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A closer look at the top-10, 6-0 Oregon State Beavers

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Oregon State defensive end Rudolf Fifita sacks Utah quarterback Travis Wilson, causing a fumble, as the Beavers win their sixth game of the season Saturday.It’s all there in living black and white:

Oregon State is ranked seventh nationally in the Associated Press poll, ninth in the coaches' poll and eighth in the BCS rankings.

The Beavers are 6-0 overall and 4-0 in Pac-12 play for the first time ever and tied with Oregon atop the North standings as they prepare for next Saturday’s visit to Washington.

“Whenever I look at the standings or the rankings, I kind of have a disconnect,” OSU coach Mike Riley said Sunday. “I’ve had confidence in this team and liked its potential all the way through, but there weren’t a lot of people outside our program who figured we’d be where we are right now.

“The good thing is, we’re always in the moment, preparing for the next game without thinking too much about anything else. It’s a good way to live.”

Most observers figured a 3-3 start would be positive for an Oregon State team that went 3-9 a year ago — and that was before the opener against Nicholls State was postponed because of Hurricane Isaac. The early schedule featured a pair of ranked teams, Wisconsin and UCLA, and road games at UCLA, Arizona and Brigham Young.

Now, remarkably, the Beavers are hoping they won’t have to play the rescheduled Dec. 1 game against 1-5 Nicholls State. That would mean the Men of Orange would be playing in the Pac-12 championship game that day.

Markus Wheaton even brought up an N-word after OSU’s 21-7 victory over Utah Saturday at Reser Stadium.

“We’re shooting as high as we can — maybe a national championship,” the senior receiver said.

As they did late in the 2008 and ‘09 seasons, the Beavers control their own destiny in a bid for the school’s first Rose Bowl berth since 1965 — only this time the stakes are higher.

Should Oregon State win its next five games, it could be in line for a spot in the BCS national championship Game. Of course, that would mean a victory over Oregon, a team that has so far looked unstoppable.

Along the way, the Beavers would have to beat Arizona State and California at home and Washington and Stanford on the road. Formidable tests all, but not out of the question.

The 3-4 Huskies are coming off their worst game of the season, a 52-17 loss at Arizona in which the Wildcats amassed 533 yards total offense against a Washington defense that was supposed to be much improved this season.

“I don’t know what happened in Tucson, but I know (the Huskies) are a much better defense than they were a year ago,” Riley said. “Every game we play (in Seattle) is hard, and I assume this one will be, too. They’re probably wounded. They’ll be another very tough test for us.”

Oregon State has won seven of its last eight games against Washington, including a 38-21 romp past the Huskies at Corvallis last season. UW’s only triumph over that span was on the Beavers’ last trip to Seattle in 2010, when they lost 35-34 in double overtime in the game in which tight end Joe Halahuni couldn’t hang on to Ryan Katz’s low pass on what would have been the game-winning two-point conversion.

OSU won its three previous road games against Washington — 34-13 in 2008, 27-17 in 2006 and 29-14 in 2004.

To beat the Huskies again, the Beavers must play much better offensively than they did against Utah, a game in which they managed 226 yards total offense — their lowest figure since picking up only 176 total yards in a 34-3 loss to Southern Cal in 2007.

Utah had yielded 37 points to Arizona State and 38 to USC this season, but the Utes’ defense — led by 6-4, 320-pound senior defensive tackle Star Lotuleiei — made it difficult for the OSU offense the entire way.

Lotuleiei, a preseason All-American who according to Riley “is going to be a first-round NFL draft pick,” was double-teamed by OSU center Isaac Seumalo and guard Josh Andrews much of the game.

“He’s a load,” Riley said. “I actually thought our O-line did a pretty good job. (The Utes) were the best overall defense we’ve faced. BYU was good, too, but we did a better job of keeping (the Cougars) off-balance. Against Utah, we never got in any rhythm, didn’t convert early third downs and made it hard on ourselves.

“It felt a little bit like the Washington State game (a 19-6 OSU win). We have to hit on all cylinders to be good offensively.”

Riley did what he could to manage the victory, playing it as conservatively on offense as he has done in some time — punting twice on fourth-and-1 from the Utah 43-yard line in the first half. It was a night in which the coach simply didn’t trust his offense and laid the game in the hands of his defense. It worked.

Turnovers were the difference. Oregon State had no giveaways and four takeaways — three of them critical. Two turned into OSU touchdowns and a third — a fumble recovered by Scott Crichton on the Beaver 10-yard line — prevented a Utah score.

