ASU's experience, speed and more all concerns for Riley, Beavers
CORVALLIS - For a team looking for its first victory of the season, Arizona State is not the most opportune opponent.
The 25th-ranked Sun Devils (3-1 overall, 1-0 Pac-12) are coming off an impressive 43-22 pounding of Southern Cal as they play host to Oregon State (0-3, 0-1) 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Sun Devil Stadium.
The Beavers will be facing heat in both the weather - it has been 100 degrees in Tempe this week - and on both sides of the ball against Dennis Erickson's Sun Devils.
'They're an experienced, fast team - that's the best way to sum it up,' Oregon State coach Mike Riley said Tuesday.
'On offense, they do a nice job with sort of a spread offense, but with their own identity. It fits their personnel extremely well. On defense, they play confidently. They know their scheme and understand what they're doing.'
Arizona State's loss was by a 17-14 count at Illinois on Sept. 17, a game in which ASU junior quarterback Brock Osweiler was sacked six times. But Riley said the Fighting Illini did not use a blitz package often.
'They covered well and allowed those sacks to take place,' Riley said. 'Illinois has an active front, and did a nice job of coverage. (The Illini) were very sound, didn't give up big plays.'
That's what Oregon State will be seeking Saturday from a defense that ranks 119th among 120 Division-I teams in pass defense efficiency. Riley said the Beavers can't have breakdowns such as the one by safety Lance Mitchell that allowed UCLA a 62-yard pass play in the first quarter of last Saturday's 27-19 loss to the Bruins.
'We have to be disciplined with our assignments,' the OSU coach said. 'We gave up a play we'll see again - Arizona State has a similar style offense, with more balance than UCLA. The play-action wheel route, we'll see that again.
'The other key issue is, (the Devils) run a lot more bubble screens. They throw a ton of balls to the flat and block for the receiver. One-on-one, open-field tackling is going to be huge. You miss a tackle, it becomes a big play.'
Riley wasn't happy with another defensive play, the 22-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter in which UCLA's Taylor Embree - ably covered by Anthony Watkins and Rashaad Reynolds - reached over both to make the catch. Watkins was in position to catch the ball, too.
'We had that touchdown pass taken from us in double coverage,' Riley said. 'We should have had an interception on that play.
'Taking advantage of opportunities and being aggressive is really important. You have to be in good shape (with body positioning) and then go get the football.'
• Oregon State's players will not be heading to Tempe with a defeatist attitude.
'We definitely need to get a win,' freshman defensive end Scott Crichton said. 'We'd better get this win Saturday. No one's happy right now. But I feel like we've grown from the previous games. I think we have this game.
'We're really down right now, but we're going to keep our heads up. I know we're going to get this win. Our intensity keeps growing. We want it more (than the Devils). I know we want it more.'
Mike Remmers said he is aware of the criticism the Beavers are taking from media and fans.
'Going 0-3 is not the greatest way to start the season, but slow starts happen,' the senior offensive tackle said. 'The way I'm looking at it, it's not how you start, it's how you finish. People are counting us out right now. I'm using that as motivation to exceed their expectations. If we win out, everybody's going to forget about this 0-3 start.
'I have Twitter, I have Facebook, I have all that stuff. I look at them once in a while. I see things. If the team's not doing as well as it should be, people are going to say what they want to say. Like, 'They're not going to achieve anything.' Well, yes we are. I'm not going to let a slow start stop us from doing what we can do the rest of the season.'
Riley feels much the same way.
'We're trying to make enough improvement to win a game,' he said. 'That's where we are right now. We have a lot of young players. We have to give them some good ammunition both technically and strategically to help them win a game.
'You live in the moment. Our moment is this weekend. I'm proud of our players. Each week, there have been signs of improvement. We haven't been rewarded because we haven't won, but I know it's there. Maybe with good preparation and good performance we can win this game.'
• Oregon State has won three in a row against Arizona State, including a 31-28 victory at Corvallis last fall.
'A year ago, everyone thought (the Devils) were the better team,' Riley said. 'We're in the same situation now. We'll try to do it again.'
• Osweiler is a 6-8, 240-pound native of Kalispell, Mont., who made his sixth career start against the Trojans, completing 25 of 32 passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. He also scrambled effectively a couple of times. For the season, he ranks fifth in the Pac-12 in passing (93 for 135, 68.9 percent, with 1,094 yards, eight TDs and three picks) and sixth in pass efficiency.
'He's a big guy, tough to bring down,' Crichton said. 'We can't be worried about delivering big hits. We just need to wrap up when we get to him.'
• Tailback Malcolm Agnew, who said his injured hamstring is '90 to 95 percent' healed, was set to take part in all practice drills Tuesday.
'I'm feeling pretty good,' said the 5-8, 190-pound true freshman, who missed the last two games after rushing for 223 yards and three TDs in the opener against Sacramento State. 'I'll keep progressing and getting better at practice this week and be ready for Saturday.'
Agnew said he is glad Riley held him out of the UCLA game for precautionary reasons.
'I was close to feeling all right last week,' Agnew said. 'I wanted to play, but in the long run, it was the best decision not to play.'
