CORVALLIS Oregon State football isnt back. Not yet.
But the Beavers scored one of their biggest victories in the Mike Riley era with their 10-7 win over 13th-ranked Wisconsin Saturday before a raucous Reser Stadium throng of 42,189.
It felt good, said Riley, the dean of Pac-12 coaches as he began his 12th season at the OSU helm with his eighth opening-day triumph. It felt like it should be.
Hundreds of students leaped out of the stands to storm the field and celebrate after the Beavers pulled off their 10th victory over a ranked opponent under Riley.
It caught me off guard, said sophomore quarterback Sean Mannion, who threw for 276 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. I was going to shake some peoples hands, and all of a sudden, there were a bunch of people around me. Thats a fun experience, when the crowd rushes the field like that especially the way it was in our stadium today.
Ive never seen an atmosphere like this my entire life. The fans were awesome all day. I can hardly talk now, I was yelling so loud out there.
After back-to-back losing seasons, there has been pressure from Beaver Nation some subtle, some a bit more out there to turn things around in 2012. Its nothing, though, to compare with the internal pressure of those inside the program, who want desperately to get back to the upper echelons of the conference.
Oregon State took an important first step with its first upset of a ranked non-conference opponent at home since the Craig Fertig-coached Beavers knocked off No. 13 Brigham Young 24-19 in 1977.
One game does not make a season, Riley said, but its a great deal for this team (in terms of) confidence right now.
The loss snapped a 33-game win streak in non-conference regular-season games for Wisconsin dating to a 23-5 loss at home to Nevada-Las Vegas in September 2003. It was the first defeat in 26 such games for Badger coach Bret Bielema, who is 61-20 overall in his seventh season.
Riley billed the matchup as the biggest non-conference home game in our schools history, pointing to the Badgers Big Ten supremacy in recent years and their consecutive appearances in the Rose Bowl.
He kept repeating it to us over and over again through the week of practice, said sophomore receiver Brandin Cooks, who had a career-high six catches for 80 yards and a TD. We took that to heart.
The Beavers got the signature win they were after by dominating both sides of the line of scrimmage against a team that had whitewashed them 35-0 at Madison last season.
A year ago, the Beavers were among the worst teams in the nation in both rushing offense and rushing defense.
On Saturday, OSU tailbacks Malcolm Agnew and Storm Woods combined for 81 yards on 20 carries not great, but not bad.
Oregon States run defense, though, was the difference.
Wisconsin finished with 35 yards rushing, and Oregon States swarming defense was a colossal part of that.
They did a nice job of controlling the line of scrimmage, Bielema said. There wasnt any room down there (to run). We didnt handle the pressure very well, and they brought some pressure.
You know where weve been, Riley said. We havent been that good running the ball or in rush defense the past couple of years. It was nice to see that.
Wisconsins Montee Ball after Saturday no longer a Heisman Trophy candidate gained 61 yards on 15 attempts. It was only the second time in 19 games the All-American tailback fourth in Heisman voting as a junior last season has been held short of 100 yards, and it snapped his 21-game streak rushing for at least one touchdown.
We knew he wanted to bounce outside when hes going up the middle, said OSU cornerback Jordan Poyer, who had three tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. We just had to contain him, make him go east and west instead of vertical. He got a couple of punches outside, but he didnt get a whole lot of rushing yards.
Wisconsins final offensive statistics got a boost as the visitors waged a desperate bid to come from behind in the closing minutes, scoring their only TD on an 11-yard pass from Danny OBrien to Jacob Pederson with 1:24 to play.
The Badgers finished with 13 first downs, 207 yards total offense and 35 yards rushing, but through three quarters, the numbers were six, 89 and seven.
One of the best defensive performances thats ever been in this stadium, Riley said. It was just a beautiful job. The players played like crazy, and Coach (Mark) Banker had a great plan and utilized a lot of people. And guys made plays.
We played a hell of a game, Poyer said. From the line to the linebackers to the secondary, thats the kind of defense we want to be.
OBrien a junior transfer from Maryland who took over for the departed Russell Wilson completed 20 of 38 passes for 172 yards and a TD, but 12 completions and 100 yards came in the fourth quarter with the Badgers in desperation mode. He was sacked three times.
Their quarterback played very efficiently a week ago in a win over Northern Iowa, Riley said. A lot of the same things that makes Wisconsin Wisconsin, (the Badgers) did again today. We just did a better job on them than we did a year ago.
