Beavers notes: Lessons from Stanford, looking ahead to USC
Notes, quotes and observations after a Sunday conversation with Oregon State coach Mike Riley, looking back at Saturday's 20-12 loss to Stanford and ahead to Friday's 6 p.m. Reser Stadium matchup with Southern Cal ...
Thinking about OSU's painful loss to Stanford -- ranked sixth in this week's Associated Poll -- I'm reminded of comments made over the weekend by a pair of well-known football names.
"It's a tough, hard lesson when you lose a football game," said Terry Bradshaw, speaking of the Washington Redskins' loss to Denver said during FoxSports' Sunday afternoon studio show.
"We didn't come up here to give it to the old college try," UCLA's Jim Mora said after a 42-14 loss to Oregon at Eugene a day earlier. "We played hard, but playing hard isn't enough. There are no victories in sports; we reject that notion."
In the same vein, Oregon State didn't go into its battle with the Cardinal hoping to keep it close. The Beavers intended to win and had their chances.
But there were lessons to be gained from the game that went down to the final play. OSU's shortcomings will be addressed by Riley and his staff as the Beavers (6-2 overall, 4-1 in Pac-12 play) prepare for Friday's ESPN-televised with USC (5-3, 2-2).
"You have to learn from a game like that," Riley said. "You know you competed well against a very good team. We did so many things defensively. Confidence is a big thing, and we've been building on that side of the ball since we started the season (with a 49-46 loss to Eastern Washington. That's encouraging.
"It's what we've talked about since the start. It's very important to just play the next game. After we lost to Eastern Washington, everything was overwhelming. You had to get to the next game. When we won (against Hawaii), we got to the next one. Now we're to the point where, even though we lost, we took a top-10 team to the end. We saw a lot of good stuff out there and some stuff we have to correct. We'll use that going forward."
Was Oregon State's defensive performance against Stanford -- 13 first downs, 88 yards passing, 273 yards total offense -- its best of the season?
"I think so," Riley said. "You could tell right off the bat it was going to be close to the vest through that game. With the exception of a couple of plays, we were really sound all night."
Oregon State's offensive line seemed overwhelmed at times. Sean Mannion, sacked eight times in the first seven games, went down eight times against a Stanford front seven Riley considers on a par with Southern Cal and Arizona State as the best in the Pac-12.
"Physically, we got beat once in a while," Riley said. "Other times, we made mistakes on assignments where a (pass rusher) would just come free. That really hurt us. We weren't very consistent. We didn't give Sean enough time."
Despite missing on his final four throws, Mannion finished 41 for 57 passing for 271 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions.
"Sean played a real good game," Riley said. "He made a lot of tough throws. He didn't have much time to try to take the ball down the field, but he competed like crazy. (The rush) didn't allow us a lot of extra time to throw the ball. The sacks were the biggest difference in the game."
Oregon State rushed for 78 yards -- minus the 60 lost on sacks and a team rush of minus-1 -- on 14 carries, a 5.6-yard average. A big part of that was Terron Ward's 34-yard third-quarter run that was the longest for the Beavers all season. There were a few other decent runs, though, especially in the third quarter, that give Riley hope for improvement in the ground attack the rest of the way.
"We were pretty decent running the ball last year," he said. "We have to be more consistent with what we're doing this year. But we're more consistent throwing the ball this year. You go with what you're doing well. We'll continue to work on getting better there. I wasn't discouraged with what I saw" with the ground game against Stanford.
When Riley passed on a chance for a 35-yard field goal attempt while leading 3-0 on a fourth-and-3 from the Stanford 18 in the second quarter, it appeared the OSU coach was showing no faith in Trevor Romaine, who had earlier kicked a career-long 50-yarder.
"That wasn't it at all," Riley said. "I just thought a touchdown would be awesome for our team at the time. I knew points were going to be hard to come by. I thought we'd make (a first down). I like Trevor a lot. That's why I put him out there (to kick a 39-yarder) late in the game."
Southern Cal presents a similar challenge as Stanford, though the Trojans' running attack wasn't in evidence in a 19-3 victory over Utah Saturday. Quarterback Cody Kessler, a 6-1, 215-pound sophomore, was 21 for 32 passing for 230 yards and a TD with no interceptions. He was sacked five times as the Trojans finished with a net 30 yards rushing.
Tre Madden, a 6-1, 220-pound sophomore, shares tailback duties with 6-1, 200-pound true freshman Justin Davis. Madden ranks fifth in the league with 671 yards (5.3 average) while Davis has picked up 361 yards (6.8) with six TDs. Madden had 12 carries for 60 yards against the Utes.
