"We can look at this two different ways," said Riley who is 25-26 at Oregon State. "Weve lost a couple of ball games, which is a negative thing and hard to take and those losses they hurt. At the same time if you can grow from those things, and weve played three top 20 teams, supposedly, in the last three weeks, so if we are truly becoming battle-tested against good football teams, then that can be a very good thing, and thats what Im looking at."
The non-ranked Washington State Cougars travel to Corvallis for the third consecutive time in the series. The last eight meetings have been split, but WSU leads the series 46-40-1. Fortunately for OSU, the game is at home where the Beavers have won the last two against WSU and have not lost back to back games since 1998.
Arizona State receiver Derek Hagan and Louisville wide out Mario Urrutia had record days against the OSU secondary and Hill, who has six touchdowns in three contests, could be the next receiver to rewrite school history against the orange and black. With the big plays and record days Riley is concerned about the mental state of his players but says it is up to the coaches to get the players back to basics.
"I think its just a matter of, as coaches, getting back to those things that they can really take and improve upon," Riley said. "We have a lot of young guys over there and discouragement can be a product of whats happened the last few ball games. So its our job to help lift them up, and its their job to keep rolling and working to improve."
While working on getting back to basics the defense must also focus on not giving up the big play. The Cougars are averaging 47 points per game while racking up 219 yards on the ground. Senior Jerome Harrison and freshman DeMaundry Woolridge have broken the 100 yard mark each in the past two games while Harrison has rushed for over 100 in six straight matchups. Oregon State did a nice job of containing the run against the Sun Devils and once again it will be one of the top priorities.
"(Washington State) runs a lot better, and weve got to continue to nail that down," Riley said. "and then we got struck by big plays again. Those change the game dramatically, so thats a major issue and focal point for us to go on defense."
The offense, especially quarterback Matt Moore who threw three picks last week, must stay focused and get back to basics as well. Riley acknowledged that Moore made a couple of bad decisions but overall he felt the junior played well. Ball security, pass protection and improving the running game are all points of focus for the offense.
It has taken almost a year and a half but the running game is steadily improving. Despite the ground game ranking last in the Pac-10 and 104th in the nation at 86.5 yards per game, up almost 16 yards from a year ago, there is optimism. Running back Yvenson Bernard rushed for 137 yards against ASU becoming the first player in almost a year to top the century mark. The real test is this weekend against the conference's best (sixth in the nation) run defense that is giving up just 74 yards a game.
"We want to think that were building in the running game," said Riley who is 1-1 versus Bill Doba. "Weve talked about that for a year and half now and it looks like were making some progress. This is good defensive team that will be a challenge for us, but very important for our future balance on offense."
And yet another key will be to eliminate the stupid penalties. In the first six minutes against ASU the Beavers committed five penalties that killed the offense's continuity and helped Arizona State keep their drives alive.
The task won't be easy as WSU has won their last three PAC-10 openers on the road (at Cal in 2002, at Oregon in 2003 and at Arizona in 2004). They are also confident and looking to avenge their 38-19 loss in the Mid Valley a year ago.
Kickoff is slated for 1:00 p.m. Around 1,500 tickets are still available.
Go Beavs and wear orange!
- WR Mike Hass was nominated for offensive Pac-10 Player of the Week.
- CB Gerard Lawson had another rough game and Keenan Lewis sat out the second
half of the ASU game. As a result, Aaron Miller and Brandon Hughes received
plenty of time in the second half. Lewis is expected to be 100% and Lawson
is expected to start although Miller and Hughes could see their time increase.
Riley - "We were looking at that hard. Its not an easy position to rotate in and out of the ball game. So well make a decision on some of that later in the week."
- WR Mike Hass is second in the nation in receptions (10.0) and first in yards
per game (167.5). He has 14 career 100-yard receiving games, eight consecutive
100 yard games, and is just a few games away from breaking all of the school's
receiving records. When Riley was asked if they will try and spread the ball
around he said they don't have to if Hass continues to get open.
Riley - "Well we wont have to if we can throw 11 balls or 12 balls or 15 balls to Mike Hass. If hes open, well throw it to him because he usually catches it. Its nice to be able to get overall production from everybody, and I would anticipate that with the defenses being what they are and the coaches being what they are, we would have to spread the ball out. But if Mike is intent on a route and hes open, he should get the ball."
- Is pass defense a concern? You bet.
Riley - "Weve been one and two in the league on defense for the last two years, and were dead last right now. And the big plays are a big factor, so its something we definitely have to improve on its an issue."