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Beavers unsettled going into big test at Wisconsin

Oregon State knocked its opening drive out of bounds Saturday at Reser Stadium.

To continue with golfing parlance, there are no mulligans for the Beavers.

The 29-28 overtime loss to Division I-AA Sacramento State will be in the record books forever, standing alongside the 1996 setback to Montana as among the most embarrassing in school history.

Mike Riley isn't inclined to provide his personal rankings, but it's safe to say it's the worst defeat in the coach's 11-year run at Oregon State, topping even last year's 31-14 home loss to Washington State.

At least the Cougars, as lowly as they were, owned membership in the Pac-10.

The Beavers couldn't even win on guaranteed-win day.

Even with their rash of injuries, even with Sac State emerging as a contender in the Big Sky Conference, there is no excuse for Oregon State to fall to the Hornets - at home, no less.

Are the Beavers really that bad? Are they destined for a cellar-dwelling inaugural season in the Pac-12?

Maybe not. James Rodgers, Joe Halahuni and Kevin Frahm are on their way back, and they will provide production and on-field leadership.

But Saturday's result underscores that the Beavers are now struggling in part because of at least two so-so-at-best recruiting years, which is catching up to them - especially on defense.

It didn't help last year's defense that middle linebacker David Pa'aluhi and end Matt LaGrone quit before the season. Several other defensive linemen, including Jesse Fifita, were forced to retire due to injury.

There is little depth on this year's D-line, with Castro Masaniai facing a one-game suspension, Dominic Glover not yet academically eligible and JC transfer Blake Harrah and prize true freshman Fred Thompson out for the season with injuries.

Safeties Dax Dilbeck and Josh LaGrone quit due to recurring injuries, leaving the secondary thin and vulnerable. Promising middle linebacker Michael Bibbee is at a junior college, trying to get his grades up.

Against Sac State, D-line coach Joe Seumalo was left with Masaniai and a pair of walk-ons - Andrew Seumalo, the coach's son, and converted O-lineman Ben Motter - in the rotation at tackle.

The Hornets managed only 71 yards rushing, but senior QB Jeff Fleming was productive on the rollout, throwing for 257 yards and three TDs. Time and time again, OSU ends and linebackers with contain responsibilities were cut by blockers.

'They were winning on the one-on-one cut blocks,' Riley says. 'We can't have that. Our young ends made some good plays, but they got cut like crazy. Get your eyes up, put your hands on the blocker's helmet and stay on your feet.

'They exploited the edges of our defense when our guys got cut. That bought (Fleming) some time.'

All three pass-interference penalties came with Oregon State in man-to-man coverage, and two of them led to Sac State's first touchdown.

'The reason (the cover guys) got in trouble is they weren't in good shape to start with,' Riley says. 'They were trailing the receiver when the ball went in the air, and they were chasing, scrambling. If you get good position, that doesn't happen.'

It was not a good day for the secondary, likely minus injured cornerback Brandon Hardin for the season.

'Three times, we lost our discipline in coverage and gave (the Hornets) big plays in the red zone,' Riley says.

The offense - which piled up 356 yards total offense after intermission Saturday - should get better as the season progresses.

The quarterback situation is unsettled. Junior Ryan Katz 'is still our starter,' Riley says, but redshirt freshman Sean Mannion - who came on for an impressive college debut after intermission - will play, too.

And I won't be surprised if Mannion actually gets the starting nod Saturday against Wisconsin. Katz's decision-making and some inaccurate throws contributed to the Beavers' unproductive first half.

Mannion showed poise on the final drive of regulation, completing 5 of 7 passes while taking Oregon State from its 17 to the Sac State 5. And yes, the Beavers were trying to move the ball to the center of the field to set up kicker Trevor Romaine on Malcolm Agnew's final run.

There was a miscommunication on the signal, though, and Mannion ran the play to the right instead of the left side, leaving the ball on the right hashmark for the potential game-winning kick.

True freshman Agnew - who put up a national-best 223 yards and three TDs - showed he is the real deal.

'We have to run the ball, and Malcolm did a nice job running,' Riley says. 'He has a chance to develop into a pretty good player.'

Junior Jordan Jenkins, with four catches for 55 yards, emerged as the likely third-down back who can swing out of the backfield as a receiver. Jenkins returned to full duty only last week after offseason shoulder surgery.

'Jordan has been itching to play,' Riley says. 'He's not in great shape yet, but he'll get stronger as the season goes.'

The O-line seemed to wake up in the second half against the Hornets, but Wisconsin's defense will provide a different kind of test.

The O-linemen 'did some great things, but we had some blunders in protection,' Riley says. 'We saw every blitz in the book like we knew we were going to. We didn't pass for the overall grade.'

Riley takes issue, by the way, with the 15-yard penalty against senior tackle Mike Remmers for a chop block with Oregon State moving inside the Sac State 20 on what could have been a touchdown drive in the third quarter. OSU settled for a 45-yard Romaine field goal.

'A horrible call, a missed call, a made-up call,' Riley says. 'There was no chop block on the play. It was a very good block.'

The tight-end situation remains dire until Halahuni returns - probably against UCLA on Sept. 24. Starter Colby Prince and redshirt freshman Connor Hamlett are the only available bodies, with redshirt freshman Tyler Perry probably returning Oct. 1 vs. Arizona State after knee surgery.

True freshman Brandin Cooks caught three passes and had a nice 9-yard run on the fly sweep, but 6-5, 215-pound redshirt freshman Obum Gwachum didn't have a pass thrown his way.

'We didn't get it to him,' Riley says. 'We didn't get to much of anything, unfortunately. That's the way the game went.'

Oregon State's challenge is magnified Saturday against nationally ranked Wisconsin, which could have named the final score of its opening 51-17 win over Nevada-Las Vegas. The Badgers led 51-3 with 8:45 left in the third quarter of that one.

They may have the biggest O-line in the nation, going across the front 6-7 and 330, 6-4 and 315, 6-5 and 315, 6-4 and 330 and 6-6 and 320. That's in addition to 6-4, 260-pound senior tight end Jack Byrne.

Oregon State will have Frahm - its senior D-tackle, recuperating from knee surgery - back for that one. Masaniai and Hamlett will play, too.

'Their suspension will come sooner rather than later,' Riley says, 'but no earlier than the UCLA game.'

The Beavers have considered allowing Rodgers - returning from double knee surgery - to play against Wisconsin, but that will be determined Tuesday. 'My guess is no,' Riley says.

The OSU coach says he is 'optimistic' Glover will regain his academic eligibility for Wisconsin. Of course, Riley felt the same way before the Sac State contest.

Eight true freshmen - Agnew, Cooks, Romaine, D-end Dylan Wynn, linebackers Jabral Johnson and Kevin Egan, tailback Terron Ward and safety Tyrequek Zimmerman - got their college baptism. Fourteen Beavers, including Romaine, had their first start. Romaine kicked two field goals, kicked off deep five times with two touchbacks and 'would have had a perfect day' had he nailed the potential game-winner.

Wisconsin seems an impossible situation, but stranger things have happened. Nobody expected the Hornets to win at Reser Stadium.

'We have to help our players understand how to get better,' Riley says. 'That is the most important thing. After a game like that, you question yourself. It's only natural. For all of our young guys, it was a tough first experience. We'll use it as a hard-life problem. You're going to encounter adversity. Fight out of the hole. As coaches, we need to teach more, and do a better job with it.

'We're going to play better Saturday. If we can move the ball and tighten up some things on defense, we'll certainly do better. We'll find out a lot about ourselves the next few weeks.'