Coach's Corner - 'This is the stretch run.'

Mike Riley hates to refer to last year, but the Oregon State football team of 2005 finds themselves in a similar situation as the 2004 squad. With four games left on the schedule the Beavers have their fate in their own hands. Win two of the last four and they go bowling. More wins mean a better bowl game, less wins mean they stay home for the holidays.

The good news is the Arizona Wildcats are coming to town. Historically, the Cats have dominated the series with a 19-8-1 advantage, but the last six contests have all been orange and black. OSU is riding a six game winning streak over UA, their current longest against a conference foe, and have won the last four against Arizona in Reser. In the last six contests the average score has been 36-12 with Arizona losing by a combined 107 points.

Despite the recent dominance by the Beavers and the winless record against Division I competition Arizona (1-6, 0-4) lugs to town, Riley and his players know they cannot overlook any team in the Pac-10.

"This league is competitive," Riley said. "If you don’t continue to get better, somebody is going to rise up and win the ball game."

Arizona almost rose up and stole one away from the No. 15 Oregon Ducks last weekend behind the aggressive, physical play of their defense which has allowed just 502 yards in the last two games. A large part of the their defensive success hinges on zone blitzes while another part lies with end Copeland Bryant who leads the team with five sacks and requires a double team.

"I like their defense. They have an aggressive style of play, and it’s caused everyone they’ve played problems," Riley said. "They give you plenty of different looks, and they play very hard. They have an impressive secondary that is very tough. They are also playing competitively in just about every ball game."

On the other side of the ball the Beaver defense strung together six plus quarters of good football before breaking down in the Rose Bowl. Tight ends running down the middle of the field uncovered, 40-plus points on the board and poor tackling resulted in a Bruin victory. Despite taking a step backwards defensively, the unit must refocus and concentrate on playing four quarters of good football.

"We’ve got to regroup and get back with some confidence this week to play a heck of a football game," said Riley who is 2-2 against UA. "and that will be our big challenge to learn from that last ball game and continue to grow and to then play an overall good defensive game. That will be a major factor in this game."

Other major factors in this game will be the Beavers' ground game, which has averaged 181 yards the last two games, third down conversions and penalties. Oregon State converted just 2 of 13 third downs against UCLA but were hurt by untimely penalties pushing the team back on third down. The Arizona defense leads the league with a .330 conversion rate and have yielded a league low 128 first downs. The UA defense also leads the league in pass defense giving up 199.6 per game, the only team in the league giving up under 200 yards.

Fortunately, the Beavers have the ninth best passing attack in the nation which features the best receiver in the nation in Mike Hass. Hass is on the verge of breaking every school receiving record as he needs just 26 catches, 134 yards and one touchdown to own the top spots in the annuals. One has to think that Hass will break two of three records in front of the hometown crowd but Riley cautions that they cannot become a one dimensional team.

"We’ve got to adjust to their team, and then we’ve got to continue to grow," said the Corvallis' native. "I think the most important part of this game is the balance. You cannot get into a one-dimensional game against these guys and expect to be successful."

The Beaver defense will certainly try and force the Wildcats into being a one dimensional team. True freshman Willie Tuitama will be making his first collegiate start at quarterback after playing for three plus quarters against the Ducks. He completed 18 of 32 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns. His favorite receiver was fellow true freshman receiver Mike Thomas who has had at least three catches in each game this year. The backfield also features Mike Bell who is capable of having a big game.

Both sides will focus on ball security. Oregon State leads the league with 10 fumbles lost while Arizona and OSU are tied for the most interceptions thrown with 12. Field position will also be a critical component as Arizona features one of the nation's top punters in Danny Baugher (47.5 ypp).

"This is the stretch run," Riley said. "Our identity for the year will be formed over the next four games. It’s really important that we take steps to get better.

Teams at this time of the year are either going forward or they’re not. And it’s very big for us to take a step forward and head into this stretch run playing good football."


Additional notes:

  • TE Jason Vandiver will start his second game of the season versus Arizona.

  • WR Mike Hass was nominated for PAC-10 Offense Player of the Week honors.

  • The Washington game has been moved from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. to accommodate FoxSports NW which will be televising the game.

  • Arizona quarterback Willie Tuitama played at St. Mary's High in Stockton, CA, the same school that receiver Anthony Crosby played at.
    Riley - " I watched him practice on the practice field at St. Mary’s High in Stockton. He’s got a good arm, a poised young man, and handles everything very well. He’s got the talent, and now at Arizona he’s got a big opportunity, and not many guys get that opportunity."

  • Riley is expecting Sam Paulescu to bounce back from a sub-par performance against UCLA.
    Riley - "Well I think he was upset because he didn’t get the distance he wanted. I had joked earlier about 30 yards and out of bounds, and that’s about what he did. He wanted more than that, and so would we. If he could do it, he’d like 45 and out of bounds, but finding a happy medium was what we were looking for."

  • Cutting down on the big plays by Arizona will be key.
    Riley - "The run-defense, pressure on the passer. And this game in particular and in general, we’ve got to cut down on the big plays we’re giving up."

  • A good question and a good answer.
    Q: Seven games into the season, you know what you do well and what you don’t do well. Does that make coaching easier?

    Riley - "I think the main part of that is that I think I have a feeling of what we’re doing and what offensively we are doing well and what we can do. You might have to sugarcoat them a little bit and disguise them a little bit because of the things you just said about the other teams knowing that, but you’re not going to invent the wheel at this point in the year. So those things that you do well, you want to continue to do those well, but you might have to disguise them a little bit.

    And we all know those things that we don’t do very well, and we can pinpoint those things and hopefully bring those things up. And that’s all about the growth of what’s important. I hate to refer to last year, but we grew. We got better and better as the season came to a close. So we were playing our best ball at the end. That’s our goal for this year, and one of the things was we knew what we could do well, and we were confident in it. "

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