by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT Oregon State coach Mike Riley observes the action during Saturday's loss to ninth-ranked Oregon.

EUGENE - Near the end of his media availability after Oregon's punishing 49-21 victory Saturday, Oregon State coach Mike Riley was asked if the score was indicative of the distance between the programs.

'I'm going to look at this thing real hard and try to be realistic - try not to look at it with rose-colored glasses, I suppose,' Riley said. 'It's a valid question, but we may not be that far away.'

A valid question is, far away from what?

Far away from the level of football being played by the ninth-ranked Ducks? Even a cursory glance would suggest the difference between the programs is light years.

Far away from contention for a Pac-12 championship? Seven or eight other schools would enter the conversation before the Beavers right now.

Far away from respectability? Oregon State finished the season 3-9, the worst of Riley's 11 years as head coach and a second straight losing campaign without a bowl berth.

The Beavers have a chance to regain respect as soon as next season, with an excellent nucleus of young players returning. If they don't beef up both lines with immediate help, though, they'll be singing the blues again next fall.

The Ducks are a deserving top-10 team, and it figured they would take the Beavers to the woodshed Saturday, at home with a Pac-12 championship game berth at stake.

Even so, the gaudy numbers the Oregon offense put up - 38 first downs, 365 yards rushing, 305 yards passing, 670 yards total offense - are rather mind-blowing.

'I thought we had improved enough to really compete in the game today,' Riley said, 'so we're very disappointed with how that went.'

The Beavers started the game as if intending to hand the game to the Ducks on a silver platter. To wit:

• After taking a reception four yards on the first play from scrimmage, OSU tailback Terron Ward took offense at something tackler Terrance Mitchell said or did and slapped him in the helmet as he got to his feet. Ward was tagged for a 15-yard personal-foul penalty.

• Two plays later, quarterback Sean Mannion threw an interception into triple coverage, picked off by the Ducks' Michael Clay at the OSU 38-yard line.

• After a three-and-out on the Beavers' next series, Johnny Hekker shanked a 10-yard punt to the OSU 43.

• On the second play of OSU's next possession, Mannion served up another interception, this one returned six yards by Kiko Alonso to the OSU 47.

Given that kind of field position, one would think Oregon might tally three TDs in the blink or two of an eye.

So it was a minor miracle that the Beavers trailed only 7-0 after one quarter. And when OSU's Jovan Stevenson took a pass in the flat from Mannion and rambled 58 yards for a score to make it 7-7 early in the second quarter, there seemed a sliver of hope for the 28-point underdogs.

But only for a micro-minute.

Soon it was 28-7 at halftime, and you could feel the intensity being sucked out of the capacity crowd at Autzen Stadium. It was Silence of the Lambs, and the sacrificial altar had already taken its victim.

OSU's James Rodgers went through warmups before Riley decided his injured ankle wasn't good enough to allow him to play. So the senior flanker watched from the sidelines, cheering gracefully for his teammates while certainly hurting inside.

It would have been nice for the Beavers to have their captain and leader, 'but we needed a lot more than James,' Riley admitted. 'We needed a lot of stuff.'

The usual suspects that have plagued Oregon State all season were to blame again Saturday.

OSU couldn't stop the run. LaMichael James carried 24 times for 142 yards and a TD before leaving with an injury in the third quarter, and four UO tailbacks combined for 275 yards on the ground.

Not to mention Oregon's fabulous frosh, De'Anthony Thomas, who burned the Beavers for 197 all-purpose yards - 71 on four rushes, 86 on 10 catches and 40 on two kickoff returns.

Or an Oregon aerial attack that featured De'Anthony Thomas, tight end David Paulson (10 receptions, 86 yards) and QB Darron Thomas (27 for 40 for 305 yards and four TDs passing, with no interceptions).

As usual, Oregon State couldn't run. OSU had only 15 carries all day and threw virtually every play the second half. Including six Mannion sacks accounting for 41 yards lost, the Beavers' net rushing total was 16 yards.

Mannion finished 27 of 44 passing for 299 yards with three TDs, but much of that came in garbage time. The redshirt freshman, who looked unnerved early, was 7 of 18 for 87 yards in the first half.

'I don't know if I'd call it 'nerves,' ' Mannion said. 'I'd call it 'excitement' that you get to play in such a rivalry. After the first play, it's just playing football.'

Any suspense, however, was removed almost immediately. Oregon State's defense kept the door cracked open for a while despite incredible field position for Oregon's offense, but the Beaver offense slammed it shut.

'As good a team as (the Ducks) are, it would have been so important for us to do something (there),' Riley said. 'It was a critical part of the game.

'We made a lot of good plays and hung in there for a long time, but with no response from us offensively - going backward, really - it hurt our chance to set that game into a competitive mode.'

I asked Cameron Collins if he felt there was a wide disparity between the teams.

'Skill-wise, I don't think so,' OSU's senior outside linebacker said. 'Football is a game of making plays, and (the Ducks) made more plays than we did. They got a lot of their guys in space, and we weren't able to contain them, and that's how it goes.'

That's how it has gone too many times for the Beavers this season. The effort has been there, but not the performance.

'We believed in each other,' senior safety Lance Mitchell said. 'We played as hard as we could every Saturday, after a win or a loss. That's all I can ask for.'

Beaver Nation will be asking for more, beginning next season.

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