Bowl bid caps Oregon State's complete turnaround
By NOAH AMSTADTER
Assistant Sports Editor
After winning a national championship at Miami and being fired as head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, Oregon State head coach Dennis Erickson took on the biggest challenge of his career two years ago when he accepted the head coaching position at Oregon State.
The Beavers were coming off 28 consecutive losing seasons and had not seen a season end in a bowl game since losing to Michigan in the 1964 Rose Bowl.
The program regained its winning ways in Erickson's first year — advancing to the Oahu Bowl in 1999 after posting a 6-5 record. This season, the team stepped it up to a level not seen since Tommy Prothro's squad 36 years ago — going 10-1 overall and tying Washington and Oregon for the Pac-10 title. True vindication for the Beavers comes on New Year's Day, as the team takes on Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl.
Asked if he expected the team to move from futility to Fiesta so quickly, Erickson responded, "I can't lie, probably not."
"I felt with the parity in football, we had a chance to get this thing turned around. I knew we had a pretty good football team coming back after what happened last year. We, like Notre Dame, kept improving all the time. You don't win nine or 10 games without improving all the time," he said.
Much of Oregon State's offense can be attributed to a diverse attack that takes advantage of multiple weapons. Running back Ken Simonton rushed for 1,000 yards for the third consecutive season, despite missing time due to injury. The junior gained 1,474 yards on 266 attempts and scored a team-leading 18 touchdowns.
Simonton's backup, Patrick McCall gained 633 yards while filling in for the injured star. McCall's seven touchdowns were second only to Simonton for the team lead.
"We've played some great offenses. But I don't know that we played anyone that is as committed to running the football out of a one-back set as Oregon State," said Irish head coach Bob Davie. "That concerns me. They don't particularly do a whole lot of things, but they do everything well."
While Oregon State boasts a strong rushing game, they also have a capable quarterback and a strong core of receivers who will surely challenge an Irish secondary that will be playing Shane Walton at cornerback with a cast on his arm.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh led the Beavers with 42 receptions for 656 yards while teammates Chad Johnson and Robert Prescott also caught for over 600 yards. Quarterback Jonathan Smith, a former walk-on, completed 49 percent of his passes for 2,468 yards and 17 touchdowns.
"You look at their three wide receivers, they're probably the best set of wide receivers that we've played this year and that's a pretty good statement because West Virginia was really talented, SC was really talented," said Davie of the Beavers' diverse passing attack.
On defense, Oregon State will look to stop the multi-faceted Irish running game. While leading the Irish to a 7-0 record to finish the season, Notre Dame quarterback Matt LoVecchio passed for only 980 yards.
Rather than passing, the Irish run LoVecchio on the option while handing the ball to talented backs Tony Fisher, Julius Jones and Terrance Howard.
"I'll tell you what, you watch Oregon State on defense, they're pretty darn good," said Notre Dame offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers. "They remind you very much of Coach Erickson's teams at Miami. They're a 4-3 scheme, they got the upper field rushmen on the edge. They run real well. They got two good cover corners. They legitimately have a very good defense."
The Beavers also bring in an attitude similar to that displayed by Erickson's flashy Miami teams — teams that featured players such as current NFL star Warren Sapp.
"They have a great coach in Dennis Erickson," said Irish senior captain Joey Getherall. "He brought a little bit of that Miami to them — that flashiness, that cockiness.
They believe they can win this game. And both teams should believe they can win this game. And we are going to go out there, and I think it's going to be a battle out there."
All Sports Stories for Tuesday, December 12, 2000