• In Las Vegas, the Beavers hope to avoid the mistakes that haunted them in a 7-5 season
Oregon State's 52-28 loss at Southern Cal was very much a microcosm of the Beavers' football season.
There were gaudy numbers by the Beavers Ñ 26 first downs, 485 yards passing, 543 yards total offense.
Then there were the other numbers. Two field-goal attempts blocked. A blocked punt. Five turnovers. Ten penalties for 101 yards.
'With the turnovers and field position from a bad kicking game, it's hard to beat the No. 2 team in the nation,' coach Mike Riley says.
'Too many mistakes. We outgained them by nearly 200 yards, but the blocked kicks and the turnovers are the glaring things. That was the difference in the game.'
It has been a familiar refrain for the Beavers this season. They have moved the ball well enough to rank No. 1 in the Pacific-10 Conference in total offense and No. 2 in scoring. They also lead the conference in total defense. They had the league's rushing leader in Steven Jackson and the passing leader in Derek Anderson. That should stack up to a record better than the Beavers' 7-5.
Special teams have been at times mediocre, at other times deplorable. The Beavers are 10th in the Pac-10 in kickoff return average and ninth in punting. They have led the nation in penalty yardage the entire season. They finished last in the league in turnover ratio at minus-eight.
Mistakes cost Oregon State one game Ñ Fresno State Ñ and perhaps the Washington State game. They played a big part in the losses to Washington and Oregon, too.
OSU's kickoff coverage and return units have been inadequate, but Riley doesn't blame special teams coach LeCharls McDaniel. Regulars Seth Lacey, Jonathan Pollard, Harvey Whiten and Jamaal Jackson have missed major time this season because of injuries.
'It boils down to people,' Riley says. 'In the SC game, the whole left wing of our punt team was made up of brand-new guys. I even asked a couple of redshirts last week if they wanted to use a year of eligibility to come out and play special teams Ñ but, really, we can't do that. We've been just kind of piecing things together.'
Dennis Erickson's recruits play with a reckless abandon that makes for entertaining football, but critics Ñ with an eye especially on the penalties Ñ will point to a lack of discipline. Will Riley attempt to lure a different kind of athlete to Oregon State?
'I don't know how to answer that except to say that I love Dennis' recruits,' Riley says. 'I like the guys Dennis got. I'm proud to be coaching them. We had major meltdowns in two games Ñ Fresno State and Washington Ñ and we have had some penalties on emotion, but we got a lot better on that for the most part through the season. We were called for some celebration penalties that I will still argue with.
'I don't see it as a major problem with our program.'
Has OSU received some of its penalties on reputation? Are opponents getting away with things that are being called on the Beavers?
'A lot of people think that,' Riley says. 'I would rather not.'
Riley was irate with a second-quarter offensive pass interference call against James Newson that would have given the Beavers, trailing 14-7, first down at the Trojan -7-yard line.
'You talk about a turning point,' Riley says. 'We probably tie it there. I was right down the line on the play. I saw what was going on. Both players were hand-fighting each other. That happens all the time. Most of the time if there's a call made, it's against the defense. Almost never is it called against the receiver.'
So was the nation's No. 2-ranked team, playing at home, given preferential treatment on the play?
'I can't comment on that,' Riley says. 'I don't want to get into what might be in an official's head.'
This was a season in which the Beavers easily could have gone 9-3 or 10-2.
'I thought we had a chance to play for the Pac-10 championship,' Riley says. 'We didn't play well against Washington, but I'm most disappointed with the Oregon game. We didn't play as well defensively as we had been, and we -didn't block them up front. Our guys played hard, but Oregon executed more plays than we did.'
Riley has been in California since Sunday, making home visits to recruits. He returns Friday to Corvallis, where his players Ñ who have been taking final exams Ñ will reconvene and begin workouts for the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 24.
Anderson's 485 yards passing against USC broke Jonathan Smith's OSU record of 469 against Washington in 1998. 'I was proud of Derek,' says Smith, now an OSU graduate assistant. 'He continued to battle through the game. He physically got beat up, and he would like a couple of throws back, but beyond that he was a warrior out there.' É Anderson surpassed his school single-season total offense record of 3,082 last year. The junior from Scappoose has 3,614 yards total offense going into the Las Vegas Bowl. He has thrown for a school-record 3,736 yards and 22 TDs, with 23 interceptions. 'Derek finished up the regular season with really good games against Oregon and SC,' Riley says. 'I mean, he threw for 80 yards against the Trojans last season. He has had a real fine last half of the year. That young man has come a long way.'
Mike Hass caught eight passes for 208 yards, including the 90-yarder on the second play of the game that ranks fourth on OSU's list. It was Hass' second 200-yard game of the season and only the fourth in OSU history. 'Something to tell my grandkids some day,' Hass muses, 'but you can't take much from a loss.'
James Newson hauled in 10 passes for 104 yards, including the 3-yard TD catch that broke his tie with Vern Burke for the school career record of 20. After the catch, Newson turned and threw a strike to his brother, sitting high in the OSU section of the L.A. Memorial Coliseum. 'I told my brother, 'Whenever I get that touchdown, I will throw the ball up to you so you can keep it,'' Newson says. 'He caught it. I used to be a quarterback, you know.' Newson drew an excessive celebration penalty, but the issue was decided long beforehand. 'I loved it,' Riley says. É Newson has tied the school single-season receptions record of 78 (Dave Montagne, 1986). After the USC game, Trojan All-America receiver Mike Williams came up to Newson, patted him on the butt and told a reporter, 'Best receiver in the Pac-10, right there.'
A visitor to the OSU locker room afterward was ex-Beaver coach Craig Fertig, a former Trojan QB and assistant coach now coaching high school ball in Southern California. Riley presented him with an OSU jacket Ñ which Fertig wore as he walked out of the room Ñ and had him say a few words to the players. 'I'm half-Trojan, half-Beaver,' Fertig says. 'There's a spot in my heart for Oregon State. I spent half the game on the Trojan sideline, the other half on the Beavers'. I could be a great politician.'