CORVALLIS -- Two games into a losing streak that has the potential to build into something awful, Brandin Cooks called for the proverbial "gut check" of his Oregon State teammates.
"We need to figure out who's going to lay down or step back up," OSU's star receiver said after a 31-14 loss to Southern Cal Friday night at Reser Stadium. "We have (four) more games left. What are we going to do about it? We going to keep losing, or are we going to get back on a high horse?
"That's what it's going to be about. We have some fun games coming up. We want to push for the best bowl game we can be in. We gotta get wins."
After a 49-17 rout of California two weeks ago lifted the Beavers to 6-1 overall and 4-0 in Pac-12 play and made them bowl-eligible, they knew the ante was being amped up the rest of the season.
Stanford, USC, Arizona State, Washington and Oregon remained on the schedule.
Two losses down, the Beavers have a bye week to regroup and prepare for the final three games on a slate that will determine the measure of success of their season.
There was no hat-hanging in Beaverville Friday night. Silas Redd and Javorious Allen combined for 273 yards rushing, Cody Kessler had the most accurate passing game of his young career and the Southern Cal defense held the nation's leading offense in check as the Trojans (6-3, 3-2) ended a three-game losing streak in Corvallis.
"We put together our best game tonight," said USC interim coach Ed Orgeron, 3-1 since taking over for the fired Lane Kiffin a month ago.
Due to attrition through injuries, suspensions and NCAA sanctions, the Trojans claimed to have 46 scholarship players in uniform Friday night. The ones on hand were impressive.
"SC played a good all-around game," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. The Trojans "have been playing a lot of good football lately. I'm just disappointed we didn't have more for them tonight.
"We just weren't as sharp in any form of the game as we could have been. Whether or not we could have beaten that team the way they were playing, I don't know. But it sure could have been a lot better than that."
Kessler, a 6-1, 215-pound sophomore who has started every game this season, completed 17 of 21 passes for 247 yards and a touchdown. The first one -- on SC's first play from scrimmage -- went for 71 yards to Marquise Lee, who had missed two of the previous three games with a knee injury.
Lee, the 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner, was open as a bar on wedding night on the play, catching the ball 15 yards away from any Oregon State defender and waltzing into the end zone untouched.
"Blown coverage," OSU cornerback Rashaad Reynolds said. "We just messed up."
The same thing happened on the first play from scrimmage in the second half. With SC leading 21-14, Kessler launched a bomb that Nelson Agholor hauled in past a chasing Reynolds for 62 yards to the Oregon State 13. The OSU defense forced a 34-yard Andre Heidari field goal, but it was three more points the Beavers couldn't afford to relinquish.
"Me giving up plays, I can't do that, being an older guy on the team," Reynolds said. "But things happen, especially with our defense. You have to read a lot of things. We're human. We're not perfect. It happened today, and that was the result."
Just as damaging as the two long aerials was the pounding ground game featuring Redd, a 5-10, 200-pound senior, and Allen, a 6-1, 215-pound sophomore, Redd carried 22 times for 140 yards and Allen -- suddenly, the second coming of Marcus Allen -- toted 16 times for 133 yards and three touchdowns, including a 52-yarder that provided the game's final points and broke the Beavers' backs late in the third quarter. The Trojans wound up with 489 yards total offense -- 242 yards rushing, 247 yards passing.
"There are two things we felt would be big defensively, and we failed in both of them," Riley said. "We didn't tackle well, and we gave up big pass plays. They sustained the ball on the ground. They were very balanced. It was a very good picture of what SC looks like."
For the second straight week, Oregon State's offense stuttered. Sean Mannion, who came in as the nation's leading passer while averaging 407.9 yards per contest, was 26 for 45 for 277 yards and a touchdown through the air. And Mannion -- who had 30 TD passes and only three interceptions in the first eight games -- served up three picks, all of them his fault.
The first one came with Southern Cal leading 14-0 early in the second quarter. Oregon State had driven from its 17 to the USC 16, but Mannion's pass for tight end Connor Hamlett was overthrown and intercepted in the end zone by Josh Shaw.
No. 2 came early in the fourth quarter after Oregon State, in a 31-14 hole, had moved to first-and-goal at the SC 5. Then SC's Dion Bailey intercepted an ill-advised Mannion pass.
On OSU's next possession, Mannion tossed another one into traffic, Kevon Seymour making the pick at the USC 16.
"I made a few mistakes," Mannion said. "It was a matter of forcing a couple of balls I could have thrown away, especially two in the red zone. When you play quarterback, you're the one with the ball in your hands. You're the one who is going to make the decision where to go with it."
Mannion was sacked twice but wasn't pressured as much as he had been against Stanford, which sacked him eight times.
"Our O-line held up real nicely tonight," he said. "We put together some nice drives; we just left some points out there. That's the reason I'm so upset about those two in the red zone. That's points that were taken off the scoreboard. It's something I'll correct."
Riley felt it was a matter of Mannion trying to make things happen instead of taking what the defense was giving him.
"You can never be too anxious to make something happen," the OSU coach said. "You have to make choices about what the defense is telling you to do. Sometimes you're so eager, you want to make it go when the defense is telling you to do something else, but you do it, anyway. That's what happened a couple of times tonight."
Cooks, the nation's leading receiver who came in averaging 10.6 catches and 157 yards a game, was held to six snags for 88 yards and a TD, plus a pair of fly sweeps totaling 40 yards. He took offense when it was suggested it had been an off night for his quarterback.
