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Riley praises Ducks, aims to complete Beavers' turnaround

The sun came up in Corvallis Sunday (it really did, Sean Mannion), and Mike Riley was in his typically upbeat mood.

Fewer than 24 hours after Oregon dismantled Oregon State 48-24, Riley was looking ahead to the Beavers’ regular-season finale against Nicholls State at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Reser Stadium.

“We have a chance for a complete turnaround season — from 3-9 to 9-3,” the 12th-year OSU coach said. “And then, should we win a bowl game, it would be 10 wins. Not many (teams) do that in college football.

“We have to coach like crazy this week and get our kids ready to bring energy against Nicholls State.”

Riley had words of praise for Oregon, which took advantage of a 6-0 edge in turnovers to turn a close game through 2 1/2 quarters into a rout.

“I give the Ducks credit,” Riley said after losing in the Civil War for the fifth year in a row. “They are awfully good. Their offense is really hard on you. We didn’t set the edge (on defense) very well. They got around us.

“And the quarterback (Marcus Mariota) is terrific. He made some spectacular plays, including some on fourth down. That draw (a 42-yard first-quarter touchdown run) was like an ‘Oh-my-God play.’ "

Oregon State’s run defense had been ranked among the nation’s top five all season until California gained an opponents’ season-high 190 yards on the ground in the Bears’ 62-14 loss at Corvallis a week ago. Even so, the Beavers went into the Civil War No. 2 in the Pac-12 and No. 14 nationally in run defense. The Ducks exploded for 430 rushing yards, including a combined 320 by Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas.

How was Stanford able to hold Oregon to 198 yards rushing in its 17-14 overtime victory at Eugene? Against Oregon State, the Ducks had success running tackle to tackle but did the larger damage around the ends.

Responsibility for containment varies from play to play, with outside linebackers, ends and cornerbacks all sharing duty. The Beavers at those positions Saturday simply didn’t tackle well enough at times and weren’t in the right spots at other times.

“Stanford did a lot better job setting the edge on the wide plays,” Riley said. “We never had the consistency. And (the Cardinal) did a better job covering the pass, too. They played better than we did, particularly in the run defense.”

What really bothered Riley — and Beaver Nation — were the six turnovers, including muffs on a kickoff (by Devon Kell) and a punt (Markus Wheaton). Five came in the second half.

Oregon State entered the game second in the Pac-12 in turnover differential. No longer.

“I was really disappointed in that we just got sloppy,” Riley said. “Fumbles on special teams and stuff that we’ve handled well all year. You can’t do that against a good team. We were in the game (midway through the third quarter) and self-destructed.

“We threw too many interceptions. On a couple of them, we were in good position to score. We also dropped key passes, first-down balls. All of that was uncharacteristic of this team. We needed to play our best game and we did not.”

The 6-4, 250-pound Kell — a member of the regular rotation on the defensive line — has been at the “fullback” position on kickoff returns all season. He had returned one kickoff for 14 yards.

“You want a big guy there for blocking purposes,” Riley said. “He’s a good athlete. We played him at tight end for a while. He’s not a guy not capable of (returning a kick). He took his eyes off the ball and started to run before he got the ball.”

Wheaton — 10 short of Mike Hass’ school career receptions record (222) — had the muffed punt and a dropped pass that would have gone for at least an important first down in the second quarter.

Then there was offensive guard Josh Andrews, who was removed in the fourth quarter after his third false start and replaced by Grant Enger, not fully recovered from a sprained ankle.

Storm Woods was effective with the run — 70 yards and two TDs on 16 carries — but the Beavers had only 25 rushing plays (including a sack) to 64 by the Ducks. Each team was ineffective on third down (Oregon 5 of 16, OSU 4 of 12), but each converted well on fourth down (UO 5 of 6, OSU 4 of 5).

“We did some great stuff in the game,” Riley said. “We had almost 400 yards in total offense, but that was negated by Oregon’s fourth-down conversions and our turnovers.”

Mannion completed 31 of 49 passes for 311 yards and a touchdown but also served up four interceptions — three in the second half. He has 13 TD passes and 13 picks this season.

Cody Vaz is still not 100 percent healthy from the sprained ankle late in the Nov. 10 Stanford game, but the junior QB was available for emergency duty against the Ducks.

Late in the game, Riley said, “I asked him if he wanted to go in. He said, ‘Sure. Just don’t call any bootlegs.’ ”

Riley chose not to insert Vaz, who will practice this week and could draw the starting nod Saturday against Nicholls State. The coach will likely make an announcement after Monday practice.

The 1-9 Colonels have lost seven in a row since a 73-17 pasting of NAIA Evangel College on Sept. 22, including lopsided defeats by Tulsa (66-16), Sam Houston State (41-0), Stephen F. Austin (44-10) and McNeese State (42-10). Nicholls State will have 16 days to prepare for Oregon State after its last game, a 35-16 loss to Southeastern Louisiana on Nov. 15.

Assuming the Beavers get past FCS-level Nicholls State, they’ll likely be making an appearance in the Holiday Bowl Dec. 27 at San Diego or the Alamo Bowl Dec. 29 at San Antonio. Riley coached the NFL San Diego Chargers from 1998-2001 and the San Antonio Riders of the World League in the early ‘90s.

“I have a personal attraction to both places,” Riley said. “If that’s the case, I’m real excited about it personally, and I know our players would be, too.”

The last time Oregon State faced an FCS opponent, Sacramento State stole away with a 29-28 overtime win at Corvallis in the Beavers’ 2011 opener.

“That will be mentioned when we talk to our players, for sure,” Riley said. “We’d better be ready to play. It’s a scary thing to me right now. I’ll have to gauge how the guys handle it this week in practice.

“We have to play good football. We have to take pride in our program and in continuing to create the identity of this team. We have to be better than we were the last time out. What happened in the Oregon game was just not good enough.”

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