Former USC Offensive Coordinator (1993-1997) Mike Riley leads the Oregon State Beavers into battle this Thursday night against the Men of Troy in a nationally televised game on ESPN. Riley played his collegiate ball for Paul "Bear" Bryant at the University of Alabama as a cornerback, helping the Tide win four SEC titles and the 1973 National Championship.
Immediately following his playing days, he entered into coaching as a graduate assistant at Cal-Berkeley. After a few more stops at small colleges in his home state of Oregon, Riley was hired as Head Coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League for the 1987-1990 seasons, winning two Grey Cups during his tenure. Returning to college ball in 1993, he coached USC's offense as an assistant for John Robinson, mentoring future first round NFL draft pick Rob Johnson and leading the offense to victories in the Rose, Cotton and Freedom Bowls during his four years in Los Angeles. He left SC to become Head Coach for the Beavers in 1997, staying in Corvallis for only two years until the San Diego Chargers came knocking on his door in 1999. Three years in the NFL proved to be too long for Riley and he came back to Oregon State in 2003, where he has posted a 39-24 overall record and a 4-0 bowl record in the five years of his second stint with the team.
Riley is a hometown boy, raised in Corvallis, and was a standout quarterback for Corvallis High, leading his team to the 1970 state title. Under his reign, Oregon State has posted the second-best record in the Pac-10 over the past two seasons (19-8) and has the longest active bowl streak (4) in the conference. Riley has coached current NFL stars Steven Jackson, Derek Anderson, Keith Ellison (brother of Kevin), Yvenson Bernard and Matt Moore. He is described by former-USC coach John Robinson as "the nicest guy I know, and one of my closest friends". Current Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh recently stated he "has not seen a team play harder [than OSU]" under Riley.
Although winning nine games last season, the Beavers were plagued by inconsistent play at the quarterback position. Juniors Lyle Moevao and Sean Canfield split starts in 2007, but neither established himself as the clear cut number one by the end of the year. Heading into spring ball, Canfield's offseason shoulder surgery made the choice easy for Riley's staff in anointing Moevao (pronounced MOY-vow) the starter heading into the 2008 season. The results have paid off well, with Moevao connecting on 61% of his passes in three games for 922 yards and six touchdowns against four interceptions. The Torrance native and JC All-American at El Camino College is coming off a big game against Hawaii, completing 20 of 34 passes for 268 yards and three scores for the Beavers. Canfield began throwing just two weeks ago and has been taking reps with the second string in practice.
Graduation has claimed running back Yvenson Bernard, who ran for better than 1,000 yards in each of the last three seasons for Oregon State, but Riley went hard on the recruiting path and stole ultra-talented Jacquizz Rodgers from Big 12 country. The diminutive "Quizz" was one of the most honored prep players in the state of Texas. Standing 5'6" and weighing just 180 pounds, he was nicknamed "Mr. Touchdown" by his prep teammates, breaking the state record for scores with 136 in his high school career. Rodgers was named as inaugural Texas Associated Press Player of the Year in 2007, a season in which he rushed for 2,902 yards and 43 touchdowns as a senior. In his first three games at OSU, Rodgers has carried the ball 62 times for 263 yards (4.2 yds/carry), scoring four touchdowns on the ground. He is also considered a receiving threat out of the backfield, grabbing seven passes for an additional 41 yards. Rodgers' backup is another acclaimed true freshman, Ryan McCants. Built like former Beaver standout Steven Jackson, McCants (6'1", 240 lbs) will see time against the Trojans this week. He is considered the "thunder" to Rodgers' "lightning". Heading into Thursday night, McCants has logged 22 carries for 79 yards.
The strength of Oregon State's 2008 squad is at the wide receiver position, led by former All-Pac Ten performer Sammie Stroughter, who missed much of last year with a fluke kidney problem. The NCAA granted him a medical hardship year and thus he regained his senior season. Stroughter caught 74 balls for 1,293 yards and five touchdowns in 2006 and is a very dangerous return man, currently possessing the school record for touchdowns on punt returns. Stroughter spreads defenses deep with his speed and overall big play ability, and has caught 21 passes this year for 255 yards and three touchdowns. He had a career-high 12 receptions in week one against Stanford. In the slot, the Beavers rely on senior Shane Morales' penchant for running precise routes in combination with great hands. A prototypical possession receiver, Morales currently leads the team with 22 receptions and 284 yards while scoring two touchdowns. He had a game high 13 catches and 151 yards against Stanford and makes for a great one-two punch with Stroughter. The third receiver is Jacquizz's older brother James, master of the "fly sweep". Rodgers has made the play a staple of the Beaver offense and is featured on many of the team's trick plays and reverses. In fact, he ran the ball 50 times last season, exploding for 586 yards rushing and three TDs, averaging a ridiculous 11.7 yards per carry.