"I wouldn't say that," he said. "It's not on Sean at all. It's on the receivers being in the spots they're supposed to be in, and the tight ends and the running backs. it's never on our quarterback."
Oregon State was also hurt by a pair of failed field-goal attempts by Trevor Romaine. A 46-yard try on OSU's first possession was blocked; a 26-yard chip shot with USC ahead 24-14 in the third quarter was wide left.
"Those two misses and two red-zone turnovers, which is unlike stuff we've done all year," Riley said. "That's too much. You're not going to overcome that against a good team."
Redd carried 12 times for 85 yards and Allen rushed six times for 46 yards and a pair of touchdowns in staking USC to a 21-14 halftime lead. Kessler was 9-for-12 passing for 145 yards and a TD with one interception at the break.
The game's first play from scrimmage was a 31-yard bomb from Mannion to Cooks to the USC 43. The Beavers moved to the SC 29 before Romaine's 46-yard try was partially blocked.
Lee's 71-yard touchdown catch gave Southern Cal a 7-0 lead with 12:06 left in the first quarter. USC padded its advantage with a nine-play, 72-yard drive late in the quarter. Allen's 9-yard TD run made it 14-0 with 36 seconds left in the period.
After a three-and-out and a short punt gave the Beavers the ball at the USC 45, it took them two plays to score. Mannion dumped off to Storm Woods for 18 yards on a screen pass. On the next play. Mannion audibled, noticing Cooks in man-to-man coverage. Mannion threw a strike downfield to Cooks, who beat Seymour, walking into the end zone for a 27-yard touchdown play.
Fourteen seconds later, it was a tie game. Kessler's first-down pass was intercepted by Ryan Murphy, who traipsed down the right sidelines on a 41-yard return to even the count at 14-14. And suddenly, Reser Stadium was rocking.
"I felt the momentum coming back," Murphy said.
But it was fleeting. The Trojans responded with a 10-play, 75-yard march, mostly on the ground. Allen slipped a tackle at the line of scrimmage and scooted 18 yards for a touchdown, pushing them back on top 21-14 with 4:45 left in the half.
The Trojans opened the second half the same way they had the first -- with a bomb, this time 62 yards to Agholor to the USC 13. That led to the 34-yard Heidari field goal and a 24-14 lead.
The Beavers followed with a nice drive that took them to the SC 9. But Romaine's 26-yard field goal attempt was errant. When Allen raced 52 yards down the right sidelines for a touchdown and a 31-14 USC lead with 20 seconds left in the third quarter, the Beavers were in deep trouble.
"We didn't execute on offense," Cooks said. "The defense held (the Trojans) so many times; we just kept putting them back out there on the field. We needed to give them a break.
"I still think Stanford is the best defense we've played. (the Trojans) did their job, but I felt like we shot ourselves in the foot tonight."
It was a collective team loss, really, for the Beavers, who next face Arizona State at Tempe on Nov. 16.
"The last two defenses we've played are two of the best four in the league, and we're still going to play the other two (ASU and Oregon)," Riley said. "That's what you're up against. But we just didn't do very well. That's disappointing.
"I know one thing. This is the same group we won six in a row with. They're going to be hungry and ready to go for the next game. The big issue will be the tangible things about playing better. That's where we have to get when we come back."
"Take nothing away from SC," Reynolds said. The Trojans "played a great game. But we weren't playing to our capabilities. They came out and punched us in the mouth, and we didn't respond as well.
"We have two weeks to prepare (for ASU). Three big-time games coming up. The road is getting harder. We have to dig deep and make sure we're ready to move forward."
NOTES: Oregon State was actually as effective with the run as it has been all year. Terron Ward (eight carries, 53 yards), Woods (three carries, 20 yards) and Cooks combined to gain 111 yards and average 8.6 yards an attempt. But OSU had only 16 rushing attempts (including two sacks and a recovered fumble) while USC had 44. The Trojans held a big advantage in total offense (489-369) and time of possession (36:10 to 23:50). SC was 7 of 14 on third-down conversions, OSU only 2 of 11. Each team had 22 first downs. Allen, a 6-1, 215-pound sophomore, entered the game as USC's No. 4 rusher with 137 yards and two TDs on 29 carries. Ten Beavers caught passes, led by Cooks and Richard Mullaney (five for 53 yards). Cooks moved into a tie with James Rodgers for the OSU single-season receptions record with 91, extended his school record for single-season TD receptions (14) and moved into third place on the school single-season receiving yardage list with 1,344. Mannion's second-quarter interception snapped a streak of 140 passes the junior QB had thrown without a pick. He has 3,605 yards passing, moving into third place on the school single-season list. Oregon State was without tight end Caleb Smith (back), defensive tackle John Braun (shoulder) and linebacker D.J. Alexander (shoulder). USC was minus several injured starters, including tight end Xavier Grimble.
SCORE BY PERIODS
Southern Cal 14 7 10 0 -- 31
Oregon State 0 14 0 0 -- 14
USC -- Marquise Lee 71 pass from Cody Kessler (Andre Heidari kick) 12:06
USC -- Javorious Allen 9 run (Heidari kick) :36
OSU -- Brandin Cooks 27 pass from Sean Mannion (Trevor Romaine kick) 9:43
OSU -- Ryan Murphy 41 pass interception return (Romaine kick) 9:29
USC -- Allen 18 run (Heidari kick) 4:45
USC -- Heidari 34 FG 12:31
USC -- Allen 52 run (Heidari kick) :20.
ATT. -- 45,379