Coach's Corner - 'We're growing'

In 114 years of Oregon State Beaver football it has never happened. The Beavers of old and new have never defeated ranked opponents back to back on the road. Obviously the task isn't easy and it certainly will be a challenge Saturday as the Beavers travel to No. 8 and undefeated UCLA.

"UCLA is a good looking football team, and they've done a great job and have had to build up a lot of confidence in what they can do," Riley said. "When you repeatedly come from behind and make plays when you have to make them, that builds a lot of things within your team."

While Oregon State is still crafting their identity into a balanced, never say done squad the UCLA Bruins may have already established their identity as the come from behind kids. In the last three games the Bruins have fought back from double-digit deficits to snatch victories away from Washington, California and Washington State. A large part of their success has had to do with all-world running back Maurice Drew.

"He's a fabulous football player. I would like to admire him on the TV playing someone else," joked Riley. "He's a very smart runner, and he's obviously got strength and speed. And he must have great vision. He is tough, and as I said earlier, he can catch the ball in the backfield, and he's an extra special returner."

Riley loves playmakers and Drew is just that. He is averaging 8.67 yards every time he touches the ball and has already scored 14 touchdowns including three punt returns for scores. Fortunately OSU has one of the better punters in college football in Sam Paulescu who is currently fourth in the nation in punting with a 46.0 average.

Oregon State dominated the field position portion of the California contest thanks largely to Paulescu who angled his kicks to the sidelines. Against Drew one of the Beavers primary focuses will be to always know where he is at and to keep the ball out of his hands.

"I told Bruce Reed (OSU special teams coach), 30 yards out of bounds is fine with me," said Riley who is 0-2 versus the Bruins. "We are working on that plan, and of course I'm not going to say much about exactly what we're going to do with the ball, but his idea was to just never punt."

While it is ludicrous to assume the Beavers won't punt Saturday, it is not foolish to imagine that the ground game will produce around 200 yards again. As always Riley would prefer a more balance attack, not relying too heavily on either the pass or the run, but the Bruins have given up a ton of yards on the ground while yielding over 80 points the last two games.

"This team has given up a lot of yards against the run," Riley said. "They play a pass-defensive scheme that has not allowed very many yards, so they've given up their yards in the running game, but they have prevented people from being consistently able to throw. And we want that consistency; that's what we're looking at."
Consistency for the passing game was not the case last week as quarterback Matt Moore threw three picks and managed less than 200 yards tossing the pigskin. In the last three games Moore has thrown eight picks and just one touchdown. Moore will be returning to the school he left a couple years ago and emotions will be running high.

"I'm just going to try and keep my head and stay cool," said Moore who is already 10th on OSU's single season passing list with 1,766 yards. "I'm not going to make this a big deal. It's a football game; I play for Oregon State, they are UCLA, and that's how it is."

Moore's old roommate Drew Olson is leading an offense that averages over 40 points and over 400 yards per game. Olson has completed 133 of 198 (67.2) passes for 1,612 yards and 15 touchdowns with just three interceptions. His 157.5 passing efficiency rating is good for 11th in the nation and second in the Pac-10. Olson's favorite target is tight Marcedes Lewis who leads the team with 28 catches for 368 yards.

Despite the impressive offensive numbers the Men in Black have been playing well defensively forcing 10 turnovers in the last two games. The attitude and swagger is back as the unit is starting to jell with the younger players sliding into vital roles.

"I think we have to find that edge on defense. We're growing in a lot of areas, and so playing with that passion about football and that emotion is big," Riley said. "We've got to find that edge again, and play that exact mental and physical preparation really is what is going to be the key to get up to that."

This will be the first trip to the historic Rose Bowl for many of the players but don't expect the players to be intimidated. The Beavers are preparing just as they did last week with a lot of hard work and determination.

"I think our team feels pretty good about themselves right now," Riley said. "It's all because of what you've done and you try to build on that. We've come from behind in two great comebacks that were unlikely, but we've come back.

And then to go down to Cal and win that game, I think our team, should be feeling good about that and at the same time keep a level head."

Kickoff is at 4 p.m. live on TBS.

Additional notes:

  • Riley's keys to the game - running and stopping the run, field position and not giving UCLA the short field (turnovers, bad special teams, etc.)

  • Riley has talked about identity all year long and despite still being halfway through the year, this team's identity has not been set.
    Riley says - "I think the inner belief about our team is a good one right now. Where we are in the season is midway, so you have to continue to build that; you can lose it in a flash if you don't feel good about your next performance. I think the continued growth is key to how we're going to feel about the season. The final identity isn't formed yet, we've got to get first to bowl eligible and then we've got to win games."

  • OSU struggled in the red zone last week to say the least. The good news is that UCLA's opponents are 21 of 24 (14 touchdowns, seven field goals) in the red zone this year.
    Riley says - "We lost scoring opportunities on interceptions, on fumbles last week. I mean we took points off the board. We were on the one-yard line, and we fumbled the ball. Then we were down in the red zone, and we kicked a field goal right there, and we threw an interception. So we can't do that. Ball security will be huge in this game."

  • After reviewing the Cal tape Riley said he could not single out anyone on the defensive line as they all played well. He liked that they were disruptive in both the pass and run and were physical for four quarters. Riley also added that Joe Rudulph and Joe Lemma "made some of the most physical plays of their lives."

  • As the hardcore football fans know despite Mike Hass recording just four catches for 17 yards he had a huge impact on the game.
    Riley says - "People don't understand that he played a major role in the game. We moved the ball all over the place, and they and they had to adjust to that. If they wanted to double cover him, they had to pay attention to that. He was a major factor in the game even though he caught four balls for 17 yards. He was big; people pay a lot of attention to him right now, and they have to; they better."

  • Moore said the Rose Bowl is a great place to play, but is overrated.
    Riley says - "Oh yeah. It doesn't get very loud. The whole Rose Bowl deal is because I think it's the Rose Bowl. Not a lot of guys get the chance to play in such a grand stadium. I think that sometimes intimidates guys; it's just a sweet place to play."

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