By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — Heading into a rematch of last year’s 48-21 loss to Oregon State, the University of Washington football team knows all too well which family can ruin a reunion.
So in a way, half of the Huskies’ work already has been done.
Brothers Jacquizz and James Rodgers torched UW for 341 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns last November. Only one of them is healthy enough to be in uniform this Saturday at Husky Stadium.
James Rodgers, a wide receiver, suffered a serious knee injury Saturday that will sideline him the rest of the season. But if the Huskies are supposed to be feeling relieved right about now, there haven’t been any sighs of relief from Montlake.
“They dealt with this earlier in the year, and they used Markus Wheaton in the same role of James Rodgers, so I don’t think they’ll change,” UW head coach Steve Sarkisian said, referring to a game against Arizona State in which Wheaton caught four passes and had a 52-yard punt return while Rodgers sat out with a concussion. “Obviously, you’ve got to know where No. 1 is. He’s the guy that makes their engine go on offense.”
No. 1 would be Jacquizz Rodgers, who — if nothing else — is at least the only Rodgers with whom UW needs to concern itself this week. But the junior running back could single-handedly keep the Huskies awake at night this week.
“We’ve got to definitely be ready to play,” UW middle linebacker Cort Dennison said, “because he’s definitely one of the better players in our conference.”
And that’s not just week-of coachspeak.
Jacquizz Rodgers had 159 yards on just 18 carries in last year’s meeting, including two third-quarter touchdowns that turned a one-sided game into a 41-7 laugher 7½ minutes into the third quarter. This season, despite already playing against the country’s top two ranked defenses in TCU and Boise State as well as 13th-ranked Arizona, Rodgers has averaged 96.2 rushing yards per game to rank 28th in the country and fourth in the Pac-10 Conference.
At just 5-foot-7 and 191 pounds, Rodgers certainly stands out on a football field.
“He’s obviously one of a kind,” Dennison said. “He is shifty, he has a lot of moves, but at the same time I think he’ll hit you in the mouth.
“He’s not just a one-dimensional back. He’ll rock you; he’ll get after you. He has those different dimensions that separate him from a normal running back.”
UW safety Nate Williams said that Jacquizz Rodgers is so multi-dimensional that it’s almost like having two Rodgerses on the field at the same time.
“They do a lot of things with him — moving him to receiver, running him out of the backfield on routes, screens and all that,” he said. “We have to prepare really well for that.”
Oregon State is still going to have to find a way to replace the other Rodgers, a senior receiver and return man who has more career all-purpose yardage (5,784) than any current college player.
Wheaton, who is a cousin of former Oregon cornerback and Husky-killer Kenny Wheaton, filled in admirably for his one-game stint but has to prove he can do it over the long haul.
“Everyone’s going to have to step it up a notch,” Oregon State coach Mike Riley said on Tuesday’s Pac-10 conference call. “Our team will be disappointed, but nobody’s going to panic. Nobody’s going to blink.”
More than anything, Riley said it might be a challenge to keep team morale up after the season-ending injury.
“There’s no getting around the empathy that everybody has for a situation like this,” he said. “It’s too shallow to say it’s part of the game. This guy is the heart and soul of our team.”
If last Saturday was any indication, the OSU offense should be just fine without the elder Rodgers. After he tore up his left knee midway through the second quarter of a game against Arizona — James Rodgers already had seven receptions for 107 yards and a touchdown by that point — the Beavers kept on rolling. Wheaton finished with seven receptions for 113 yards and a touchdown while OSU piled up 486 yards of total offense.
But UW’s Williams believes that taking out one of the country’s top playmakers has to have an effect.
“They like to use him on the fly sweep a lot, and that’s a tough play to stop, whether you’re in (man-to-man defense) or whether you’re in zone,” Williams said. “Taking him out, in a way, I guess you can say eliminates that threat.”
But taking one Rodgers out of the lineup doesn’t necessarily eliminate half of the Beavers’ offense. The Huskies know they’ll still have their work cut out for them on Saturday night.
“They kind of do what they do,” UW defensive coordinator Nick Holt said. “The other receivers can do what James does. Maybe not as well, but they’ll still do it, and they’re still good.”
The most popular player with reporters after Tuesday’s practice was cornerback Desmond Trufant, who struggled in Saturday’s game and has been going through a bit of a sophomore slump this season. ‘It’s going to come,” Trufant said. “Sometimes it happens like that as a corner. Two plays, you can stand out and be a hero, or two plays you can be the worst guy on the field. I’ve just got to keep working.” During his morning conference call, Sarkisian said Trufant might be “pressing” this season. “He’s been trying to be perfect, doing everything the coaches ask,” Sarkisian said. “That’s not a bad thing, but I know there’s more playmaking ability in him because we see it every day.” … The Huskies did some more shuffling on the offensive line, although Sarkisian was not available to comment after practice about whether it would be used in Saturday’s game. The odd man out appeared to be Cody Habben, as center Drew Schaefer moved over to take his spot at right tackle. Guard Gregory Christine moved into the center spot, while right guard Ryan Tolar was on the left side and freshman Colin Porter worked at right guard. … Quarterback Jake Locker participated in practice but spent the team portion of the session watching backup Keith Price run the No. 1 offense. Locker is recovering from illness and is expected to play against OSU on Saturday night. … Wide receiver Devin Aguilar (hip) watched from the sidelines and his status appears questionable for Saturday’s game. Aguilar didn’t play against Arizona State four days ago, but Sarkisian said earlier this week that he expects him to be available for the OSU game.