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Darlin in middle of things at OSU

Cal's formidable running backs will put Beavers to the test

CORVALLIS - The ultimate challenge, at least for this point in the season, looms for Oregon State's defense Saturday when the Beavers (2-1) play host to 20th-ranked California (3-1) in OSU's Pac-10 opener.

There is quarterback Nate Longshore, the Pac-10 offensive player of the week for his role in the Bears' 49-21 rout of Arizona State last Saturday.

There is tailback Marshawn Lynch, a preseason All-American with three straight 100-yard rushing games; a bevy of fast receivers; and a young but experienced offensive line.

An upset victory could give the Beavers the launchpad they need to a successful season.

'This game is huge,' OSU middle linebacker Alan Darlin says. 'Cal is a tough, tough team with two tremendous running backs (Lynch and Justin Forsett). It's going to be a good test for our defense. We have to swarm to the football and make sure we wrap up on our tackles. It should be fun.'

Darlin had fun in last Saturday's 38-0 whitewash of Idaho, Oregon State's first shutout in 23 seasons. The 6-1, 250-pound junior from Elk Grove, Calif., had a team-high seven tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery. He was in the face of Idaho quarterbacks Steve Wichman and Brian Nooy with a fury that delighted OSU coach Mike Riley.

'Alan really loves football,' Riley says. 'He was really disappointed after our loss at Boise and was a big part of our team's urgency to do better. We improved dramatically in just about every way defensively against Idaho, and Alan is the best example.'

Excellent attitude helps

Darlin was one of Riley's premier recruits when he signed in 2003, turning down a dozen major-college offers after earning prep All-America honors as a senior at Laguna Creek High.

'It came down to Oregon State, Washington and Nebraska,' he says. 'I fell in love with Coach Riley and his staff. It was the right place for me, and I haven't regretted it.'

He doesn't regret having had three position coaches in three years - Charlie Camp, Robin Ross and Greg Newhouse.

'It's been to my benefit to have each one of those coaches,' Darlin says. 'I've come away with something new every season. They've all been great coaches.'

And he doesn't regret playing only mop-up duty his first two seasons behind first-team All-Pac-10 selection Trent Bray.

'It was pretty tough, especially because it was impossible to get Bray off the field,' Darlin says. 'But I learned a lot by playing behind him and watching from the sidelines and gaining knowledge. It makes this year all that more sweet, to be out there having fun.'

Though Darlin is thicker than Bray, Darlin can move. He runs the 40 in 4.8; 'I'm quicker than I am fast,' he says.

'One thing about Darlin: He's 250 and extremely explosive,' defensive coordinator Mark Banker says. 'He can run. He and Trent both have their strengths. But Trent benefited from his dad (Craig Bray) being a coach. He was around the game all the time growing up. Trent is ahead of Alan in terms of football intellect.'

Chances come to make plays

Darlin says: 'One of the things I learned from Trent is, when I first got here, I was kind of all over the place, running as fast as I could as soon as the ball was snapped. He might not have been one of the fastest guys in the Pac-10, but his game speed was tremendous. He was able to diagnose the play and go in the right direction. That's what playing fast is - getting right to the ball and having your reads on point. Now I try to see the whole picture and put myself in the right place to make a tackle.'

Darlin wasn't very noticeable in Oregon State's first two games.

'I was a little bit antsy out there,' he says. 'Our defense is designed for middle linebackers to make plays, and that's something I wasn't taking advantage of. In practices after the Boise State game, I tried to play with a purpose to execute and play the position how it was designed.'

It seemed to work. And Darlin, who leads the team with 18 tackles, probably needs to do some playmaking Saturday if the Beavers have a chance to beat the Bears for the seventh time in eight seasons.