Not to be cliché or anything, but the stakes have been raised for the Beavers this weekend.
After jumping out to a big lead and cruising to an easy 34-7 victory over Portland State last weekend, the Beavers face a much tougher challenge Saturday when they take on UNLV at Sam Boyd Stadium. And not just because of their early-season struggles on the road against nonconference opponents.
"I think we're going into a very competitive situation and it will be a great challenge for our team," OSU coach Mike Riley said at Tuesday's press conference. "Not only the football team we're going to play but the environment, the weather, the time of day, all those things are at least worth thinking about and things you're going to have to overcome to win."
Added junior receiver James Rodgers: "Probably the biggest adjustment is just playing on the road. That's probably the most difficult thing for teams. It's very different going into in as an away team to play because the atmosphere, the crowd is not with you. I've just kind of learned over the years that every away game we go on I view it as that's our home team. That the crowd is cheering for us even when they're not."
In addition to the late start, the heat and being away from home, the Beavers will also have to deal with an athletic quarterback in Omar Clayton and a big-play wide receiver in Ryan Wolfe who is an All-American candidate. The Beavers have struggled in recent years defending quarterbacks who can run, and last weekend PSU's Ray Fry had 10 catches for 146 yards against the Beavers' young secondary.
Clayton only rushed for 20 yards in the Rebels' season-opening 38-3 victory against Sacramento State, but completed 13 of 17 passes for 213 yards and a touchdown. Wolfe had five catches for 67 yards.
"They have playmakers," said sophomore safety Lance Mitchell. "We have to come to play. I feel like our secondary, we are a bunch of playmakers. We just have to come to play and know what to expect."
No wonder the Rebels appear to be a team on the rise. They were 5-7 last season after finishing 2-10 the previous two years. The highlight of the season was a 23-20 overtime victory over Arizona State, which sent the Sun Devils into a tailspin. Saturday's game will mark the first time UNLV has hosted a Pac-10 game in 18 years, so they will have that as a motivation factor as well.
So the Beavers will probably open the playbook a little more than they did against the Vikings and need to try to spread the ball around a little more. Not only to get the entire offense into a rhythm but to ease the wear and tear on the Rodgers brothers who accounted for the vast majority of the Beavers' offensive output last weekend.
"In order for us to be our best we'd like to be balanced in our production and then after that we don't care who scores our touchdowns," Riley said. "As long as we score."
BeaverBlitz's Three Key's To Victory:
1. Generate more of a pass rush: The Rebels run a spread offense so they will throw the ball as often as they can. So the Beavers need to get to Clayton more often than they did PSU QB Drew Hubel, because UNLV likely has bigger, stronger, faster athletes than the Vikings do.
2. Shut down Wolfe: Allowing Wolfe to have the kind of success Fry did would not be good for the Beaver secondary. It needs to continue to grow and improve and stopping Wolfe would be a huge for the unit. It would also allow the d-line and the linebackers to focus on Clayton.
3. Stretch the field: Getting the ball downfield on constant basis will open the lanes up for more Jacquizz Rodgers and hopefully allow him to take less of a pounding. It will also help prepare Sean Canfield for the upcoming season, as he may be asked to throw more if teams key up on Rodgers and are able to stop him.
The Beavers take on the Rebels on Saturday night. Kick-off is scheduled for 8:00 pm.