Both sides hungry for a win in OSU-Arizona game
CORVALLIS - Motivation will not be lacking on either side in Saturday's 12:30 p.m. Oregon State-Arizona matchup at Reser Stadium.
Call it the 'Desperation Bowl.'
Oregon State (0-4) has lost six in a row and is looking for its first victory since beating Southern Cal 36-7 last Nov. 20. Arizona (1-4) has dropped four straight since topping Division I-AA Northern Arizona 41-10 in its opener, has lost 10 of its last 11 and hasn't defeated a Division I-A opponent since last Halloween.
The Beavers had their best overall performance in a 35-20 loss at Arizona State last Saturday, but OSU coach Mike Riley said everything rings hollow without a victory.
'We've been at it for a bit,' Riley said. 'It would sure be great for this team to win a game. I'm sure Arizona feels the same way. We don't have a corner on that market at all.
'I've been encouraged by the improvement of this team, but we need to get a win.'
Middle linebacker Feti Unga agreed.
'Every week, people ask the same questions, and it's the same answer every time,' said the 6-1, 245-pound junior, tied for the Pac-12 lead in tackles with 38. 'We're getting better, improving on such and such. But at the end of the day, it's the score on the board that really matters.'
• Riley said the OSU coaches aren't preparing for Saturday's contest differently, however.
'Even if your record is good, you feel that same pressure to win the game,' the OSU coach said. 'If we're going to practice what we preach to the team, we're going to live in this bubble. All we're thinking about is winning the game.'
The OSU coaches must put together a game plan to help their players, along with helping ensure they don't feel extra pressure to win because of the 0-4 record.
'For all of our staff, this is one of our biggest challenges ever - this season, this team,' he said. 'We have to continue to bring these guys along, give them concrete stuff. Motivational speeches are good, but without stuff they can take to the game, it's not going to make any difference.'
• Arizona has played a slate of opponents almost as tough as Oregon State's a year ago, when the Beavers had the nation's most difficult schedule.
After beating up on Northern Arizona, Arizona has suffered losses to No. 9 Oklahoma State (37-14), No. 6 Stanford (37-10) and No. 10 Oregon (56-31). Last week, Arizona fell behind USC 17-0 before falling 48-41. The Wildcats trailed the Ducks 35-3 before rallying to get within 42-31.
'They've had a tough schedule,' Riley said. 'They've been down, but never out. They're never out of a game because of their quarterback (Nick Foles) and a great passing attack.
'It's going to be a 60-minute game Saturday, There are going to be a lot of balls in the air, though they had some good runs against USC. It's a big challenge.'
• Arizona has a veteran team, with 13 senior starters including kicker Alex Zendejas. The Wildcats start six seniors and three juniors on offense, including 5-8, 195-pound senior tailback Keola Antolin, who carried 15 times for 87 yards against the Trojans. Antolin leads Arizona with 267 yards and a 4.8 average.
Antolin rushed for 70 yards and a TD on only eight totes in Oregon State's 29-27 win at Tucson last season.
'I love Antolin,' OSU defensive coordinator Mark Banker said. 'I always liked him over (Nic) Grigsby. He's a tough ass. I like tough guys, and he's one of them.'
• Oregon State has won 10 of the last 12 meetings with Arizona, but five of the last six games have been decided by seven points or fewer - the last three by a combined nine points.
'It's been a very tough rivalry,' Riley said. 'I've appreciated these games with Arizona - all very hard-fought.'
• What a difference a year makes. In last year's game at Tucson, Ryan Katz threw for 393 yards and two touchdowns and was named Pac-10 offensive player of the week. Now Katz is backing up redshirt freshman Sean Mannion at quarterback.
Against the Wildcats, James Rodgers injured his knee, requiring a pair of offseason surgeries, while catching a 56-yard TD pass from Katz - a play that was nullified by penalty. The Beavers are 2-9 since that game.
• Arizona has a deep receiving corps, with Dan Buckner (25 catches), Justin Criner and David Roberts (24 apiece) and David Douglas and Gino Crump (23 apiece) all prime targets.
'Tell me which guys we're supposed to take away,' Banker lamented.
