But Riley has quarterback decision to make

After a five-hour bus ride from Seattle, Mike Riley rolled into bed in Corvallis at 4:30 a.m. Sunday and was up five hours later. The Oregon State coach had coffee with his wife, Dee, then biked the two miles to his office at Valley Football Center, where he watched video of the Beavers’ Saturday night 20-17 loss at Washington.

By mid-afternoon, Riley was feeling rather perky for a coach who had suffered his first defeat of the season.

“I hope our players feel as good,” he said.

Since 2006, the Beavers have bussed to and from Seattle for games there. That could change when they next visit to play the Huskies in 2014.

"The players don’t mind it at all, and in some ways, they enjoy it,” Riley said. “They talk, they put movies on, they sleep if they want. It’s good for them to have time together, and it’s probably an hour’s difference between flying and bussing.

“Next time, though, we might bus up there, but it would be nice to fly home after the game. It would save the kids an hour or two of sleep.”

By late afternoon, when the coaches and players watched the game video together, they had moved on from the disappointing loss that dropped them to 6-1 (4-1 in Pac-12 play) and down to 13th in the Associated Press poll. Saturday’s home date with Arizona State (5-3, 3-2) is the next challenge.

Much of Beaver Nation, as well as some of the media, as well as at least one Husky, were quick to kick dirt on an Oregon State team that played its poorest game of the season at CenturyLink Field.

“It was a physical game, and we were the most physical team, and that’s why (the Beavers) lost, because they are not physical like us,” Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins told the Seattle Times. “We knocked them out, we punched them in the mouth and they didn’t want to do anything about it, and that’s why we won.”

Imagine what Seferian-Jenkins might have said if the Huskies had won by more than three points in front of their home fans, without the Beavers in their territory in the game’s waning seconds.

The Huskies were physical, probably more physical than the Beavers, who nevertheless laid some hits of their own. Oregon State won the total offense battle 427-293, rolling up more yards in the second half — 317 — than the Huskies had in the game.

The difference was turnovers, a game within the game that Oregon State had won all season. The Beavers went into the game leading the Pac-12 in turnover differential at plus-10 — 16 takeaways, six giveaways — but lost four interceptions to one given up by the Huskies.

Riley didn’t do everything right calling Saturday’s game — clock management in the closing minutes was misguided, for instance — but his handling of Sean Mannion wasn’t a mistake.

Mannion’s return after missing two games following knee surgery was a no-brainer. He had been cleared medically to play in the Oct. 20 win over Utah, but Riley sat him out, using Cody Vaz in a 21-7 win over the Utes. Vaz had been terrific in a victory at Brigham Young and so-so against the Utes, but regardless, Mannion was the incumbent who had guided the Beavers to a 4-0 start with some excellent quarterbacking.

If he was physically ready — and he was — he was going to play. What, another week on the bench was going to get him more ready to go? It was a no-brainer.

Mannion wasn’t good, and a bit unlucky, Saturday. Replays showed his first interception was trapped by UW’s Sean Parker, but it was still a poorly thrown ball. The second interception bounced off receiver Markus Wheaton (on the play Wheaton was hurt) as he was leveled by Parker into the hands of Husky defender Justin Glenn.

“Sean was rushed quite a bit, didn’t get much on the throw and gave (Parker) time to get there,” Riley said of the second pick. “The throw was to a good spot; it could have gotten there faster.”

Some believe Riley should have benched Mannion for Vaz at halftime, with Oregon State trailing 10-0. Poppycock. Mannion has been the guy at OSU for a year and a half now. He’s not bullet-proof, but he didn’t deserve that kind of quick hook, either.

Mannion threw a nice strike to Brandin Cooks for a 54-yard TD early in the third quarter, but inexplicably overthrew tight end Colby Prince on second-and-6 from the UW 12 later in the period. Prince could have walked into the end zone for a score that would have given the Beavers a 14-10 lead.

After two more interceptions — both errant passes by Mannion — it was time to turn to Vaz, and Riley did. Vaz looked poised and more capable of reading the UW defense than did Mannion, so it’s easy for armchair quarterbacks to suggest in hindsight that Vaz should have been inserted sooner.

The Beavers have gotten some breaks this season — created some for themselves, too — but couldn’t seem to buy one Saturday.

There was the trapped first interception, the second interception in which Parker should have been flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit, the loss of Wheaton from that point on, the “targeting” penalty against OSU’s Anthony Watkins that set up Washington’s game-winning field goal that Beaver coaches felt was clean.

“He just went for the hit and got him with his shoulder,” Riley said. “I don’t know what else he could have done.”

Washington fumbled three times. The first time, the ball went out of bounds. The other two times, the Huskies recovered in the end zone — though neither, oddly, wound up being a touchdown play.

And on Oregon State’s final offensive play, the Huskies should have been flagged for pass interference against Kevin Cummings. That would have put the ball on the UW 32-yard line with 19 seconds remaining.

In the end, though, the Beavers have nobody to blame for the loss than themselves. Too many dropped passes — four by my count — and too many turnovers, all of which proved costly in different ways.

Riley should have used at least one timeout while on defense as Washington ran down the clock before its final field goal, leaving the Beavers with all three timeouts but only 1:20 on the clock at the end of the game.

“I thought about that, but elected not to do it,” Riley said. “With three timeouts left, we had plenty of time.”

Oregon State started on its 36-yard line and, after receptions by Richard Mullaney and Brandin Cooks, had the ball at the UW 38 with 44 seconds left. Another first down and the Beavers were at least in field-goal range, but Riley was thinking about getting the go-ahead touchdown.

Vaz misread the next play, throwing incomplete deep to Cooks when Cummings was open across the middle. On second down, Vaz missed on an out pattern to Cummings. On third down, with nobody open, Vaz was sacked. And soon, Husky supporters were celebrating as if they’d knocked off a top-10 team, which they had.

Make another play or two and Oregon State probably wins the game. The Huskies were the ones who made the plays when it counted. “They were opportunistic when we made mistakes,” Riley said. “You have to give them credit for that.”

But the Huskies won not because the Beavers backed down after being “punched in the mouth.” Seferian-Jenkins’ comment should serve as valuable bulletin-board material in Corvallis a year from now.

Vaz will be the popular pick to start over Mannion Saturday in the Arizona State game.

“We’ll evaluate it, make a decision on Monday and go from there,” Riley said.

Frankly, I’ll be surprised if Riley doesn’t opt for Vaz as the starter against the Sun Devils. The 6-foot, 200-pound junior is playing more confidently than Mannion, whose mojo seems to be off-kilter. It’s probably smart to play the hotter hand.

“I’m disappointed as I can be with the loss,” Riley said. “You look at the (game video), you just shake your head.

“But I see a lot of good things, and I have a lot of faith in the temperament of this team. We’ll come back with good practice habits and get ready for a tough game coming up.”

The next three games on the OSU schedule — after ASU, it’s at Stanford, then at home against California — are ones the Beavers can win. If they can run that table, they’ll go into the Oregon game 9-1, ostensibly with the Pac-12 North championship on the line and with BCS bowl implications.

It’s no time for panic. But nobody needs to tell that to Mike Riley.

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