On the other sideline: Oregon State

By By Jason Peterson

By Jason Peterson

Utah football fans breathed a collective sigh of relief upon learning that Oregon State’s All-American, all-purpose receiver Sammie Stroughter might not be padding up for the season opener against the Utes.

They might have exhaled too soon.

On Thursday evening in Corvallis, Ore., the Beavers of Oregon State will simply trot out another All-American candidate in Stroughter’s stead — running back Yvenson Bernard.

Standing just 5-foot-9 and weighing in at 202 lbs., Bernard is a big-time playmaker with the size, deceptive speed and catching abilities that remind some of former USC great Reggie Bush.

Bernard is on the verge of bursting into the top tiers of rushing not only at OSU, but also in the conference. His 2,648 career rushing yards is already third all-time at OSU and he needs 982 yards to break into the top 10 of the Pac-10. At the rate he’s going, the Doak Walker Award candidate should easily accomplish that feat.

Bernard and Stroughter led the Beavers to a strong finish in 2006, winning eight of their last nine games, including the Brut Sun Bowl victory over Missouri. The Beavers’ four-game winning streak is the longest active streak in the Pac-10.

Perhaps just as heralded as its star running back is OSU’s offensive line. The Utes’ defense will have its hands full trying to break through a line that some preseason publications are dubbing the best in the nation.

Left guard Jeremy Perry is yet another all-American candidate who will be competing for the Lombardi and Outland awards. Center Kyle DeVan and linemen Roy Schuening and Andy Levitre round out the rest of the returning starters. The only 2006 starter missing — Adam Koets — is currently playing for the NFL’s New York Giants. Tavita Thompson, a 6-foot-4, 295-lbs. junior, will take his place in the trenches.

The powerful frontline will do its best to ease the shaky quarterback situation. Oregon State is attempting a dual-quarterback system that will see Sean Canfield start for the first quarter and juco transfer Lyle Moevao subbing in the second. Both have unique styles that force opposing defenses to switch paces.

Despite the promising talent of both signal-callers, the two have only eight games of experience between them.

The tight end spot is also a question mark, as Howard Croom is just a sophomore with a single, 3-yard catch to his rsum.

Oregon State boasts a slew of athletic wide receivers in Anthony Brown, Chris Johnson and Brandon Powers. Brown has the most experience of the three while Powers is a physical slot back who earned the “Lunchbucket Award,” given by his teammates last season for his all-out brand of smash mouth football.

OSU also returns a solid defense that led the nation in 2006 in sacks for yards lost. Defensive end Dorian Smith paved the way with nine sacks. Jeff Van Orsow, a Lott Trophy candidate, had another two sacks to go with 48 tackles last year.

All three starting linebackers are quick and aggressive, including NFL-bound Derrick Doggett, who is one of the fastest in the country at his position.

Ute quarterback Brian Johnson will also have to keep an eye out for linebackers Alan Darlin and Joey LaRocque. All three linebackers tallied a combined 257 tackles last season.

The secondary is the least experienced branch of OSU’s defense. Safeties Daniel Drayton and Al Afalava have 13 starts between them. Afalava, a junior out of Hawaii, is one of the hardest hitting players coach Mike Riley has seen.

Cornerbacks Keenan Lewis and Brandon Hughes are both physical juniors with 43 games as starters between them.

Despite all of the award candidates and honorable mention players from both the Beavers and the Utes, Thursday’s game may very well be decided by the strength of the kickers.

Both schools possess two of the nation’s top kickers in Utah’s Louie Sakoda and OSU’s Alexis Serna, winner of the 2005 Lou Groza Award. Both are early favorites for the award this season.

Serna is already the school’s record-holder for most field goals (62, including a school record 58-yarder last season) and extra point kicks (106 in a row and counting).

OSU has traditionally begun each season playing against weak opponents and is 13-0 at home against non-conference opponents under Riley’s reign.

Fans from both sides will find out soon enough whether the Utes and their high-octane offense will be the one to break both trends.

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