Agnew, who missed most of his senior high school season due to injuries to both hamstrings, said he is confident his rehab at OSU will help prevent further problems.
'We've done a lot more strengthening exercises, a lot of deep-tissue massage to make sure there's not scar tissue still in there,' he said. 'And we've used some sort of laser technology. I'm not exactly sure what it does, but it helps.'
Riley stopped short of saying Agnew will be a starter Saturday.
'He is going to have to have three good days of practice this week,' Riley said. 'After missing two weeks, he's probably not in the shape he was in. It's still a mystery.'
• Arizona State blitzes more often than UCLA did. OSU's redshirt freshman, Sean Mannion, must be ready for it. So must the Beavers' O-line.
'A combination of what (the Devils) do in coverage vs. what they do in pressure is going to be important for Sean to recognize,' Riley said. 'He has to throw the ball out quickly against pressure and read the coverage and throw to the right guy. Recognition and quick decisions will be huge.
'And we have to do a real good job up front. USC had to throw the ball a lot, and (the ASU) ends were killing SC's tackles.'
Southern Cal had four turnovers, including two in the fourth quarter.
'The effort by (the Devils') defensive front in the fourth quarter ... they took over the game,' Riley said. 'They do a nice job of coaching that defense and they play hard.
• Riley was asked about the mood of his players after the 0-3 start.
'That's our biggest issue, keeping these guys in a positive frame of mind, (ensuring that they) continue to work,' the OSU coach said. 'I feel good about that right now. Everybody is right on track with what they're supposed to be doing. Those are outward signs that are good.'
• Freshman D-ends Crichton and Dylan Wynn have been two of the best play-makers on the Oregon State defense.
'They both have good motors,' Riley said. 'They're a quick study. They're paying attention, buying into what we're doing and getting better all the time.'
• Another Beaver playing well defensively is 6-1, 245-pound junior linebacker Feti Unga, who has a team-high 31 tackles.
'He is a natural middle linebacker,' Riley said. 'I like his movement, his vision, his toughness. He puts himself in position to make good plays, and he's physically tough enough to make those plays.'
• Arizona State's middle linebacker is 6-3, 250-pound junior Vontaze Burfict, whose reckless style and propensity for incurring penalties has drawn even more attention than his performance. Riley sounds like a fan, though.
'Burfict is really a good player,' the OSU coach said. 'I enjoy watching him play. He plays with a lot of enthusiasm. There's a ton of personality there. He's a big, physical guy with great instincts. He sees things so well. He plays and sees and goes, and when he goes, he goes hard.'
• Oregon State ranks 12th in the Pac-12 and 113th nationally in red-zone efficiency.
'We have to be sharper in the passing game, more detailed in the route- running, and have better decision-making,' Riley said. 'Windows are smaller; opportunity comes and goes fast.
'We also have to be able to run the ball. If you're running effectively on first and second down, it becomes easier to score. We're not doing that well enough.'
• Riley was relatively pleased with Mannion's first career start. The redshirt freshman completed 24 of 40 passes for 287 yards and a touchdown with one interception.
'Sean made some great throws and hung in there real well, made some throws with some pretty good heat on him and didn't get sacked,' the OSU coach said. 'And he missed on some. Quarterbacks will do that. He'll learn from that and get better.
'He's hitting some down-the-field angle throws. We haven't had any streak routes yet, but he had a nice post route to James (Rodgers, for 31 yards). If you're good at throwing the balls in the intermediate range, everything else will come off of that. You're going to get some deep ones and the short game will be much more efficient. He's been pretty darn good at (intermediate) throws.'
• Riley, on the lasting impact of Erickson's four years at Oregon State: 'Everybody here has a ton of respect for and likes Dennis Erickson. I'm one of those people. He did a tremendous job at Oregon State and wherever he's been. One of Oregon State's greatest years was the Fiesta Bowl year (2000 season), and there are still many signs of that in Corvallis. Those parts are remembered fondly.'
NOTES: Riley is considering allowing Rodgers to return kickoffs at some point this season. ... ASU's junior tailback, Cameron Marshall, ran for 141 yards and scored three TDs against USC despite a lingering sprained ankles. 'He's still not healthy,' Erickson said. 'I'm not sure he will be until our bye week (after an Oct. 15 game against Oregon).' ... ASU linebacker Shelly Lyons, who returned an interception for a TD and had four tackles against SC, is Pac-12 defensive player of the week. ... A pair of Sheldon High grads are making their mark at ASU. Senior receiver Aaron Pflugrad, who tied his career high with eight receptions for a career-high 180 yards against the Trojans, is the team's leading receiver with 22 catches for 344 yards and four TDs. Senior D-tackle Bo Moos, son of Washington State Athletic Director Bill Moos, has 30 tackles, including 3 1/2 for losses, and had his first career sack against SC. ... Erickson has six former OSU assistants and players on his ASU staff - defensive coordinator Craig Bray, offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, linebacker coach Trent Bray, tight ends/special teams coach Jamie Christian, O-line coach Gregg Smith and grad assistant Alvin Smith. Also on the staff are Erickson's son, Bryce Erickson, who coaches running backs, and ex-Portland State assistant Steve Broussard, who coaches wide receivers.