UW Can Look to Riley For Blueprint

God bless Mike Riley. For the 21 years before Riley's introduction as Oregon State's head coach - which coincides with the tenure of the four head coaches before him - the Beavers were 44-173. That makes UW's last 21 years' record of 140-108, even with the stench of the last few years included, look almost impressive. For decades, Corvallis was college football's version of a black hole.

Head coaches would show up, then never heard from again.

Joe Avezzano? I think he was head coach of some arena team, last I checked, and he's probably been the most successful one. Dave Kragthorpe and Jerry Pettibone were just flat-out stinkers. In the 50's and 60's, led by Tommy Prothro and 'The Great Pumpkin' - Dee Andros - the Beavers were great. They had a Heisman Trophy winner in Terry Baker, and played in three bowls from a span of 1957 to 1965, including two Rose Bowls.

Riley had won two Grey Cups as head coach for the Winnepeg Blue Bombers, and even though the Canadian Football League has about as much in common with American football as the number of players they use, Riley gained valuable championship experience up north. So by the time he made it to back his hometown of Corvallis in 1997, he was armed with the tools necessary to resurrect a once-proud Oregon State program - despite the occasional sideways glance of his family, who no doubt understood the scope of what Riley was being asked to do.

Fast forward to 2009 and the Beavers are back. They have the second-longest active bowl win streak - five games - in the country, as well as the second-best record in the Pac-10 over the last three years (34-15). Riley was named the Pac-10 Coach of the Year in 2008 after guiding the Black Bandits of Benton County to a 9-4 record and a 3-0 win over Pittsburgh in the Sun Bowl. It took not one, but two coaching stints by Riley to get the job done, but the process of picking up the pieces after Mssrs Fertig, Avezzano, Kragthorpe and Pettibone completely lost the plot is now complete. It can be done.

For Washington fans looking for evidence that rebuilds can take place, look no further than Corvallis. And after the Huskies' 24-23 loss at UCLA, a game that gave the Bruins their first Pac-10 conference win on the season, hope appears to be in short supply. "We weren't as good, way back when in 1997 when I was first here, as Washington is right now," Riley said Monday when asked to compare the two situations. "As we got going, and the guys gained some confidence – you can see that in the whole Husky team just watching them on film, how hard they're playing, the confidence they're playing with, it's just like a whole transformation of a team. We started to experience it in 1998, you could feel it."

And there lies the rub; the Beavers didn't really start to show signs of life under Riley until nearly 24 months into his tenure. His first year, they didn't win one Pac-10 game. Steve Sarkisian has already won two in his 11 months on the job, but pressure is building to recreate Washington's 16-13 win over USC two months ago. It isn't happening.

"I thought my estimation was when we get into these tight games we would find a way to win that would change our culture a little quicker," Sarkisian said. "That we are a team that we expect to win, okay we've won the tight game against SC 16-13 right there at the end and that's going to be who we become."

Oregon State fans will fondly remember the 1998 Civil War win - a brutally beautiful 44-41 OT slugfest won by the Beavers - as the point in time when they knew Riley was capable of great things. The game that has seemingly gone under the radar during that same season was a 35-34 loss at Washington where OSU scored on the last play of the game and decided to go for two. The Huskies' Nigel Burton knocked down a Jonathan Smith pass intended for Roddy Tompkins, and the Beavers went home unsatisfied. And in college football's version of 'If you can't beat them, hire them', Riley nabbed Burton to be an assistant coach at OSU in 2003.

At 3-6, it's doubtful whatever Washington learns the rest of this season will have much of an immediate impact, especially for the seniors. But outside of their games against Stanford and Oregon, the Huskies have been in every game they have played and have left the field of play having earned the respect of their opponent - apparently a key philosophical cog to Sarkisian's cultural change on Montlake.

"It's frustrating, from a coaching standpoint, because I know how hard our kids are working," Sarkisian said on Monday. "I know how much better we're getting, and although we're not reaping the benefits of the wins compared to the losses, we're a better football team today than we were in week one. Our kids are playing hard. We're doing things right. Somewhere in here, we're going to find the ability to finish games. And when we do, look out."

