No time to waste as Beavers try to turn things around
From even before the start of training camp in August, Murphy's Law was in effect with Oregon State's football program.
Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
Beginning with Jacquizz Rodgers' decision to go to the NFL, to late surgeries to James Rodgers and Joe Halahuni that left them still rehabbing as the season started, to a rash of injuries to other key performers, to a change of quarterbacks at halftime of an unimaginable season-opening loss to FCS opponent Sacramento State, dismal was the byword for the Beavers.
There were bright spots - the unveiling of several outstanding freshmen, including quarterback Sean Mannion, receiver Brandin Cooks and defensive ends Scott Crichton and Dylan Wynn, and solid Pac-12 wins over Arizona, Washington State and Washington - but the minuses far outweighed the pluses.
The numbers were frightening nearly everywhere. Oregon State ranked 118th nationally in interceptions (19) and rushing yardage per game (86.9), tied for 106th in penalties (7.4) and penalty yardage (68.7) per game, 105th in red-zone defense, 104th in pass efficiency defense, 102nd in turnover margin (minus-8) and red-zone offense, 101st in rush defense (196.8) per game and 98th in scoring offense (21.8) per game.
In the Pac-12, OSU finished 12th in rush offense, rush defense, turnover margin and red-zone offense, 11th in scoring offense, pass efficiency and opponents' first downs.
There were many mistakes, in part because of the youth and inexperience. There were 23 players who made their first career starts through the season.
Was this the most undisciplined team in Riley's 11 years as Oregon State's head man?
'In some areas, yes, we were, and we as coaches have to take responsibility for that,' Riley says. 'For instance, the number of procedure penalties we had this season was inexcusable. So disruptive.'
The Beavers had only one procedure penalty in Saturday's 49-21 loss at Oregon - a false start in the second half.
'We proved, even with the noise (at Autzen), we can handle it,' Riley says. 'It's a mental thing. We have to do a better job as coaches and as players.'
For years, the Beavers have been among the best teams in both limiting penalties and turnover margin. That changed this season, the latter stat due in no small part to the departure of Quizz to the NFL.
'It didn't feel as we were going through it that the kids were out of control or doing a lot of stupid stuff, but we did have an inordinate amount of penalties,' Riley says. 'It had a cumulative effect, and it was bad. We went from the top part of the league to the bottom half in both of those stats, which was indicative of our season.'
Some of it might be due to youth and immaturity. On the first play from scrimmage Saturday, after a nice gain on a run, true freshman tailback Terron Ward slapped the helmet of UO tackler Terrance Mitchell following an exchange of words. Fifteen-yard penalty on Ward, unsportsmanlike conduct.
'Horrible,' Riley says.
That word describes Riley's feelings about his 11th year at the OSU helm. You think Beaver Nation was disappointed with a 3-9 record? Riley is cheery and eternally positive by nature, but he had plenty of nights where sleep didn't come easy.
Change is in the offing. Riley isn't sure yet in what form. Much of it will come in the months of February and March, after the recruiting process is through.
'We're going to evaluate everything - from when we practice to what we do,' Riley says. 'We'll look at it hard.
'What happened this season was unacceptable. It was for everybody who supports Oregon State football, but as competitors ... internally ... we can't be here. This is not good. It's unacceptable, and things are going to change. I don't want to say what we're going to do differently, but we'll do things differently.'
The pro-style offense, though, that has held forth through the Riley years at OSU will remain.
'You have to be careful taking too much of a blanket change,' he says. 'We've adapted and added stuff over the years, but the base is still there. And just about every record of productivity at Oregon State has come through this offense.'
Many offenses, including Southern Cal's, are similar to OSU's. It's more execution than style, Riley believes.
'It's not that we don't know that we have to do things better, or change the way we do this, or focus more on that,' he says. 'We'll do a solid evaluation of everything, but sometimes it's not wise to throw out the baby with the bathwater.'
The obvious thing to help Oregon State's offense is to improve the offensive line and the run game. Through the return of Philipp, recruiting and a year of development with the returnees, the O-line could be better. For sure, it will be a No. 1 priority.
Oregon State's base 4-3 defense will remain intact, though the Beavers could go to a 3-4 set on third down and passing situations. OSU's nickel package has been effective, and we might see more of that, too.
Will Riley make changes to his coaching staff?
'I don't anticipate that,' he says. 'We have good coaches with proven records through the years.
'But we have to look at ourselves and see where the best way to go is. Everybody is willing to search for a better way.'
There could be a switch in coaching assignments. Coordinators Danny Langsdorf and Mark Banker will stay intact, but with only three full-time coaches on the defensive side (Banker, Joe Seumalo and Keith Heyward, along with grad aides Mitch Meeuwsen and Alan Darlin)) and five on the offense (Langsdorf, Jay Locey, Mike Cavanaugh, Brent Brennan and Chris Brasfield), a balancing act could be in store.
And Riley might switch some recruiting assignments, too, to maximize OSU's performance there.
Oregon State must replace nine key seniors - offensive linemen Mike Remmers and Grant Johnson, tight end Joe Halahuni, flanker James Rodgers, punter Johnny Hekker, long snapper Marcus Perry, defensive tackle Kevin Frahm, outside linebacker Cameron Collins and safety Lance Mitchell.
The Beavers will return 17 starters, including kicker Trevor Romaine, and their five top tailbacks from this season.
Mannion had the best year of any first-year quarterback in the Riley system, setting a school single-season record for completions (305) and approaching Sean Canfield's single-season completion percentage mark (67.9 percent). Mannion connected on 64.5 percent of his attempts and threw for 3,332 yards - third-best in school history behind Derek Anderson in his junior (4,058) and senior (3,815) seasons.
The baby-faced 6-5, 225-pound Mannion threw for 16 touchdowns but had 18 interceptions, and many of them were rookie mistakes. With a year's experience, those numbers could improve dramatically next season.
Markus Wheaton (73 catches, 986 yards) heads a strong returning receiver corps that includes Jordan Bishop, Brandin Cooks and Obum Gwachum.
'I'm encouraged and excited going forward with this group,' Riley says. 'A lot of young guys will enter spring practice as veteran players.
'We have to add a good recruiting class, and there will hopefully be a handful JC guys to enhance the deal.'
JC additions could come in the form of an O-lineman and D-lineman and two or three linebackers. Riley and seven of his assistants will be on the road five days a week for the next four weeks, fortifying the Beavers' 15 verbal commitments as well as adding another 10 or so recruits.
There's a lot of work to be done, and no time to waste.