Buoyed by win, Beavers hungry for more
As I walked into the lobby of my downtown Seattle hotel after 1 a.m. Sunday, I noticed several groups clad in orange and black still celebrating in the lounge.
It is for those people - and the thousands of others who made the drive up Interstate 5 - I feel best about Oregon State's resounding 44-21 victory over Washington State Saturday night at CenturyLink Field.
It has been a long, frustrating season for Beaver Nation, and it was nice to see the faithful's efforts to support their team went rewarded with a splendid performance.
Mike Riley feels the same way.
'When we ran off the field to the locker room after the game, a lot of our fans lined the tunnel,' the OSU coach says. 'They were cheering and all excited.
'I was glad to see all those happy Oregon State faces. It really made me feel good to be a Beaver.'
The win over a mediocre-at-best Wazoo club doesn't erase the sting of the inexcusable opening loss to Sacramento State or an 0-4 start, but it shows that nobody has quit in the Oregon State program.
The Beavers' most complete performance of the year comes too late to salvage a bowl game, but it offers hope for the rest of the season and for the future.
Oregon State has a lot of weapons on the offensive side, and they worked in unison Saturday to put together production that left little to be desired.
Sean Mannion gave a performance suitable for framing, one that could land him Pac-12 offensive player of the week honors. He threw for 376 yards and four touchdowns, had no sacks and only one interception.
'And the interception should have been a touchdown,' says Riley, referring to the ball WSU cornerback Damante Horton stole from Markus Wheaton in the end zone.
The redshirt freshman's poise and quiet leadership has been a guiding force as the OSU offense has grown through the early season. A quality group of receivers have benefitted from his accurate touch.
'Sean's best game,' Riley says. 'He did a great job of making throws, but also dumping the ball and avoiding sacks. His third-and-1 throw to James was remarkable. There was a corner route to Markus where he had to put it right on between two defenders.
'He threw some really nice balls. He was competing and making plays.'
All the Beaver offense has needed is a running attack. Malcolm Agnew's return provided that against Washington State. The 5-8, 190-pound true freshman is quick and powerful, the kind of runner who usually doesn't go down upon first impact.
Agnew routinely turns a 1-yard loss into a 3-yard gain with second and third efforts. If he can stay healthy, he'll be next in the line of great Beaver tailbacks, following the lead of Ken Simonton, Steven Jackson, Yvenson Bernard and Jacquizz Rodgers.
'I'm hopeful of that,' Riley says. 'I really like what I see from Malcolm. I was impressed' Saturday night.
Mannion threw to 11 receivers, including Wheaton (5 for 99 yards), James Rodgers (4 for 38) and Agnew's backup, true freshman Terron Ward (4 for 24). True freshman Brandin Cooks (3 for 70, including a TD) displayed his prowess as a playmaker. 'We probably have to get him on the field more often,' Riley says.
Rodgers was a difference-maker providing down-field blocking for teammates, too.
The offensive line gets plenty of credit for season highs in scoring and total offense (551).
'Probably the best they've played this season,' Riley says. 'We ran the ball better than we have, and we didn't get any sacks. I give Sean some credit for that, too.'
Several of the OSU players I spoke with after the game - representing both sides of the ball - credited coaches with a winning game plan.
"One of the best I can remember in my career,' senior D-tackle Kevin Frahm told me. 'The coaches and their plan did wonders.'
From a bomb to Wheaton that went for 37 yards on the first play from scrimmage to the third-and-1 pass for 20 yards to Rodgers in the fourth quarter, there was 'some very aggressive play-calling by Danny' Langsdorf, the OSU offensive coordinator, Riley says.
But more than anything, Langsdorf was able to use the entire playbook.
'What helps is being successful running the ball like we were,' Riley says. 'Then some of that play-action stuff comes alive.
'We scored two of our touchdowns on bootlegs. Not wide bootlegs, but we start action one way and the line goes with it, then with a throwback. It's a lot of the newer stuff we're doing.'
D-coordinator Mark Banker - going without starting tackle Castro Masaniai and linebackers Feti Unga and Cameron Collins - played it pretty basic, rarely going to a blitz package. A four-man rush was effective pressuring WSU QBs Jeff Tuel and Marshall Lobbestael and maintaining lanes to thwart the scramble.
Tuel - who had badly hurt Oregon State with his feet in Washington State's win at Corvallis the previous year - got loose only once, for 10 yards off a busted play on Wazoo's first series. And the Coogs netted only 83 yards on the ground.
'It wasn't perfect,' Riley says. 'We were trying to limit big plays, and they had three. But we got after it and made plays. Scottie Crichton was outstanding - just relentless. Andrew Seumalo and Taylor Henry were good, too. Guys within the game plan were freed up to play, and they did.'
Oregon State's biggest problem was penalties. The Beavers were flagged 14 times for 120 yards - six times for 77 yards before Washington State was penalized once. The Cougars wound up with four for 55 yards.
'Some of them were good calls; some of them, I don't know where they came from,' Riley says. 'I don't think the penalties were equally distributed. They should have been called both ways with more consistency.'
Where does Oregon State go from here?
Saturday's visit to Utah provides opportunity for another win. The Utes, who lost quarterback Jordan Wynn for the season to shoulder surgery, are 3-4 and coming off a listless 34-10 loss to California in which the Bears led 34-0. Utah managed 11 first downs, 13 yards rushing and 178 yards total offense.
The remaining schedule is difficult - home games with Stanford and Washington, road dates at Cal and Oregon.
Think about the future, though.
Freshmen playing key roles include Mannion, Agnew, Ward, Cooks, Crichton, D-end Dylan Wynn - who already has a school-record five fumbles recovered - safety Ryan Murphy and kicker Trevor Romaine.
'If we think about it too much, it's probably a little scary,' Riley says. 'Those kids are playing well, too. I'm throughly excited about it.'
Eleven other freshmen have played this season, and another 15 true freshmen are redshirting, including promising newcomers such as tailback Storm Woods, cornerback Larry Scott, safety Peter Ashton, receivers Tyler Trosin and Richard Mullaney, tight end Kellen Clute, O-lineman Darryl Jackson and D-lineman Fred Thompson.
'There are a whole bunch of guys in the redshirt group who are going to make noise in spring practice,' Riley says.
Partly because of injury, Oregon State remains thin everywhere but at linebacker on defense. The OSU coaches' mission will be to recruit one or two junior-college players on the offensive and defensive lines, at safety and at cornerback.
Saturday's performance left the Beavers wanting for more.
'I wish we had the first half of the season to play over,' Wynn said.
Sorry, no mulligans in college football.
But the win over the Cougars still means something.
'It was good for the guys' spirit, a reward for putting something together and accomplishing something,' Riley says. 'From here, you hope that it creates more of a hunger for doing it again, and for continued growth. That's what you want.'