"It's difficult to lose games when you know that if one or two plays go differently throughout the course of a game you could have come out on the other end," added UW quarterback Jake Locker. "So it's hard, but I also think it's nice to have the opportunity and be that close. It's nice to be in a football game and have a chance to win with the ball in your hands with a minute to go. It's hard but were growing and going in the right direction. We just need to keep playing and keep working on understanding that once we can get one of these games and teach ourselves what it takes to win in close games like this it will start to carry over."

Back when the hierarchy of college football superiority was established, Washington would never look to a program like Oregon State for tips on how to win college football games. But after going 0-12 last season and having dropped their last five against the Beavers, the Huskies are no longer involved in conversations regarding college football superiority. Their credit card was cut up and their membership privileges have been revoked.

"It's amazing the cycle of life in football," Riley said. Having grown up at and around Oregon State in the 60's and 70's, he knows all about how things used to be. "I doubt anyone up here would have thought UW would have been where they were last year ever."

But if there's a man who knows how to bring a program back from the grave, it's Mike Riley. And Washington fans should hope Riley and Sarkisian end up having a lot more in common than USC stamps in their coaching passports.

"I think we're an extremely resilient football team," Sarkisian said. "These guys - I'll tell you what. They've been through a lot. I said it a few weeks ago and I said it again Saturday right after the game - what we've been through as a team and these types of ball games is going to help shape who we become in the future. This team is growing leaps and bounds from an adversity standpoint in dealing with adversity and staying focused and staying on course and what we're trying to accomplish."
Notes:
How to defend the Rodgers Brothers: "I think we see more people in the box a lot of time because of 'Quizz, and that's very natural," Riley said of the Rodgers brothers. Right now James and Jacquizz Rodgers are No. 1 and No. 2 for the Beavers in total offense. "When you have a good runner, and a productive run game, then you've got to be able to adjust. You don't want to let that (many people in the box) take you out of the run, that's not very smart. We had a poor game running the ball against Cal. They had a good scheme, and they've got good players up front and that combination we just didn't handle very well. Thank goodness we protected OK so we could throw. That's why balance is so important in this game. You try keep people honest. It's been very important somebody else step up."

Speaking of others stepping up…: Riley talked about the emergence of Orting, Wash. ATH Joe Halahuni, and how his recent efforts at getting involved with the offense is only going to make their offense even more dangerous. "Joe has been another guy who's really just kind of coming into it," Riley said of 'The Flyin' Hawaiian'. "Injury at the end slowed him down a year ago. I've always been excited about Joe's ability. He's a good athlete, he's a big guy that can run and he's got great hands. It's been fun working with him through spring ball, and into fall camp. There are a lot of times it's growing into production sometimes, as guys make some plays, they make more plays and they kind of feed on it. It's been a major factor for our offense to have more guys involved. We try and get the ball to James and 'Quizz often, but the more we can get the ball to our split end, (Damola) Adeniji and to Joe and to our slots, everything goes easier for everybody. That has always been our goal, and we're just kind of working into it with Joe. He's done a nice job. He's a lot of fun when we can get him going, because he can make something happen with the ball after he catches it."

Off to a flying start: The Beavers have outscored their opponents 71-17 in the first quarter of their games this season. Washington has been outscored 68-62. "I'd like to soundly state it's a point of emphasis, but, you know, it's nice to get a fast start in games," Riley said. "Everyone talks about that all the time. You always have to prepare for what it's not, but at the same time, it's a good sign of readiness and those kind of things. As good as we've been there, I've been really disappointing with our second halves the last two weeks, as a matter of fact. We've always got something work on. It is good to get that good start."