• After forcing only two turnovers in the first three games, Oregon State got four takeaways against Arizona State.
'That was the biggest difference in the game for us,' Banker said. 'We need to get the ball turned over like (against the Sun Devils). We need to pressure the quarterback, don't let him sit back there patting the ball, and we need to make plays on the ball.'
• Oregon State's offensive line has been OK in pass protection and not good enough in opening holes for runners, Riley said.
At least help is on the way for next season. Tackle Michael Philipp, a freshman All-American two years ago, had a second surgery last week on a knee that has troubled him for some time. Philipp's sophomore season was marred by nose and ankle injuries, and OSU coaches chose to have him redshirt this season to get healthy and prepare for 2012.
'The injuries have totally held Michael back,' Riley said. Before his sophomore season, 'he missed spring ball, wasn't able to work out all summer and started out (August training) camp not at his best. He has never really been healthy physically.
'We are very hopeful that with this surgery, this all is behind him, and he can get to who he really is as a player next season.'
Another promising tackle, 6-6, 325-pound freshman Darryl Jackson, underwent hip surgery at the start of camp and is redshirting.
If things work out, the Beavers' starting O-line next year could include returnees Josh Andrews, Colin Kelly and Grant Enger along with Philipp and Jackson. Other returnees in the mix include sophomore Geoff Garner, Michael Beaton and Derek Nielsen.
OSU also has verbal commitments from four O-linemen who are high school seniors - Gavin Andrews of Granite Bay, Calif., Chase Eldredge of Palos Verdes Estates, Calif., Josh Mitchell of Snoqualmie, Wash., and Isaac Seumalo of Corvallis. Seumalo - one of the top-rated prep linemen in the nation and son of D-line coach Joe Seumalo - might be good enough to start as a true freshman next season.
'The offensive line has been a major area in recruiting for us,' Riley said. 'It's like we had in the D-line the last couple of years, and that's paying off. We had to go get some defensive linemen, and we did.'
• Three days after setting school records for pass completions (40) and attempts (66) in the loss to Arizona State, Mannion continued to downplay his achievement.
'A lot of those passes were essentially long handoffs,' said Mannion, referring to a large number of screens and behind-the-line-of-scrimmage tosses. 'Four turnovers (interceptions) is no good. That's something I need to correct. You can always be smarter with the football. It's something I'll continue to work on.'
Riley felt Mannion was often pressured by the Devils' potent pass rush. Did he feel rushed a lot?
'Not necessarily,' Mannion said. 'A lot of it is on me - getting rid of the ball faster.'
• Arizona yields 37.6 points, 209.6 yards rushing and 503.6 yards total offense a game, last in the Pac-12 in all categories - though again, against a very tough array of opponents. Are the Beavers - last in the league in scoring offense at 16.8 points - expecting to score a lot of points Saturday?
'That's what we're looking to do,' Mannion said. 'Our coaches will put together a good scouting report. We'll just have to execute it.'
• Oregon State has had 19 players make their first career starts this season, but Unga - who is one of them - downplays that at this point in the season.
'Experience has a lot to do with (the 0-4 record), but we've played one, two, three, four games,' he said. 'It shouldn't have that much of an effect now. Now it's just coming out and playing.'
NOTES: About 2,800 tickets remained for Saturday's contest as of Tuesday. ... Riley says true freshman running Malcolm Agnew is "very doubtful" for the Arizona game because of hamstring issues. ... Oregon State is going with only two cornerbacks who were among the top four entering training camp. Starter Brandon Hardin, who underwent shoulder surgery, will miss the entire season. Backup Sean Martin is out for at least a month after foot surgery. The top backup remaining at cornerback is junior Keynan Parker. Jordan Poyer and Rashaad Reynolds went the entire way at the two spots against Arizona State. ... Arizona leads the Pac-12 in pass offense (383.0) but is last in rush offense (75.6). ... Mannion (97 for 156, 62.2 percent, for 1,105 yards and two TDs with five interceptions) moved up to seventh in the Pac-12 in passing yardage. Markus Wheaton is second in receptions (32) and fourth in receiving yardage (390).