Sweeping Success

With a play that springs a little man for big gains, the Beavers aim for their first Rose Bowl in 44 years
August 10, 2008

AFTER A visit to nearby Willamette University in 2006, Oregon State's coaches left with a new play for their offense: the fly sweep. It "sat in the lab" for more than a year, says Beavers coach Mike Riley—until James Rodgers arrived on campus. As a freshman last season Rodgers gained 916 all-purpose yards, including 586 rushing (at a staggering 11.7 yards per carry) that were netted almost entirely on the fly sweep.

The play calls for the speedy 5'7" wideout from Richmond, Texas, to motion into the backfield and take the ball from the quarterback just after he fakes an inside handoff to the tailback. Using his 4.4 speed, Rodgers runs around end, at which point he often beats opposing defenders down the sideline. "I don't think it's every guy's play," says Riley. "James can do it because he has the speed to win at the corner and he's a very strong open-field runner."

Yet Riley and his assistants were unaware of Rodgers until only a few weeks before national signing day in February 2007. Despite earning first-team all-state honors as a defensive back in his junior and senior seasons at Houston-area power Lamar Consolidated, Rodgers, then a 5'6", 164-pound cornerback--running back, attracted little interest from in-state universities.

That January, however, Rodgers played in the East Meets West All-American Game in Orlando. His coach at the event, John Beam of Laney (Calif.) College, was enamored of Rodgers and told Oregon State offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf about him. Within days of viewing videotape of Rodgers, Langsdorf was on a plane to Texas.

In the Beavers' opener against Utah, Rodgers carried four times for 62 yards. He played sparingly during the first half of the season, but when top wideout Sammie Stroughter and tailback Yvenson Bernard went down with injuries, the fly sweep—and, in turn, Rodgers—became a staple of the offense.

With the return of Stroughter, a senior who gained 1,741 all-purpose yards in 2006, Oregon State will boast two explosive threats on the fly sweep. Stroughter ran the play in high school. So, too, did incoming freshman Jacquizz Rodgers—James's younger brother. Jacquizz, a 5'7", 185-pound tailback, was a blue-chip recruit, and at Lamar Consolidated he often lined up in the backfield with James. "It was pretty hard for teams to contain us," says James. Riley plans to take full advantage.

THE FLY SWEEP "SAT IN THE LAB," SAYS RILEY, UNTIL RODGERS CAME.

CONFERENCE: Pac-10

COACH: Mike Riley (8th season)

2007 RECORD: 9--4 (6--3 in Pac-10)

FINAL AP RANK: 25

RETURNING STARTERS: Offense 7, Defense 3

SCHEDULE

AUGUST
28 at Stanford

SEPTEMBER
6 at Penn State
13 Hawaii
25 USC

OCTOBER
2 at Utah
11 Washington State
18 at Washington

NOVEMBER
1 Arizona State
8 at UCLA
15 Cal
22 at Arizona
29 Oregon

KEY GAME
With a daunting September schedule, the Beavers could use a big win in Happy Valley. History, however, is not on their side: Oregon State has dropped nine consecutive September road games dating to 2002 and has been outscored 323--159 in those games.

WORTH NOTING

Since Mike Riley returned as coach in 2003, the Beavers have been good closers: They're 16--7 in games played in November or later, including 4--0 in bowls.

my SI
SI.com/oregonstate
Get the latest and best Beavers stories, statistics and fan blogs from across the Web, handpicked by the editors of SI.

PHOTOGREG WAHL-STEPHENS/APRodgers lines up at wide receiver but does most of his damage after he swings through the backfield for a handoff. PHOTO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)