Before the coach could fully focus on the sixth ranked Cougars he assessed the teams attitude after the devastating defeat last weekend. "We have a pretty tough-minded group; I think they'll come back to work today and get ready for the next ballgame," Riley said. "We responded from a similar disappointing performance earlier in the year very well. I thought we came back and put a string of pretty good football together. We took a step backward, and now we have a chance to respond again."
The Washington State/Oregon State rivalry renews after a one year hiatus. The Cougars lead the series 45-39-3 and won the last game in Pullman 34-27 in 2001. While playing in Martin Stadium WSU has a 22-15-2 edge over OSU and has won 18 of 23 games since 1975.
Despite the history of tough losses in northern Washington, Riley believes a road game is just what the Beavers need. "The main thing for us is starting the preparation for another game. We've been through the film, we've talked about that last game, we've been through the issues of that last game; now the best thing for our team is to go play," Riley said. "Maybe going on the road will be good, maybe going on the road will be a factor, but my sense is that it won't be. I think our practices will tell the tale."
Riley has never coached against Washington State since the Beavers did not play the Cougars in 1997 and 1998 while Washington State head coach Bill Doba is in his first year at Wazzu and is one of three rookie Div. 1 coaches who are 6-1.
The Cougars ride a five game winning streak, are a perfect 3-0 in conference play, and are anchored by the WSU defense that leads almost every defensive category in the Pac-10.
The dominating play by the crimson and gray on defense has earned them the nickname "Damage Incorporated." "They have an outstanding group of defensive players. They've been in that system for a while, and I think a big, big factor is that they get the ball back from the other team," Riley said. "They're very quick. I think when you look at Oregon State's defense and Washington State's defense, you see pretty similar characteristics - fly to the football, lots of different kinds of pressure, sound coverage. They have good cover people in the back end; they have as good an overall defense, for sure, as we've seen."
Besides the headache of the Cougar defense, the WSU offense has rolled in the first quarter outscoring their opponents 75-8 giving Wazzu an early advantage. Quarterback Matt Kegel runs the offense and has done a nice job filling in for the now departed Jason Gesser. Wide receiver/kick returner Sammy Moore is an explosive player who can hurt the Beavs on offense and special teams, an area the Beavers must improve on from last game.
"He's (Matt Kegel) done a great job in a situation where it looked like everybody thought that was going to be a focal point about replacing (Jason) Gesser. Matt has done a very good job of coming in and running their offense and producing," Riley said. "I'm looking for great improvement in that area (kick coverage). Obviously, you can't give up returns for touchdowns - in a close ballgame, they're killers. Again, that's one area of the ballgame I think we can be good in and have been outstanding at times, but we've got to do better than we did last week."
Although the history, numbers, and rankings point to a blowout in the frigid northwest, the Beavers know they face a must win situation. Improvement in all areas of the game, especially penalties is the key to the game.
"We have to be really sharp in what we do, take care of the football and play good defense. Who knows how this game is going to start, but we can't let them get off to a fast start."