Mannion hit on 29 of 47 passes as Oregon State, with its running game still not in full stride, went to the short passing attitude it uses so effectively. Markus Wheaton (eight receptions, 87 yards) and Cooks were the main targets, but Mannion spread it out to eight receivers.
Our team battled all day long, said Mannion, who was sacked only once. I cant say enough about the offensive line. I was hardly hit at all. Protection was there all day.
Oregon State dominated the statistical sheet through the first half but led only 3-0 at intermission. OSU held a huge advantage in total offense (238-64), first downs (11-4) and offensive plays (44-24) and drove inside the Wisconsin 35 on four possessions. But the Beavers came away with points only once on Trevor Romaines 43-yard field goal with 13:03 remaining in the second quarter.
Our defense played their tails off, Bielema said. We were extremely fortunate to be down only 3-0 at the start of the second half.
The game-winning drive came on the opening possession of the second half. Oregon State marched 86 yards in 13 plays. Mannion found Cooks all alone on a 20-yard TD pass for a 10-0 lead with 9:33 left in the quarter.
Coach Riley called a good play, Cooks said. We looked at the coverage. As soon as he called the play, I knew something special was about to happen. Once the ball was in the air, I just had to focus on locking the ball in.
Oregon State overcame problems with its special teams. Sophomore walk-on punter Keith Kostol in his first career game dropped a snap in the second quarter and was tackled, giving Wisconsin the ball at the OSU 36-yard line. Romaine missed a 40-yard field-goal attempt near the end of the first half. The run game was only OK, and Mannion made some decisions hed surely like back.
By no means was it perfect, Mannion said. There are a lot of things I want to improve on, but this was a good start. We have to continue to improve and see where we can from here, but I like what we did today.
The Beavers had their anxious moments late, as the Badgers finally got into the scoring column, then recovered an onside kick. After review, though, it was determined that kicker Kyle French had touched the ball before it carried the necessary 10 yards.
I wasnt overly confident that the review would favor the Beavers, Riley said. I was pretty nervous. Weve all seen stranger scenarios.
The Beavers head into their bye week 1-0. Not bad for a team that was forecast by just about everyone to finish sixth in the six-team Pac-12 North. Even after a win over a ranked opponent, some of those skeptics surely still exist.
If they keep picking us last, thats on them, Cooks said. Were just going to keep proving people wrong.
Poyer said the Beavers never had much swagger through their 3-9 season in 2011.
We used last years record as motivation for this season, he said. We knew we had to show the world what we can do. Were not done yet. Thats one victory. Its a long season. We have a lot of work to do.
Confidence is such a huge thing, Riley said. Coach (Ad) Rutschman at Linfield used to talk about what comes first, success or confidence? Thats the chicken-or-the-egg thing.
Hopefully, we build confidence going forward. Jordan might have been right about last year. There was never any of that real confidence. And this is a tough schedule. All of our games are going to be the Super Bowl. Theres a big job ahead of the Beavers.
NOTES Oregon States players will wear No. 92 patches on their helmets this season in memory of defensive tackle Fred Thompson, who died of a heart attack last December. His mother, Cora, was the Beavers guest and watched from the sidelines. I hadnt said a lot about that to the team since the funeral until last night, Riley said. I reminded everybody we lost a family member, and were going to commemorate it on our helmets. ... The OSU players dedicated the game to Thompson. That W is for Fred, Poyer said. We broke out Brick Squad (Thompsons nickname) a few times before the game, and after the game, too. Hes watching us from above. We got this one for him.
Oregon State had no turnovers, Wisconsin two. OSU is 37-8 over its last 100 games while committing fewer turnovers than its opponent.
Oregon State went for it three times on fourth down in the first half, including a fourth-and-2 situation from the Wisconsin 24 in the first quarter that failed. I probably should have kicked it on that one, Riley said. There was a pretty good wind into that one end. Thats why we went for it a little bit more on fourth down. Riley said he read a quote not long ago, Fortune favors the bold. I tried to remember that on fourth down today.
It was Oregon States first win against a Big Ten team since a 17-14 victory at Minnesota in October 1978 ... Wheaton moved up to eighth on the OSU career list with 144 receptions. ... OSU safety Anthony Watkins (hip) did not dress.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Oregon State 0-3-7-0-10
OSU Trevor Romaine 43 field goal 13:03.
OSU Brandin Cooks 20 pass from Sean Mannion (Romaine kick) 9:33.
WIS Jacob Pedersen 11 pass from Danny OBrien (Kyle French kick) 1:24.