Andre Heidari kicked four field goals -- makes from 35, 38, 28 and 40, a miss from 37 -- after missing two in a 14-10 loss to Notre Dame the previous week.
USC has not been effective offensively this season, ranking 11th in the Pac-12 in both scoring offense (24.6) and total offense (379.8). It's at the defensive end where the Trojans shine. They rank first in total defense (317.2) and second in scoring defense (19.2). Stanford is third in the conference in both categories. SC is second in rush defense (105.4) and third in pass defense (211.9).
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said USC owns "the No. 1 defense in the conference." The Trojans forced four turnovers against the Utes.
"Except for the Arizona State game (a 62-41 loss), their defense has played pretty darn well all year," Riley said. "They're one of the best defenses around."
Since Ed Orgeron took over for Lane Kiffin as coach after the loss to the Sun Devils, SC has beaten Arizona 38-31, lost to Notre Dame and beaten Utah.
The Trojans are going through some difficult times with injuries. They were without their top four tight ends against Utah. Walk-on Chris Willson -- a former quarterback and baseball pitcher at Wake Forest -- caught a pass in the first half at tight end. Star receiver Marquise Lee sat out the game. Nelson Agholor shrugged off sore ribs to make six catches for 97 yards, including a 30-yard TD. Offensive tackle Kevin Graf went down to an ankle injury in the first half.
Freshman safety Su'a Cravens strained a groin returning an interception in the first half. Safety Dion Bailey, a three-year starter who had not dressed because of shoulder and hip injuries suffered vs. Notre Dame, took a painkilling injection at halftime after Cravens got hurt and played in the second half.
NOTES: Oregon State entertained three prep prospects on official visits over the weekend, including one -- linebacker Jonathan Willis from Tulsa -- who has verbally committed. The others were offensive lineman Kameron Schroeder from Elk Grove, Calif., who has committed to Duke, and tight end Jake Knight from Meridian, Idaho. OSU has four regulars who are questionable for the USC game -- tight ends Connor Hamlett (knee) and Caleb Smith (back), defensive tackle John Braun (shoulder) and linebacker D.J. Alexander (shoulder). Hamlett underwent surgery two weeks ago and missed the Stanford game. Early in the game, Smith hurt his back and Braun aggravated his shoulder injury. Alexander left in the third quarter and didn't return. Early guess on availability for SC game: Hamlett, Smith and Braun will play. Alexander seems the most iffy of the group. Had OSU scored on its final possession to draw within 20-18, Riley was going to call an under pass route to Brandin Cooks with the two-point conversion attempt. Cooks had only two catches for two yards, along with a 7-yard run and a 41-yard punt return, in the first half. The 5-10, 185-pound junior was a much bigger factor in the second half, catching seven balls for 78 yards and a touchdown, rushing twice for 11 yards and breaking a 28-yard punt return to put OSU in great field position late in the game. The Beavers returned 10 punts for a total of 10 yards in their first seven games. Cooks ran three back for 74 yards on Saturday. "When we can give him a little bit of room and the punt is right, Brandin can make some things happen," Riley said. Stanford has a bye weekend before its next game, the Nov. 7 showdown with Oregon at Palo Alto. During post-game interviews, Cardinal coach David Shaw said that his team's performance against the Beavers "wasn't good enough to beat Oregon, or good enough to be in the game against Oregon. We have a bunch of stuff we need to make sure we do in the next 12 days to play one of the best teams in the nation."
Due to Oregon State's injury situation and the physical nature of the Stanford game, Riley will abbreviate his practice schedule this week, going with no pads for Monday's workouts. "We'll go in shorts and then do everything we normally do on Mondays," he said. "We'll go a little bit shorter on Tuesday and Wednesday and go pretty light on Thursday." Mannion is 270 for 391 (69.1 percent) passing for 3,263 yards and a school-record 30 TDs with three interceptions. The junior QB needs 796 yards to set the school single-season record. Mannion still holds big leads on the national lists in passing yardage and TD passes and ranks second in total offense per game (388.9) behind SMU's Garrett Gilbert (408.3). Cooks has 85 catches for 1,256 yards and a school-record 13 TDs. He leads the nation in the first two categories and is tied with Fresno State's Davante Adams in TD catches. Cooks needs seven receptions and 277 yards to establish school single-season marks in those categories. OSU's Steven Nelson remains in a five-way tie for the national lead with five interceptions. The Beavers rank high nationally in turnover margin (tied for fifth, plus-11), first downs (eighth, 210) and third-down conversion defense (16th, 33 of 103, .320). OSU is 122nd in rushing offense (66.6), ahead of only Washington State (58.4).