The last time UC squared off with Oregon State in 2007, Alex Daniels was not yet a Bearcat, at least not one on the field. Transferring from Minnesota, Daniels had to sit out Brian Kelly's inaugural season and missed the "eye opening" win of that year.
Now, after a year as a reserve on the defensive line, Daniels is ready to make an impact in his senior campaign. Based on the early results, Daniels is off to a tremendous start. He's among the team leaders in tackles (trailing only Aaron Webster, Andre Revels and Curtis Young) and is tied for the lead in sacks with Ricardo Mathews. As noted before, this defense is performing better than most expected.
"That's an understatement," said Daniels. "To come into the situation where we had 10 starters leaving was very demoralizing, but people didn't understand that we had 10 players sitting on the sideline that were ready and eager to play. For instance, I backed up Lamonte (Nelms), Curtis Young backed up Connor (Barwin), Derrick Wolfe was a freshman that was coming on hard and John Hughes was a sophomore that could play-he was behind Terrill Byrd last season. Then there's Ricardo Mathews and that was our defensive line last season."
In other words, not everyone started, but everyone played. Every Bearcat defender I've spoken to since the spring has emphasized this point. When the pundits from out of town write them off, it's just more stuff for the Bearcat bulletin board.
"The people that were here, we take it as a slap in the face that they don't understand that we had 10 players on the bench ready to play and that could do the jobs that everybody else was doing," said Daniels. "We played significant minutes anyway! We lost two great corners in Mickens and D-Lo (Smith) but we had Brad Jones and (Dominique) Battle backing them up. We have a superstar in Webster in the back leading our defense. With him and everyone else going one direction, our defense hasn't even touched its potential yet."
That could be scary as so far the Bearcats have only allowed 104 rushing yards in two games and 365 passing yards (most of which were accomplished when the games were out of reach). While UC's silenced the critics (for now) on the East Coast with the manhandling of Rutgers, Oregon State is a chance for UC to "represent" to the West Coast.
"The players on the field right now, we're playing with a chip on our shoulder," said Daniels. "We don't get the respect that we deserve. We don't want anybody to give it to us, we feel that we've got to go take it. Playing against a great Oregon State team, we're going against the two brothers (Rodgers)--they're amazing! I watched tape of them and those two together are two of the most dynamic players I've ever seen next to Noel Devine and Pat White (WVU) last year. That's like 50% of their offense."
Again, spoken like a true senior who's done his homework. Keep in mind, Daniels knows a thing or two about running backs and he spent a season toting the ball himself at Minnesota. Alex actually has the rare distinction (around here) of having scored a touchdown against a Pac-10 team--doing it for the Golden Gophers as a RB vs. California in '06. From his defensive line point-of-view, Daniels knows good offensive talent when he sees it.
"Saturday, we've got to be ready for the brothers (Rodgers) and the quarterback (Sean Canfield) who's a great athlete and he's very smart," said Daniels. "As a defense, we've got to play one play at a time, one guy at a time, make good decisions and just play together as a unit. Whatever happens happens. We're still going to be together."
While Brian Kelly didn't say so as much in his press remarks this week, the "smart money" is that UC's 5-7 Darrin Williams might have to mimic the moves of Jacquizz Rodgers some in practice.
"I think we're going to have to implicate him to emulate Mr. Rodgers," said Daniels with a smile. "But, doing that is going to be very hard. I mean, I watched him (Rodgers). His change of direction is like lightening-fast. His burst is like some of the best I've ever seen. Doing that is going to be hard. We're going to try and do that with Darrin. We're just going to take it one day at a time, one practice at a time and on Saturday, only 11 people can play."
If successful (and if Williams is indeed used in practice) the redshirt freshman back could be the MVP of a game he might not play in. The more you research the Beavers, if you stop Jacquizz Rodgers, you win.
"He's 25% of their offense and his brother is the other 25%," said Daniels. "50% goes to the quarterback. If you put it on the quarterback's shoulders to win the game by taking those two out of the game, we should be successful on Saturday."
Daniels is just hoping fans see his #4 in the Oregon State backfield in Corvallis. The Beavers do start a couple young offensive linemen and that's why Alex Daniels is now on defense. He's quick, athletic, strong and smart.
Smart enough, to complement his opposition ahead of time.
"They're fast, they're athletic, they're quick and they run what they run to perfection," said Daniels. "Their offense is a run-based offense, so the D-line has a challenge this week. Our room, the D-line room, we're going to be up for the challenge. Every week is another interview for us to show everybody that the Bearcats lost 10 starters, but we gained 10 starters."
Another factor could be the atmosphere in Corvallis. A rowdy crowd is expected. Plus, there are jet lag and altitude differences. The difference could be, what the Bearcats did with strength and conditioning Coach Paul Longo in the offseason.
"Coach Longo is phenomenal," said Daniels. "The strength and conditioning program at UC-that's our edge right there. We go to different places, we go to different atmospheres, we always prepare for it, whatever they try to throw at us. In Hawaii last year, that jet lag was amazing. We almost stumbled, but we found a way to win. That's Coach Kelly's motto-you play hard, you play hard, you find a way to win."
And, they usually do.