New Wild Bunch wont faze OSU
Underdog Beavers will challenge USC's storied defensive line
LOS ANGELES Ñ The Wild Bunch II has no peer in college football. It says so right there in the Southern California news release.
'Simply put, USC's defensive line is the best in the nation,' declares the obviously unbiased report. But few would dare to argue. Three of the front four Ñ juniors Kenechi Udeze, Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson Ñ are first-team all-Pacific-10 Conference choices, and the fourth, senior end Omar Nazel, is sidelined because of a thumb injury suffered at midseason.
It may not be the equal to the original Wild Bunch, USC's fabled defensive line of the late '60s, but it's not far off the pace.
'They are not the biggest, but they are the best and the fastest and quickest defensive front we have faced this year,' says Oregon State coach Mike Riley, whose Beavers wrap up the regular season Saturday with an L.A. Memorial Coliseum date against the second-ranked Trojans.
Not exactly what Oregon State's offensive line needs to hear. The Beaver blockers have done fine against the lesser teams on the schedule, but in the games against Washington State, Oregon and Washington, holes for tailback Steven Jackson to squirt through have been slim or nonexistent.
'In those games, nothing seemed to click,' says Doug Nienhuis, Oregon State's 6-6, 300-pound junior tackle, a second-team all-Pac-10 choice. 'That is irritating, knowing if we had done a little something here or there, we could have sprung Steven for a big play.'
The Beavers could use a few of those Saturday, and Jackson is planning on it.
'Our line has to come out blocking,' says the 6-3, 235-pound junior, who will play his final regular-season game Saturday if he decides to declare for the NFL draft in April.
'We have to establish the running game right off the bat,' Jackson says. 'If we get that going, we are one of the toughest teams in the conference, and we can handle anybody. I truly believe that. Our goal is to establish the line of scrimmage, and fight that battle the whole game.'
Udeze (12 1/2) and Patterson (seven) are among the Pac-10 leaders in sacks, and they are a big part of a Trojan team that ranks second in the nation in rushing defense (61.4 yards per game).
'All of the front four play really hard and really aggressive,' Nienhuis says. 'They seem like they have the desire to stop anybody who comes their way. They use some blitzes, but they don't do it -real often, and they usually don't bring more people than we can handle. If we do our job, we should be able to protect Derek (Anderson) and get some things going for Steven on the ground.'
Riley was unhappy with the Beavers' unproductive ground game in their Civil War loss at Oregon on Nov. 22. He doesn't want to watch a repeat Saturday.
'We have to find a way to run the ball,' the OSU coach says. 'It can't be a one-dimensional game for us.'
Adds Nienhuis: 'We also want to give Derek time to throw so he is not getting a lot of pressure. If he gets a lot of pressure, turnovers happen.'
Funny Nienhuis should mention that. Anderson has thrown for 20 touchdowns but also has 19 interceptions, and 12 of those have come in the Beavers' four losses. Oregon State's turnover margin is minus-5, tied with Oregon for last in the conference. USC's is plus-17, second in the nation.
'That has been a very telling statistic in our season,' Riley says. 'In our losses, turnovers have been a big deal. We have to take care of the ball Saturday.'
A year ago, Oregon State invaded the Coliseum with a 4-0 mark and came away smarting in a 22-0 whitewash by the Trojans in which Anderson completed eight of 30 passes for 80 yards and was sacked five times. Jackson, for one, isn't planning for a repeat, and he isn't buying any intimidation factor.
'Not at all, at least not for me,' says the Las Vegas native, who has gained 1,334 yards and is 356 yards shy of the school record 1,690 yards he picked up a year ago. 'I'm going to make sure the boys are not intimidated at all, either. I'm the team leader, I'm the general and I'm going to make sure we set the tempo from the get-go.
'We are going to come out with a lot of emotion. There should be a ton of motivation. We are playing the No. 2 team in the country. We know we are going to the Las Vegas Bowl, win or lose, so all we have to do is go out and play Beaver football.'
Jackson says he will meet with his parents and Riley on Dec. 26 to begin making the decision on whether he will return for his senior season. 'I have no intentions of leaving, but I do want to discuss what is best for me in my career,' he says. É Linebacker Jonathan Pollard, who suffered a high ankle sprain in the first quarter of the Oregon game, is questionable for Saturday. His backup, Chaz Scott, will start.