Coach's Corner - Optimism heading into Tucson

Oh, what a difference a week makes! Two weeks ago discourse about the Oregon State football team centered around the backup quarterback, unhappy boosters and a season spiraling down the toilet, waiting for that final spin into the depths of the sewer.

But after another scintillating performance by the defense and an offense that can suddenly grind it out on the ground or stretch the field optimism, albeit cautious, has returned to the lips, and fingers, of the Beaver faithful.

And while the transition from pessimism to optimism and from optimism to pessimism, and back and forth and so on, is a seesaw that OSU fans will ride regularly every year, there is one thing for certain: Mike Riley and his players will stay positive. "The season is long," "It's too early to go doom and gloom," "We are very close to having a breakout game," and "We just have to execute" are assorted phrases that were uttered to the media last week. And with the OSU's victory over Washington, the coaches and players were 100-percent correct.

"It was really important to get that win. Confidence is a big thing in sports," head coach Mike Riley said. "Having that feeling of winning a ball game is a good thing. It should continue to fire us and we can build from that."

And build they must as the Men in Black face a tough road ahead. To reach the postseason they must win five of their last eight games. Although a bowl game and a winning record is the ultimate goal, right now, it is one game at a time. They know that if they let up against Arizona, the margin for error shrinks significantly and their win at UW will all but be forgotten.

The good news for Beaver fans is the Arizona offense is struggling averaging just 12 points per game and ranks ninth in pass (176.3) and rush offense (78.4). The bad news is OSU may look ahead to the USC game at Reser Stadium in two weeks, but Riley says his team can't afford to overlook a team that defeated OSU for their only conference win of the year.

"We can't approach anything like that because they burned us last year," said Riley who is 4-2 against UA. "They got some big plays on us and those big plays ended being the game. We have got to play sound defense and not let the running game get on track so we can control the play. That is the key component for our defense this week."

And if the Beaver defense plays like they have played the past two weeks Oregon State will be in position to move above .500 overall and even their conference record. The defensive line and linebackers have been particularly good helping the Beavers grab 11 sacks in the last two games while ranking second in the NCAA in sacks per game at 3.8. Several aspects are factoring into their recent success.

"Guys are getting better and working hard. More guys are involved," Riley said. "There are fresher players up front because a lot of guys are playing. Mark Banker and the defensive coaches have done a nice job of staying the course…adding some things to the package and incorporating a lot of new players into schemes that has developed into quite a bit of ownership where they play a role and are contributing."

The UA offense stuck to the ground last week against Stanford, passing just 13 times, while averaging 5.2 yards per carry. Due to injuries third string quarterback Kris Heavner will be starting and as a result they will stick to the ground once again and possibly run some of the option attack.

"We have to look at that ballgame (at Stanford) and look at where they are going," Riley said. "They had a little success running the football, just like we did, and that makes you feel good as your putting your package together."

Riley says they won't stack the box and dare Arizona to pass, he just wants his team to play solid defense and not give up the big play.

"I don't want to dare them to do anything, I just want to be sound.," Riley said. "Part of our philosophy this week is to play smart, but still aggressively because they will be physical."

The Arizona Wildcats hold a stifling 20-8-1 advantage in their series against Oregon State. But, just like last week's opponent, the Beavers have found recent success in the series. OSU has won six of the last seven including the last two in Tucson (33-9 in 2000, 28-14 in '04).

The Wildcats defense dominated the Stanford Cardinal last weekend limiting them to just 52 total yards, minus six yards rushing and 32 offensive plays. Oregon State quarterback Matt Moore struggled and excelled against Arizona's zone blitzes as he threw six interceptions, but threw for over 400 yards.

"They bring a mix of four man front defense with zone blitzing and a three man front with zone blitzing," Riley said. "Behind that they play an aggressive secondary. The guys are talented and they play tight. They are one of the better defenses around."

The Orange and Black offensive line did a superb job of picking up blitzes a week ago and will have their work cutout for them again. With the Wildcats backs to the wall, Riley is expecting a scrappy, physical game. The kind of game OSU played in Seattle.

"They do a lot of things and they do it physically," Riley said. "Their offense is kind of taking on that mode. They ran the ball a lot last week and got a win on the road. I'm expecting it will be a very physical game."

Notes:

  • On getting QB Sean Canfield more playing time.
    "I am thinking about that some more and will do it. But I am not exactly sure yet. I won't say this is going to happen for the same reasons that I decided last week are good to do and we will get better results."

  • On getting WR Ruben Jackson more playing time.
    "It was subtle because they were always going in and out of a game. He actually had a 2 to 1 rotation with Anthony. We upped that to one to one last week. That's status quo this moment. That is obviously a competitive spot right now. We will see where it is Thursday."

  • Mid-season report.
    "It's like a guy who had a rough start of the semester. Their grades are improving as they go. We are working hard, and we are showing signs of good improvement. We obviously had some bad games and some major disappointments, not only in the losses but in how they were. I think that has been a motivating tool for our team. I'm hopeful we are on the rise and continue to get better."

  • Give credit where credit is do.
    "We are utilizing players better as we know the players better. But most importantly it is the drive of the player. We have good character guys and guys that were disappointed but have worked hard to get better."

  • For the full transcript from Riley and his players, visit the premium message board.

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