Mike Riley returned to Corvallis for his second stint as head coach of Beavers after Dennis Erickson left for the NFL's San Francisco 49ers last season. Many Beaver Believers credit Riley with laying the foundation for the Beavers' recent success and welcomed back the soft-spoken coach with open arms.
But, four games into the season a handful of Beaver fans have questioned the Corvallis natives play calling and coaching ability. After a 16-14 defeat in Fresno many of the same Beaver fans were calling for the coaches head. Some of the murmurs have died down since the Beavers two wins over New Mexico State and Boise State, but some discontent is still lingering.
Big things were (are?) expected from the 2003 Beaver football squad. With a returning quarterback who broke several OSU passing records, an experienced offensive line, a Heisman caliber running back, and a game breaker wide receiver the Beaver offense would almost be unstoppable. Couple that with a solid defense up front and in the middle led by the ferocious linebackers, the Beavers were sure to contend for the Pac-10 championship.
Preseason publications had the Beavers finishing anywhere from first to sixth in the Pac-10 and had them ranked as high as 16th. The season started as expected with a 40-7 shellacking of I-AA Sacramento State, but things feel apart a week later in Fresno.
Junior quarterback Derek Anderson had a horrible game throwing five picks as the Beavers struggled on offense, the young cornerbacks made costly mistakes and tempers flared on way to 128 penalty yards. The only bright spot was junior running back Steven Jackson who accounted for 244 total yards, sixty percent of OSU's offense.
Following the meltdown in Fresno, message boards and radio shows were bombarded with Beaver fans calling for Anderson's head. But Riley and his team stuck by the kid from Scappoose.
Anderson improved during the New Mexico State game completing 17 of 30 passes for 233 yards and one touchdown. Beaver Nation noticed the improvement but was not pleased with his completion percentage.
The past weekend the Beavers faced Boise State who brought a 13-game winning streak to Reser. All eyes were once scrutinizing Anderson's every move. The Broncos stacked the box to stop Jackson and forced Anderson to throw. Anderson torched the BSU defense for a career best 408 yards. Senior James Newson was his primary receiver as the Stockton native caught nine passes for 208 yards.
Despite Anderson's performance and the Beavers two wins, including a solid victory over a team just on the edge of the top 25, a number of Beaver fans are still discontent with Riley and Anderson.
The conference test, the big test, comes this Saturday against a ranked team who faces a must win situation.
Junior Derek Anderson (6-6, 226) looks to continue his improvement from the Fresno State game against a Pac-10 opponent this week. The strong-armed player has thrown for 1,199 yards, five touchdowns, and seven interceptions on 68-for-146 attempts this season.
He is coming off his best game of the season where he threw for over 400 yards, did not throw an interception, and made great decisions for the majority of the game. He also showed the ability to get a few yards on the ground. Anderson is seventh in the nation and first in the Pac-10 in passing yards.
Anderson loves to go to senior receiver James Newson and also feels comfortable throwing the ball to sophomore receiver Mike Hass. Look for Anderson to spread the ball around to the receivers, the tight ends, and the running backs equally on Saturday as Riley opens up the playbook.
Backup Adam Rothenfluh resides behind Anderson on the depth chart. The junior received minimal playing time during the Sacramento State game and the New Mexico State game. He doesn't have the physical tools Anderson has, but he is heady player.
An experienced, big (313 lb avg.) offensive line give Anderson time in the pocket and allow Jackson to run free. As a unit they have only given up three sacks this year and allowed Jackson to run for 100 plus yards in four straight games.
Senior left tackle Brian Kilkenny (6-5, 295) took the starting job away from big JC transfer Brandon Lockheart (6-6, 328) this week after Lockheart struggled. Shoring up the left side of the line is senior David Lose (6-2, 305).
Athletic junior center Matt Brock (6-2, 301) is responsible for the snapping the ball. Brock is a very mobile center that pulls well and is usually the man responsible for clearing out the primary linebacker for Jackson.
The aggressive junior Kanan Sanchez (6-3, 324) begins the right side of the line. Sanchez is a fiery lineman who lets his temper get in the way too often. This year he has received a personal foul in three out of four games. Next to Sanchez is the large junior Doug Nienhuis (6-6, 319).
The receivers are led by senior and All-Pac-10 performer James Newson. Newson (6-1, 207), who owns six of the top ten spots on the most receiving yardage for a Beaver in a game, had an outstanding contest last week grabbing nine passes for 208 yards. The California native was almost unstoppable as he beat the Bronco defense long and short. The Bronco cornerback responsible for Newson was so devastated by Newson's performance; he did not come out for post-game comments.
Despite not playing in the Sacramento State game Newson has caught 24 passes for 426 yards, but zero touchdowns. Newson is currently second in the Pac-10 and seventh in the nation in receiving yards.
Playing with Newson the majority of the time is walk-on Mike Hass (6-1, 210) who earned a starting role with his exceptional play during practices. The sure handed receiver did not disappoint as he caught six passes for 129 yards and one touchdown in his first game as a starter. The Oregonian does not have blazing speed, but finds a way to beat his man deep every game.
Senior Kenny Farley (6-3, 227), junior George Gillett (6-1, 210), and sophomore Josh Hawkins (6-0, 186) split playing time for the slot position. Farley has the physical tools, but some question his work ethic. If the ball is not thrown right two him, he rarely makes the catch. Gillett and Hawkins receive minimal playing time, as Hawkins is the only one between the two to have caught a pass.
