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Last Friday afternoon, as assistant coaches and aides zipped about in the hallway outside his Valley Football Center office, Mike Riley seemed calm inside the storm.


The Arizona State game was closing in on 24 hours away, and facing the nation's sixth-ranked team seemed a daunting task for an Oregon State club that had lost four in a row.

I asked the 14th-year OSU coach if his team could beat the Sun Devils.

"Yeah, we can," he said. "It's going to be hard. They're good. They're well-coached. But they might be a little full of themselves, which is understandable, especially after beating Notre Dame (55-31)."

Riley said he thought he had a plan that could work against the Sun Devils' gambling, blitzing defense. He didn't elaborate. I didn't ask.

The answer was a run game that produced 247 yards and two long touchdowns to provide offensive balance in a 35-27 victory that gives the Beavers a chance to salvage what could have been a lost season.

Riley isn't oblivious to the criticism leveled at him and his coaching staff in the wake of what has been one of the most disappointing months of his long tenure at Oregon State. But Riley is never flustered. There is never a sense of panic in the man who has made coaching his career for four decades now. His steady countenance and level-headed approach inspire confidence in those around him. He believes in himself and in his program, and that is much more important than the noise that swirls around from the outside.

The Arizona State victory was perhaps the most important in Riley's time at Oregon State, even more so than the upset of No. 1-ranked Southern Cal in 2008. This year's Beavers were in a fragile, vulnerable state after back-to-back home losses to California and Washington State. Confidence erodes during such times. Beaver Nation wondered if this team had checked out for the season. Everyone needed some evidence that it wasn't the case.

"It really was important for a number of reasons to win that game against the sixth-ranked team in the country," Riley said on Sunday. "For the next two games, for the future and for all the things that can impact recruiting. We have a lot of (verbal) commitments out there, and we're still actively recruiting other guys. Who knows what thoughts go into that? The win was very beneficial."

Riley found his way into bed about 2:30 a.m. Sunday. His alarm rang at 7 a.m. He and wife Dee drove to a nearby coffee shop, then returned home. After a shower, Riley rode his bike the mile and a half to his office. "The ride woke me up," Riley said with a laugh.

I asked Riley if his world has changed in the short time since the Arizona State game.

"I'm much happier," he said, laughing again. "Our players got some confirmation for their work, to be able to last and persevere through hard times, to give themselves an opportunity by getting ready to win a game which they did."

The Beavers did 10 "hip, hip hoorays" in the locker room afterward. It had been some time since they'd been able to do the traditional celebration chant after a victory.

"The kids were real happy," Riley said. "Those are some of the best times I get to experience as a coach. It's fun. It was a happiness born from a lot of frustration and lost opportunities. There were a lot of emotions that came out after that game.

"I'm proud of our coaches for doing a good job of continuing to work and teach after a string of four straight losses. It's confirmation that you can get results from those things."

Riley said he is also happy for the program's loyal fans, especially those who braved the cold of the night at Reser.

"I was very impressed with our crowd," he said. "Late night, very cold, and yet it was a totally electric atmosphere in the stadium. I really appreciate that. It was a great effort by all the Beavers."

As tailback Terron Ward noted during the postgame media availability, "it's only one win, not two or three." The Beavers can't rest on the laurels of a single victory with difficult games at Washington and against Oregon, ranked third in the Associated Press poll, on the horizon.

But the Beavers instilled new life into their season. A bowl game is now a very real goal.

It may not happen, but not because anyone inside the Oregon State program has cashed it in. The Beavers proved that Saturday night at Reser, led by a coach who keeps his wits about him in the eye of a storm.

From a Sunday conversation with Riley …

• Oregon State's offensive line came through with its best performance of the season.

"That was a major part of the game," the OSU coach said. Arizona State's "standard operating procedure is to blitz you, to force you into bad plays. They come from a variety of different places. It's a challenge from both a mental and a physical standpoint for not just the line but also the tight ends and running backs.

"To not be totally disrupted, you identify where they're coming from and physically have to block them. We weren't perfect, but we made enough plays against the pressure. We ran effectively and, as a result, we threw better as the game went on. That was as good a balance as we've had in at least a couple of years."

• Quarterback Sean Mannion enjoyed one of his best games of the season, withstanding Arizona State's pressure to throw for 251 yards -- 196 in the second half -- and keeping the offense together with leadership and a steady hand at the controls.

"All along, Sean has handled the frustration of the year real well," Riley said. "We have had a series of issues offensively, with a cast of young receivers and our one vet (Richard Mullaney) getting hurt, and our line changing week to week because of injuries.

"Sean has never backed down. It's been fun to see him stay after practice and work with the receivers, trying to bring them along. He's handled everything in a way that will help him in his pro career. Through everything, he has maintained and given us some really solid football. It's been impressive to watch."

• Oregon State's defense, maligned for its performance the previous two weeks, took care of business against the Sun Devils, limiting them to 367 yards total offense and three second-half points.

"We tackled better," Riley said. "We appeared to be one step faster than we'd been in the last couple of games. Our guys were ready to go. Our coaches prepared them well. That's a tough offense, with lots of variety. We played hard and made some plays when we needed them."

• The Beavers won despite going 1 for 12 on third-down conversions and committing nine penalties for 76 yards. OSU ranks 123rd of 125 FBS teams in the former category (37 for 130, .285), last in penalties (9.5 per game) and 121st in penalty yardage (82.8).

"It's been a really rough year that way," Riley said. "We have a lot of work still to do in those areas."

• The condition of cornerback Steven Nelson, who left late in the Arizona State game after a collision near the Sun Devils' sidelines, is undetermined, though Riley hopes he will be available for Saturday's game at Washington. Nelson was evaluated for some sort of facial injury, but Riley did not want to comment on it Sunday.

• OSU coaches are hoping for the return of defensive tackle Jalen Grimble, who has been out since suffering a knee injury Sept. 25 against Southern Cal.

• Reserve defensive tackle Brandon Bennett-Jackson, a 6-3, 295-pound junior, did not play against the Sun Devils due to an indefinite suspension for violation of team rules. Riley does not know his status for the game against the Huskies.

• Oregon State has 19 verbal commitments from junior college and high school players. Riley said the Beavers can take "a couple of more, but no more than that. We can sign as many as 25, but we don't have that many spots open."

So far, OSU has verbals from five offensive linemen, three tight ends, a quarterback, a receiver, a punter, one defensive lineman, three linebackers and four defensive backs.

"We'd like to add maybe an offensive lineman, a receiver and a linebacker," Riley said.

• Riley watched much of Washington's 27-26 loss at Arizona, a game in which the Huskies fumbled in the closing minutes, then saw the Wildcats boot a 47-yard field goal as time expired.

"The Huskies should have won that game," Riley said. "Offensively, they found a good rhythm and did a lot of good things with both their run and passing game. They're good on defense. (Linebacker) Shaq Thompson is a great player. Danny Shelton is a really good tackle. (Linebacker) Hau'oli Kikaha gave us fits as a pass rusher a year ago."

• Washington's 69-27 destruction of the Beavers last season at Reser Stadium -- the most points scored by an opponent in the program's 120-year history -- was an embarrassment to Riley and everyone within the OSU program. Can they use that game as incentive for Saturday's visit to Seattle?

"Absolutely," Riley said. "We'll watch part of that film this week for sure. It should provide some great motivation on our part."

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Twitter: @kerryeggers

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