“Our defense was really good,” Riley said. “I was proud how we played the run most of the way.

“I’m real excited about how hard the guys played on both sides of the ball. Look at (the Utes) — big, powerful lines on both sides of the ball. It wasn’t a pretty offensive game, but Cody (Vaz) made some great throws on our last scoring drive when we needed it most. On defense, we made big plays, capitalized and scored on our opportunities.”

Good teams do that. They find a way to get things done on days when they aren’t firing on all cylinders. Oregon State has done that twice in wins over Washington State and Utah. The Beavers overcame an injury to quarterback Sean Mannion, beating BYU and Utah with understudy Vaz at the helm.

In the latter two games, Oregon State had no turnovers to seven for the opponents. It can’t be overemphasized how important that is. (Vaz, incidentally, deserves major kudos for that). The Utes gave away a chance to win Saturday. The Beavers now lead the conference in turnover ratio (plus-10 in six games, 16 takeaways to six giveaways). That’s impressive.

Mannion will return to the saddle as the starter at Washington, which should help the OSU offense have a chance to return to form. The Beavers will try to stay true to form and keep their eyes on the prize — not the national championship, but going from 0-0 to 1-0 this week.

Then, if they get to 7-0, the attention turns to Arizona State. It’s life in the bubble, or playing for the moment, or all the cliches that have worked so well so far this season for Riley and his Beavers.

NOTES — Oregon State is ranked among the top 20 nationally in a number of important statistical categories, including rush defense (80.8 yards per game, second in Pac-12, fifth in nation); scoring defense (16.5, first, 17th); opponents’ third-down conversion percentage (25.3, first, third); pass offense (310.7, third, 14th); turnover ratio (plus-10, first, eighth); turnovers lost (six, first, tied for seventh); time of possession (33:24, first, seventh); interceptions (12, first, tied for ninth), and net punting (40.3, first, 18th). ... Individually, the Beavers have stat leaders in Jordan Poyer in interceptions per game (six, first in Pac-12, tied for second in nation); Scott Crichton in sacks and tackles-for-loss in (eight and 12 1/2, first, second in both categories), and Rashaad Reynolds in pass breakups (13, first, second). Wheaton (48 catches, sixth, for 654 yards, 10th) and Brandin Cooks (35 catches for 667 yards, ninth) are among the nation’s leading receivers. ...

Riley’s record in his 12 years at Oregon State is 78-63 — 70-49 during his second stint at the school. In conference play, the Beavers are 48-34 since 2003 after going 2-14 in Riley’s first two seasons (1997 and ‘98). ... Oregon State beat Utah despite the Utes’ huge advantage in time of possession (35:27 to 25:33) and total offensive plays (73-54) ... Cooks had only one reception for eight yards against Utah. “We have to do better than that at getting Brandin the ball,” Riley said. “It had a lot to do with the fact we didn’t sustain enough offensively. We had plans to, but never got to some of the stuff we wanted to do with him.” ... Though Oregon State has been effective running the quarterback sneak on third-and-short this season, Riley went away from it on third-and-inches from the Utah 43 on Saturday. A stretch play with Malcolm Agnew lost a yard. The Utes “had been playing their two big guys in the ‘A’ gap, so the sneak was a little scary, and so was the belly play,” Riley explained. “We’d had some success on the goal line previously running outside and thought we could hit it again, but on this one, they shifted on us and we didn’t block it correctly at the edge.” ...

Recruits Damien Haskins, a 5-9, 215-pound running back from New Boston, Texas; L.J. Moore, a 6-1, 170-pound safety from Fresno, and Luke Del Rio, a 6-2, 190-pound quarterback from Denver all made official visits Saturday in Corvallis. Del Rio — son of Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio — has verbally committed to Oklahoma State but contacted OSU offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf to request a visit. ... Del Rio and 6-2, 200-pound Khari McGee out of Fresno are the two QBs the Beavers are currently recruiting. ... Still on OSU’s list — Aloha running back Thomas Tyner. Assistant coaches Jay Locey and Mike Cavanaugh were both at Jesuit Friday night to watch Tyner in the Warriors’ 56-13 loss. Tyner never contacted OSU coaches, though, after opening the recruiting process last week. He re-committed to Oregon two days later. ... Oregon State can take about 20 recruits with this class that will sign letters of intent in February. There are nine verbals so far.




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