Senior Tim Euhus, (6-5, 249) the teams fourth leading receiver with nine catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns, receives the most playing time at the tight end position. Euhus has solid hands, can run well, and is also a decent blocker.
Redshirt freshman Joe Newton (6-7, 254) recently grabbed the second spot on the depth chart away from junior Pat Loney (6-6, 246). Newton is a very good runner and has the size to go up and get the ball. In the Beavers' offense the tight end is an integral part, so the top three tight ends receive a lot of playing time. Look for Anderson to throw to the tight ends more as Riley tries to get them more touches.
Hopefully you have heard about Steven Jackson by now. After setting the single season rushing record at Oregon State in 2002, the do everything player is back for another run at the OSU record books. The El Dorado kid is the Pac-10's leading rusher and is fifth in the nation with 574 yards on 122 attempts. The Las Vegas native leads the Beavers in touchdowns scored with six and is their second leading receiver with 14 receptions for 193 yards.
Jackson can run through you, over you or around you. He posses a deadly stiff-arm that many players are all-too familiar with. The Beavers will give him the ball 20-30 times a game, but his carries may be down due to a knee injury suffered against New Mexico State. If Jackson is 100% look for Riley to give him the close to thirty times and throw passes his way in the backfield. In the open field, he is almost unstoppable.
Behind Jackson is junior Dwight Wright who has quietly racked up 165 yards on 34 attempts. Wright is a shifty back who has decent speed and runs well between the tackles.
Following the juniors is redshirt freshman Ryan Cole who mainly is used as a fullback in short yardage situations.
Anchoring the defensive line is post-season awards candidate Dwan Edwards (6-3, 301). The senior's specialty is clogging up the middle, which he does a very good job at. To the left of Edwards a redshirt sophomore and redshirt freshman battle for playing time. Freshman Ben Seigert gets the start for the Beavers, but sophomore Alvin Smith receives just as much playing time.
On the left, seniors Dan Rothwell (6-7, 259) and Jayson Jean-Baptiste (6-3, 241) split playing time. Rothwell is a better pass rusher than Jean-Baptiste, while Jean-Baptiste is a better run stopper.
Oregon State sack co-leader Bill Swancutt (6-4, 259) shores up the defensive line on the right side. The aggressive player uses his speed and quickness to get around offensive lineman. This year he has grabbed 3.5 sacks, first on the team, and 5.5 tackles for loss, second on the team.
The strength of the Oregon State defense lies with the linebackers. When talking about the Beaver linebackers one must begin with senior middle linebacker Richard Seigler (6-3, 238). The emotional player leads the team in tackles with 30 and tackles for loss with 11. The Las Vegas native is clearly the leader of the defense, which he shows on the field with his play and his mouth. The postseason awards candidate will be playing on Sundays following his senior year.
To the right of Seigler is another emotional player junior Jonathan Pollard (6-1, 234). Pollard is fourth on the team in tackles with 18 and is great at cutting the angles and wrapping people up.
On the opposite side of the field is sophomore Trent Bray (6-1, 230) who is playing in place of the injured Seth Lacey (6-2, 231). Bray and Lacey play similar types of football; each is a blue-collar type of player who rarely misses a tackle. While in Lacey's place, Bray has played solid football putting him second on the team in tackles with 19.
Lacey has been cleared for Saturday's game, but may not play.
One of the biggest concerns for the men in black in 2003 was the cornerbacks. After losing NFLers Dennis Weathersby and Terrell Roberts, two new faces would have to fill the void.
Junior Aric Williams (6-0, 172) grabbed the starting left corner position while redshirt freshman Brandon Browner (6-4, 194) grabbed the starting right corner position. As expected, the players have taken their lumps, each missing assignments and giving up big plays. But each are good open field tacklers and are not afraid to compete with anyone.
Williams is the smaller of the two, but has a great work ethic and loves to battle. He has 12 tackles, all solo, and one interception. Browner is physical, tall and loves to compete as well. He is sixth on the team in tackles with 13. Each did a nice job last weekend against a very good passing team.
Strong safety Lawrence Turner (5-11, 194) roams the backfield with junior free safety Mitch Meeuwsen (6-3, 211). Turner is tied for second on the team in tackles with 19. Last weekend he showed the ability to deliver the big hit, laying out several Bronco receivers.
Meeuwsen leads the team in interceptions with two after grabbing them against Fresno State. The Oregonian who had knee surgery in the offseason has struggled somewhat this year giving up several big plays.
Senior Kirk Yliniemi does the kickoff and field goal duties for the Beavers in 2003. The strong-legged kicker has a career completion percentage just under 90% and set the OSU consecutive field record with 20. On kickoffs Yliniemi has the leg to reach the back of the end zone while on field goals he is automatic from 40 yards in.
Another senior, Carl Tobey, joins Yliniemi in kicking duties. The senior has done a good job for the Beavers this year averaging 42.4 yards a boot with four balls landing inside the twenty. He has not had a kick blocked this year.
Returning punts for the Beavers is junior Cole Clasen (5-9, 185). While Clasen does not have the speed to break a big one, he has solid hands and has fielded some very difficult kicks this year.
Handling kickoff return duties is senior Brandon Catanese (5-11, 197) and junior Dwight Wright (5-9, 196). Wright has fielded the most kicks, five, and has an 18.8 average.
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