OSU's nice-guy coach creates tough teams that work hard to win
SAN FRANCISCO - It wasn't long ago that critics were calling for Mike Riley's head.
Too nice a guy, they complained. Too soft. Too little discipline. Too few victories over top-25 teams (as if any coach has very many).
Today, Riley would enjoy having the last laugh, if he wasn't such a nice guy.
The Beavers' 21-14 Emerald Bowl victory over Maryland on Friday confirmed how they improve as a season wears on. They have closed the last two seasons 8-1 and 7-1, and won four straight bowl games.
This season, Riley dealt with losing his punter on the eve of training camp, his top receiver for most of the season due to injury and personal issues, a starting offensive tackle to NCAA suspension, his best offensive lineman for most of the season to injury, and his star tailback for two and a half games because of an injury.
On top of that, Riley was limited with what he could do offensively because of the loss of the receiver - Sammie Stroughter - and the inexperience of sophomore quarterbacks Sean Canfield and Lyle Moevao.
And the Beavers still followed a 10-4 2006 season with a 9-4 campaign, despite one of the nation's most difficult schedules.
Oregon State has finished third in the Pac-10 the last two seasons, even though small-town Corvallis is the conference's ninth-largest market.
'Coach Riley is blue-collar, and that's Oregon State football at its best,' tailback Yvenson Bernard says. 'We're going to outwork you. We believe in each other, and we believe in our coaches.'
After seven seasons at Oregon State, Riley's record is 47-38 - 39-24 during the Riley II era since 2003. This at a school that experienced 28 straight losing seasons before he arrived.
Riley's Pac-10 mark the last two years (18-8) is better than any team but Southern Cal. He has won five of his last nine meetings with top-25 opponents, has beaten Oregon three of the last four times, and has never lost to the Ducks at home.
And the school that didn't make a bowl game for 35 years has played in seven in the last nine years.
Riley is proud to be a major part of that, but he wants more.
'I want to win a Pac-10 championship, and I want to contend for a national title,' he says.
Facilities continue to improve. Depth in the program has never been better. The Beavers' reputation nationwide is growing, and while the disadvantages in recruiting plum athletes remain, Riley and his coaches are getting their foot in the door with better players every year.
• Oregon State's 2007 defense may not have been as good as the defensive group that keyed the Beavers' 11-1 Fiesta Bowl season in 2000, but it was darn close. And, for sure, no defense in OSU history has had as much depth.
The Beaver D did itself proud after giving up two first-quarter touchdown passes and 164 yards total offense in the period to Maryland. After that, the Terrapins managed five first downs and 60 yards total offense and were kept off the scoreboard.
'Dudes have been doing that all year,' OSU center Kyle DeVan says. 'I knew going into halftime tied, if we could score one more time, we were going to win. You can't have a better defensive performance than those guys had.'
• Yvenson Bernard ended a brilliant career with one of his finest performances, setting Emerald Bowl records for carries (38) and yardage (177) while scoring the tying touchdown in his first game since undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery Nov. 19. Asked by a Bay Area reporter if his knee had bothered him during the game, Bernard answered, 'Nah,' then winked and smiled at a Portland media type.
Even less than 100 percent, Bernard was dynamite.
The senior tailback finished his career with 19 100-yard games and 3,862 yards, sixth on the Pac-10 list ahead of such giants as UCLA's Gaston Green; USC's Anthony Davis and Ricky Bell; and OSU's Steven Jackson.
• Lincoln High grad Taylor Kavanaugh set an Emerald Bowl record with 54 yards in punt returns, including a 26-yarder. Not bad for a sophomore walk-on.
• When Oregon State took the ball at its own one-yard line clinging to a 21-14 lead with 6:24 remaining, Riley admits his expectations weren't great.
'I was thinking if we could get a couple of first downs and punt it out, we'd be in pretty good shape,' he says.
On first down, Canfield hit James Rodgers for a nine-yard pass play to the OSU 10. It started a memorable drive that covered 14 plays and ended with the Beavers on the Terrapin 8 as the clock expired.
'Me and (guard) Roy Schuening were the only ones excited about being on the one-yard line,' DeVan says. 'We knew we could drive it down the field and take six minutes off the clock. It was a great way to finish a great game.'
Bernard said: 'In the huddle, Roy told us there would be no better feeling than if we were to go 99 yards on our last drive. I put in my head, 'I'm going to do it for my man Roy and the offensive line.' '