Oregon State has plenty of speed to burn

A mid-August scrimmage gave Oregon State football fans a sneak preview of what could become the most explosive offense in school history.

In the span of less than an hour, freshman tailback Jacquizz Rodgers took a screen pass and dashed 69 yards to the end zone, then went 64 yards on a running play for another score; wide receiver Chris Johnson spun out of a tackle and turned a sideline pass into a 70-yard touchdown gallop; and flanker James Rodgers darted 64 yards to pay dirt on a fly sweep.

None of the plays involved senior wideout Sammie Stroughter, who might be the Beavers' greatest big-play threat.

Pac-10 Conference opponents take note: Put on your track shoes before heading into Reser Stadium this fall.

"We have some guys who can fly," says OSU coach Mike Riley, whose team went 9-4 last season and won its fourth straight bowl game. "I'm really excited about the prospects."

James Rodgers electrified the Beaver faithful last season when he continually ripped off huge chunks of yardage on the fly sweep, a play that calls for the speedy sophomore to line up at wide receiver and then go into motion at full speed before taking a handoff and heading to the opposite sideline.

Even when opponents saw the play coming, they had trouble stopping it as Rodgers used his 4.4 speed in the 40-yard dash and open-field running ability to average a staggering 11.7 yards per carry. The 5-foot-7, 185-pounder amassed 916 all-purpose yards, including 586 rushing.

"He has the speed to reach the corner," Riley says, "and the elusiveness to make people miss."

Now here comes Jacquizz Rodgers, James' younger brother. "Quizz," as he prefers to be called, might have even more lightning in his legs than James.

"He's faster," Quizz Rodgers says, "but I'm quicker."

"All they need is a tiny hole," tackle Andy Levitre says, "and they're gone."

The younger Rodgers, 5-7 and 193 pounds, set a Texas high school record with 136 career touchdowns while rushing for 8,245 yards at Houston-area power Lamar Consolidated High School.

Quizz Rodgers has been compared to former UCLA and current Houston Texas running back Maurice Jones-Drew. Like Jones-Drew, the younger Rodgers has surprising strength and isn't afraid to run between the tackles.

Quizz Rodgers isn't projected to start right away. Redshirt freshman Ryan McCants, whose 50 yards on 10 carries in the recent scrimmage was overshadowed by the spectacular plays of his teammates, had a solid fall camp and is expected to be in the lineup when the Beavers open their season against Stanford on Saturday.

The 6-1, 235-pound McCants will provide OSU the thunder, with Quizz Rodgers offering the lightning.

"We'll mix and match," Riley says.

A platoon system will make it difficult for either to surpass 1,000 yards, a milestone OSU backs have achieved eight of the past 10 years.

Stroughter, meanwhile, returns to the lineup after missing most of last season with a lacerated kidney and a bout with depression. He received a medical hardship and hopes to duplicate what he accomplished two years ago, when he caught 74 passes for 1,293 yards.

Spreading the ball around to the Beavers' explosive skill players will be junior quarterback Lyle Moevao, who won the job in fall camp by default when junior Sean Canfield, who started eight games last season, was unable to suit up because of a shoulder injury.

Moevao completed just 52 percent of his passes for 876 yards and two touchdowns last season, with six interceptions. But he looked sharp in fall drills.

"He's light years ahead of last year," offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf says of Moevao. "He's playing with a lot more confidence."

Justin Engstrom, a 6-5, 202-pound redshirt freshman from Scappoose, has emerged as Moevao's backup. Riley praised Engstrom's play after he completed 11 of 22 passes for 203 yards and three TDs in the recent scrimmage.

"You look at his progress from this time last year and it's pretty amazing," Riley says. "He's got poise, toughness and a very quick release."

Up front, the Beavers boast three potential All-Pac-10 performers in Levitre and guards Adam Speer and Jeremy Perry, who missed most of last season with a broken foot. Former walkon Marcus Henderson has emerged at center, while Mike Remmers, a redshirt freshman from Jesuit High in Portland, looks to have won the tackle spot opposite Levitre.

OSU's high-octane offense may have to score in the 30s or 40s in the early going while the Beavers' inexperienced defense learns on the fly. The Beavers must replace their entire front seven, although the situation isn't as worrisome as it looks because a lot of backups saw considerable playing time in 2007.

Ends Victor Butler and Slade Norris, for example, combined for 19.5 sacks while coming off the bench.

The Beavers also landed a five-star recruit in defensive lineman Simi Kuli, who was considered the top junior college player in the country a year ago.

The secondary is solid, with Brandon Hughes and Keenan Lewis returning at cornerback and hard-hitting Al Afalava returning to free safety. Afalava, however, was suspended for Saturday's season-opener.

The Beavers have been slow starters and fast finishers in recent years. They've dropped nine straight September road games since 2002 but have gone 16-7 in games played in November since 2003, when Riley returned as the school's head coach.

A fast start may not be in the cards this year, either, with September dates against Penn State and USC.

But with all those aces touching the ball, who knows?

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