Victory over Huskies would relieve some of the pain for depleted Beavers
Mike Cavanaugh was the first of Oregon State's assistant coaches to emerge from the locker room at AT and T Field following the Beavers' 23-6 loss to California Saturday night.
OSU's offensive line coach was carrying a dinner box and looking for the team bus. He didn't appear in the mood for conversation.
Oregon State's nightmarish season can't end soon enough, it would seem, at least for those in Beaver Nation who are agonizing with every loss.
Believe it or not, though, coach Mike Riley, his staff and his players don't feel that way.
They're looking forward to practice the next two weeks and desperately seeking victory Saturday in their home finale against Washington.
The Beaver coaches and players are frustrated and discouraged, and I would say embarrassed by a 2-8 record that reflects an imperfect storm of maladies to hit the program all at once.
But they won't be going through the motions as they try to salvage something positive out of what's left on the schedule.
Effort is not the problem. Coaching isn't, either, though you never look very smart when you're losing.
But a couple of insufficient recruiting classes and a bad run of injuries has left Oregon State shy of productive bodies on the line on both sides of the ball.
The school that has featured some of the best running backs in the country over the past 13 years and has sent several O-linemen to the NFL ranks 119th of 120 FCS programs in rushing.
The school that led the nation in rushing defense in 2007 has been a sieve against opposing runners the past three weeks.
In losses to Utah, Stanford and California, the Beavers have been outrushed 821 yards to 92.
Even more amazing than that incredible disparity in ground production is that, against the Utes and Bears, Oregon State was in both games and had chances to win.
The Beavers are adequate blocking in pass protection but get no push when trying to open a hole to run through. The last three weeks, they've been going without their best O-lineman - center Grant Johnson, dealing with a bad ankle sprain.
But even with Johnson, OSU's run-blocking has been sub-par. It has been that way for two seasons now. I have to believe it's part of the reason Jacquizz Rodgers left early for the NFL.
Johnson, Burke Ellis - who has missed the past two games with a back injury - and Mike Remmers are seniors this season. That leaves guards Josh Andrews and Grant Enger, tackle Colin Kelly and center Geoff Garner as returnees with starting experience.
A healthy Michael Philipp - who underwent preseason knee surgery and was lost for the season - and 6-2, 310-pound redshirting freshman Justin Addie will be added to the mix next season. Mammoth redshirt freshman tackle Darryl Jackson - also coming off knee surgery - has potential down the line, too.
And it's no secret that commit Isaac Seumalo from Corvallis High - son of OSU D-line coach Joe Seumalo and one of the nation's top prep prospects - will get every opportunity to win a starting berth as a true freshman next fall.
If Oregon State can land its No. 1 O-line recruiting prospect from the junior college ranks - 6-5, 305-pound tackle Stan Hasiak from Mt. SAC in Walnut, Calif. - the beef-up-front talent pool improves considerably.
On the defensive side, the front seven has been decimated by missing bodies.
Dominic Glover - ticketed to start at tackle - never gained his academic eligibility. Starter Castro Masaniai, the only tackle with girth, was lost for the year following midseason knee surgery. Redshirt freshman Fred Thompson, a potential star, was lost to knee surgery in training camp. Senior walk-on Ben Motter missed the Cal game with a back injury.
The Beavers have been left with senior Kevin Frahm and walk-on Andrew Seumalo as starters, and converted end Mana Rosa and walk-on Joe Lopez are behind them.
The situation has been less dire at end, with freshmen Scott Crichton and Dylan Wynn playing inspired ball. But the only end with experience - junior Taylor Henry - left the team last week for personal reasons.
In 2012, Crichton, Wynn, Rusty Fernando, Rudolf Fifita and promising redshirting freshman Desmond Collins will man the rotation at end. Seumalo, Masaniai, Thompson, Manu Tuivailala and Blake Harrah will provide some depth at tackle. If the Beavers can sign the JC tackle they are targeting - 6-3, 340-pound Visesio Salt from Mt. SAC - things could turn around in a hurry.
Middle linebacker Feti Unga, who had been playing outstanding ball early in the season, has missed most of the last four games with a calf injury. His backup, Tony Wilson, has dealt with injuries all season. They'll both return next season, along with freshman Josh Williams, who seems headed for plenty of playing time in the near future.
On the outside, Michael Doctor, Rueben Robinson and D.J. Welch will have another year of experience.
None of this helps the now in Beaver World, of course. And Washington running back Chris Polk is surely licking his chops, looking ahead to a big day of running to daylight in Corvallis next Saturday.
The Huskies look beatable, though, especially after their 40-17 pasting by Southern Cal on Saturday. In order to beat the Dawgs, Oregon State will have to have its passing game working and hope it can improve in both the rush offense and defense departments.
'We've been bad in both areas,' Riley said, 'but we know we can be better. It's about executing on both sides. It's about sustaining blocks and getting backs through the holes on offense, and about lane responsibilities and better tackling on defense. We're going to keep working until we get it right in both of those situations.'
A victory over Washington won't salvage what has been a lost season for the Beavers.
But it would make it a bit more palatable for the coaches, players and fans who have suffered through a full measure of indignities, if only for a day.