Something's missing: Sarkisian addressed Monday a couple of issues with the offense. "Anytime it's your first year, anytime you're implementing a system, there are nuances within things that, as you play within a system, as you play with one another, things get done," he said. "Whether it's here or anywhere else you go, and you're starting and you're growing and you're implementing something, those nuances come with time. And to me, that's one of the things we're missing. That's one of the subtle things that get made on the fly that we struggle with at times. And that's not to knock our kids in any way. That's wherever you go, anywhere in the country. You can go back and look at Pete Carroll's first year at USC. That's called the process of implementation, of really putting something in and knowing the nuances of things that show up. One, that's the first thing that's missing. Two, our ability to really run the football when the opponent knows we're going to run it, to take the pressure off the quarterback, I think is something that's missing. But we will get that in time. We're still a young offensive football team in that way, from a mindset standpoint: ‘Guys, we're running the football.' Whether it's on the 1-yard-line going in, whether it's on third-and-long, whether it's in four-minute offense to close out a game. Those are the situations where the defense knows you're going to run it, and you know you're going to run it, and you still are able to do it. I think those two things come with time. You can't just expect them to happen. I think we're getting better at it, but we're not there yet."

Going with the game plan: Sarkisian said Monday that if they had to do it over again, he would have wanted Locker to throw a slant pass to Devin Aguilar instead of throwing deep to Jermaine Kearse in a one-on-one situation as the Huskies were driving toward a potential winning field goal attempt at UCLA. "I would say just go trust with what we've got, with the one-on-one matchup with Devin Aguilar, which is what we were looking for from the slot," Sarkisian said. "He went with what had been going on in the game. And Jermaine had been having a heck of a game. But we were getting in those situations, we were getting a lot of man coverage. And that's why I think you started to see Devin really start to make a lot of plays there in the fourth quarter on third down. We were getting man coverage, and we like Devin in the slot in that matchup. So we'll learn from that. That's part of learning and growing in this system. I don't fault Jake for the decision he made, but hopefully next time we make a different decision and go with the matchup that we were looking for in the game plan."

Red Zone Still a Point of Emphasis: The Huskies were 4-5 in red zone chances, but were only able to score one touchdown inside the red zone. Sarkisian was not happy with their efficiency in the red zone, and it will continue to be a point of emphasis as the season winds down. "You think about this game, you think about Arizona State, you think about Notre Dame, in a blink, we're a 6-3 football team right now instead of 3-6 and this is a whole different press conference right now," he said when talking about the importance of converting red zone opportunities into touchdowns.

Time Out for Sark: Sarkisian admitted to second-guessing his decision not to call a time out after the Bruins scored on a controversial Terrence Austin 'double catch', a play that was not officially reviewed. He didn't say Saturday that he actually tried to call a time out, something he did say Monday during his weekly press conference. "Well, I second guess the manner in which we went about it because the reality of it is I've looked at the TV copy since then and it's hard to tell," he said. "I don't think anyone in the room can tell you flat out 'yeah, he dropped it.' I think we all assume he did. But from the camera angle it's tough to see. My understanding is they review every call and they had just reviewed our touchdown, they had just reviewed our turnover and the assumption is in the momentum of the game and that play, the funky nature in which the play occurred is that the play is going to get reviewed. And so as I was watching it unfold my assumption is that the play is going to get reviewed. It's a tight ball game, I didn't want to have to use a time out if I didn't need to. But as it went to unfold, as they were getting ready to kick their extra point, I attempt to go down the sidelines and get a timeout and I'm not able to get it done. So how, when and if that thing got reviewed I don't know if they were able to get it done that quick enough I'd be surprised if they were able to. But it wasn't that I didn't think the guy caught the ball. I wanted to challenge it to see what happened. We just didn't get it done in the time frame."

Not dealing well with prosperity: The Huskies have not done well when they've taken the lead in games this season. "It's funny. When we went up nine I called the team together on the sidelines because I didn't want that to occur," Sarkisian said of the moment in the third quarter when a 34-yard pass from Locker to Kearse gave the Huskies a 23-14 lead with 11:52 left in the quarter. "I want our team to stay locked in. I remember talking to our kicking team and say 'we've got to cover. Don't give them one thing to change the momentum back. And we had been kicking the ball really well on our kickoffs, Erik (Folk) has been really hitting the ball well and that's why Terrence Austin is an All-Pac-10 return guy. He got a great return to really change the momentum and then they score 2-3 plays on that controversial play and 'boom all the sudden the momentum went right back in their favor when we really made an attempt not to let that happen.''


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