgers) is an outstanding talent and if not the MVP, certainly the freshman of the year in this conference as far as what he's meant to their football team."

The 5-foot-7 Rodgers, whose 118.1 yards rushing per game leads the Pac-10 and is tops nationally among freshmen, would appear to be the focal point for both Oregon State (5-3, 4-1) and UCLA (3-5, 2-3).

"He's like the 'Little Engine That Could.' He just keeps going and going," OSU offensive Guard Adam Speer said. "His motor never stops and he's just a ball of muscle and he has so much heart.

"It's just so great blocking for him and he's always going to go his hardest and he's never going to stop."

The Bruins have noticed.

"He's a strong runner. Guys think he's down when he's not," Bruins linebacker Reggie Carter said. "He's just so low to the ground that those legs are still going and he gets an extra 4 or 5 yards. He's behind those tall offensive linemen and you're trying to get off the block and locate where he is and you can't see him.

"He'll wait for you to get out of that gap to go through it. So you have to play technique and gap-sound football."

Darting through the Southern California defense for 186 yards and two touchdowns, Rodgers led the Beavers to a 27-21 upset of the Trojans on Sept. 25. Should the Beavers beat UCLA, California, Arizona and Oregon down the stretch, their win over USC would serve as the tiebreaker for the Rose Bowl.

The Trojans and Golden Bears are the only other Pac-10 teams with just one loss, and they meet Saturday at the Coliseum.

The Bruins aren't sure which OSU quarterback they'll face. Lyle Moevao hurt his right shoulder in last week's game, but former starter Sean Canfield came on and led a Beavers' comeback in a 27-25 victory over Arizona State.

Jacquizz isn't the only Rodgers the Bruins need to keep an eye on — his brother James, a 5-foot-7 sophomore receiver, is averaging 138.5 all-purpose yards in combined rushing, receiving and kickoff returns.

The outlook for the Bruins, coming off a bye that followed a 41-20 loss at Cal, depends heavily on quarterback Kevin Craft, a third-stringer who got the job heading into the season and has been inconsistent. He's completed 57 percent of his passes, has thrown for seven touchdowns with 11 interceptions, and led late comebacks in UCLA's victories over Tennessee and Stanford.

The Bruins' ground game, hindered by inexperience and injuries in the offensive line, has been their most glaring weakness. They're averaging just 81.5 yards a game rushing while giving up 188.8.

UCLA has won the last five meetings, but goes into the 3 p.m. PST game as an eight-point underdog.


AP Sports Writer Anne M. Peterson in Portland contributed to this report.

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