When the California Golden Bears (4-3, 2-2) defense takes the field on Saturday against Oregon State (3-3, 2-1), the Bears will immediately know who to keep their eye on.
…That is, if they can find him.
Oregon State's junior running back Jacquizz Rodgers stands a mere 5'7, 191 pounds. But, without a doubt, they are the toughest 5'7, 191 pounds that the Bears will try to tackle, this season.
Rodgers finds himself with 657 yards rushing through six games, but at 10 touchdowns – good to tie for 14th in the nation – Rodgers knows how to find the end zone. He did it his freshman season, when he burst into the national spotlight with a 186-yard performance to hand USC their only loss of 2008.
Cal head coach Jeff Tedford says it best when talking about Rodgers.
“Jacquizz is, by himself, the guy that just keeps you awake at night,” said Tedford. “He catches the ball well out of the backfield, he can pass protect, but he is so strong and so elusive that his feet are awesome. When you talk about jump cuts - jump cuts are when you're in the hole and you can jump sideways and then go forward very quickly - he's a master at that.”
To stop Rodgers – or at least slow him down – the defense knows precisely what they need to do.
“We are going to defeat the run,” says senior defensive end Cameron Jordan. “That is the focus of this week. We know Jacquizz is a great running back... [even though] he's shorter, let's leave it at that. He uses his lineman well, and with that we are going to just have to defeat the line, itself.”
Rodgers uses his short stature to gain leverage on opponents. It is said that – when two football players collide – the one with the lower pad level will come out on top. Thus, with Rodgers at the aforementioned 5'7, there are few players with the ability to get that leverage necessary to bring him down.
Junior safety Sean Cattouse – who had an interception in last weekend's 50-17 victory over Arizona State – is up for the challenge.
“I like to come with all of me, everything I got,” says Cattouse. “Leverage usually wins, but I'll get down there with him and bring it. We'll see what happens. I've definitely got to get low and come with nothing but basic football. Leverage wins, you know, come hard and low. I'll do that.”
The other great challenge with Rodgers' short stature is simply finding him. At his height, Rodgers hides well behind his linemen – enough to keep the defense honest and guessing when he's looking for his cutback lane.
“I don't know if it's the hardest. It's probably one of them - tracking him behind that line,” says Cattouse. “I think we could just get to the ball. You know wherever he's at, make sure we have all 11 guys running to him and, you know, getting him down. He's going to make some plays - make a guy or two miss every now and then - but that's to be expected. But if we all just get to the ball, we'll be fine.”
If the Bears can swarm Rodgers and force Oregon State to throw, then they have a legitimate chance to come out victorious.
If the Bears can leave Corvallis with a W, then they will have surely passed their midseason test with flying colors.
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