Up front, the strength of the O-line is senior left tackle Andy Levitre (6'3", 325 lbs). Levitre has made 29 career starts, 25 consecutively. He is referred to as one of the top tackles in the nation and possesses excellent footwork and speed. Levitre has been named to both the Outland and Lombardi Trophy watch lists and has played every position on the line in his career except center. Left guard Adam Speer has made 16 career starts, but moves over from the RG position due to the early season loss of Jeremy Perry to injury. Perry is considered to be one of the premier guards in the country and a certain NFL prospect, but has been bothered by injuries that forced him to miss all of spring practice. He continues to rehabilitate from April knee surgery, but did return to practice this past Saturday. It is not known how much, if at all, he will play against USC.
Eight quality starters are gone from the defensive side of the ball this season, including the entire front seven of the Beaver D. However, they still have talent at defensive end, where seniors Victor Butler (6'2", 240 lbs) and Slade Norris (6'3", 250 lbs) lead the way. Butler and Norris were used as designated pass rushers off the bench last season and they finished first and second on the club in quarterback sacks, with Butler tallying 10.5 and Norris with nine. While there is little doubt these two can get it done via pass rush, they still need to prove they can hold their own as run defenders. Butler is arguably the quickest lineman on the team and is a preseason Ted Hendricks Defensive End of the Year Award candidate. With a half-sack in ‘08, he is now tied for sixth in school history with 14.0 sacks. Pernnell Booth is the only returning letter winner at defensive tackle and Coach Riley is counting heavily on JC transfer Stephen Paea to contribute right away. How the D-line performs this season was widely thought to be one of the biggest determining factors of how the effective the entire Beaver defense will be this year.
The starting LB corps was also completely decimated by graduation and therefore is rather inexperienced heading into 2008. Senior MLB Bryant Cornell (6'1", 235 lbs) has seen a lot of time off the bench during his four years in Corvallis and is the expected leader of the group. He tallied 11 tackles in week one versus Stanford. Strong backer Keaton Kristick is one of the more athletic players on the team and recorded seven tackles in his first start against the Cardinal. Keith Pankey won the starting job on the weakside following solid spring and fall camps. Pankey is a quick player who covers a lot of ground and fits the mold of recent Beaver LBs such as Nick Barnett.
Things are far more settled in the secondary for Oregon State, as hard hitting Hawaiian SS Al Afalava leads the way. Afalava was an Honorable Mention All-Pac 10 player last season and has a knack for always being around the ball. Prior to the 2007 season, Coach Riley noted on Afalava, "I don't need to look, I can tell by the sound of the hit [who it is]". Afalava has 131 career tackles, the most on the active roster. The starters at cornerback are "lock-em-down" defenders that give the OSU defense the opportunity to blitz creatively while leaving them one-on-one with receivers. RCB Brandon Hughes (5'11", 185 lbs) has been a starter since his freshman season. He is one of the best corners in the Pac 10 and is a preseason candidate for both the Jim Thorpe Award as well as the Lott Trophy. Hughes is a physical corner at the point of attack, notching seven tackles-for-loss in '07, and was awarded Second Team All Pac 10 honors last year. Keenan Lewis mans the opposite post and is the bigger of the two corners at 6'1", 200 pounds. He too is a very physical man-to-man coverage corner who led the team with three interceptions last season. Greg Laybourn is the free safety and is thought of as a sure tackler who is solid in run support. He is the team leader with 25 tackles on the season. Laybourn and Lewis each have one interception in the early goings of 2008.
Kicker Justin Kahut missed on three field goal attempts last week against Hawaii and was replaced late in the game by Sean Sehnem, who connected on a 32 yarder. It is unclear which kicker will get the nod this week. Kahut has been nursing an injury to his hip-flexor, so perhaps Sehnem is the more logical of the two. The Beavers are badly missing former All-American Alexis Serna in this capacity. Johnny Hekker is the punter and has had one of his attempts blocked already this season. Hekker averages 31 yards per kick. James Rodgers is the Beaver kick return specialist, averaging 24 yards per return. Stroughter is the school record-holding punt returner who is averaging a hair over 12 yards per this season.
Reser Stadium holds 45,674 at capacity and is regarded as one of the toughest places for Pac-10 opponents to play, mostly due to seating being very close to the field… Oregon State has won 24 consecutive non-conference home games…Arguably, the biggest conference home win came at the expense of the Trojans in 2006, snapping USC's 27-game Pac-10 winning streak…Fans will be wearing orange for Thursday's game, comprising an "Orange Out", and the student section expects to be in a full force as fall term begins the following week…Oregon State is 42-6 when it leads after three quarters with Mike Riley as the head coach…Starting with the 2004 season, the Beavers are 27-2 when they head into the fourth quarter with the lead… Over the last 52 games, Oregon State is 22-2 when committing fewer turnovers than its opponent…Since 2001 the Beavers rank eighth in the nation in forced turnovers with 207…Temperature at game time will be in the low 60's, but there is no threat of rain or inclement weather…USC opened Monday as a 23-point road favorite, but Vegas has already increased the number to 25.5…