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September 28, 2010

First look: Oregon State

Dennis Erickson wants to see the transcripts.

The fourth-year Arizona State coach thinks the best two players on his team's upcoming opponent, Oregon State brothers James Rodgers and Jacquizz Rodgers, may have overstayed their eligibility.

"It seems like they've been there 100 years," Erickson said during his weekly press conference Monday. "I don't know when they're going to graduate. Soon, I hope."

While there always a good sound bite to be found in the wit of the veteran coach -- chances are he knows Jacquizz is a junior, James a senior -- the Rodgers brothers provide a very real threat that Erickson is not laughing about.

Senior wide receiver James Rodgers suffered a concussion against Boise State, but Erickson said he expects the elder Rodgers to be suited up Saturday, when ASU (2-2) travels to Corvalis, Ore., for a pivotal Pac-10 showdown against the Beavers (1-2).

"They make so many plays and they're exceptional football players," Erickson said of the brothers. "Jacquizz Rodgers is so strong and quick, and he can break it at any time."

Both players have seen their usual astronomic numbers dip slightly in the first month of the season -- James is averaging 37 yards receiving and Jacquizz is fifth in the conference in rushing at 84 yards per game -- but much of that has to do with the Beavers' non-conference opponents, including clashes on the road with two of the nation's top 5 teams, No. 3 Boise State and No. 5 TCU.

Regardless of statistical output or records, Erickson expects Oregon State's best shot in its Pac-10 opener, especially under the guidance of one of the coaches in the business he respects most, Mike Riley.

"Oregon State doesn't look any different than they have been the last five years," Erickson said. "Their non-league schedule was tough. They had a chance to win both football games, though, and they are a quality football team."

A team known for playing subpar football in the season's opening month, Oregon State has struggled offensively, particularly in the passing game, where first-year starting quarterback Ryan Katz is last among Pac-10 starters in passing efficiency.

Katz, a sophomore, has a notoriously strong arm and is a threat to stretch the Sun Devil secondary, but he has been inaccurate, completing 47 percent of his passes while throwing four touchdowns and zero interceptions.

"He makes some throws that are very difficult to make," Erickson said of Katz, "but like (ASU junior quarterback) Steven Threet he is learning, and experience only comes from games."

Though the early returns certainly haven't been favorable for the Beavers -- they are last in total offense (270 yards per game) and ninth in total defense (458 yards) -- Erickson knows the program too well to expect anything less than an intense affair.

"This is a huge game for both football teams and we look forward to playing," he said. "We have to find a way to win the football game and that's the bottom line."

Line shift

Junior tackle Dan Knapp is questionable for Saturday's game after suffering an knee injury during the loss to Oregon. His availability will likely hinge on whether he is able to practice Thursday.

With Knapp injured against Oregon, sophomore tackle Kyle Johnson struggled in protection Threet's blind side.

Erickson said redshirt freshman Evan Finkenberg will be moved to tackle this week in Knapp's absence, with sophomore Andrew Sampson taking Finkenberg's spot at right guard.

Junior Aderious Simmons will see action at right tackle after not playing in ASU's last two contests, Erickson said.

Lewis to start

Erickson indicated Monday that freshman running back Deantre Lewis will likely make his first career start in Saturday's game.

"He has earned it," Erickson said. "(Sophomore running back) Cameron Marshall is playing real well too. They are different backs, which is a good combination to have. Cameron is a tough runner and is a good pass-blocker. Deantre gives us more out in space, as does Jamal Miles. All three will play, so it won't make a difference who the starter is."

Still, Lewis has clearly made an impression on the coaching staff, and for good reason. The Norco, Calif., native is averaging a cool 9.6 yards per carry, tops in the conference.

"If you get the ball in his hands he can do a lot of damage in space," Threet said. "The type of offense we run is very conducive to that type of player."


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