"This has been the world's longest training camp," said Riley, "and it's time for us to play a game."
After all, Riley has been waiting months to start anew, so what's another week after Oregon State's season opener against visiting Nicholls State was postponed due to weather.
The Beavers finished 3-9 - Riley's worst record in two stints and 11 years with the program – and finished in fifth place in the Pac 12 North Division. The season went askew right from the start, losing 29-28 to Sacramento State, a Football Championship Subdivision team, and started a string of four losses to open the year.
"The realization of where we were and where we needed to go was evident," said Riley. "Basically from the offseason on, they dedicated themselves to being better. We'll get a great test in that this Saturday to see how we are."
That test finally comes at home as Oregon State will host No.13 Wisconsin at 3 p.m. CT at Reser Stadium.
The problem last year was execution on offense, as the Beavers scored 21 points or fewer seven times last year (all losses). Those problems were obvious in their 35-0 shutout at Wisconsin in week two, as the Beavers converted just 7 of 15 third down attempts and went 0-for-2 on fourth down conversions. Sean Mannion managed to complete 25 of 38 passes for 244 yards, but the running game stayed in Corvallis, managing just 23 yards rushing.
On the flip side, Wisconsin ran for 208 yards and two touchdowns, both coming from senior tailback Montee Ball.
"That's where we'll have to make one of our biggest improvements as a team is in that area, both running the ball and defending the run," said Riley. "We actually started out that game playing some real good defense … If we had been able to do anything offensively; I think defensively we were hanging in there."
The Wisconsin game marked the transition for Riley of moving from junior Ryan Katz to Mannion. Despite the growing pains, Mannion responded by throwing for 3,328 yards, including 200-plus yards passing in 11 straight games, and set a school record with 305 completions.
As a result, Katz transferred to San Diego State while Mannion became the first sophomore to be named a captain in school history. It's fitting considering Oregon State's offensive line has seven true freshmen on the unit and the program's two-deep roster has 24 freshmen or sophomores, one more than Wisconsin's two-deep roster.
"Quarterbacking is a matter of (having) knowledge of what you do and putting into games quickly with good quick decisions," said Riley of Mannion. "This guy has spent the whole offseason really studying, doing a lot on his own when we couldn't be with him and working hard with the players when we weren't practicing to build better chemistry. This guy has put in the time and the effort. I think he's an improved player for those reasons."
Multiple players coming out of Wisconsin's locker room admitted that the Badgers had a bad week of preparation for their season opener, a trait that was reflected in Wisconsin's narrow 26-21 victory over Northern Iowa. Riley saw differently.
"They look good. They look real good," said Riley, who will be calling the plays this weekend. "They are just a good all-around football team. Very, very physical … Northern Iowa played Wisconsin well but when you watch that game, it was not in doubt. They were always in control."
Wisconsin didn't exchange the customary film with Oregon State following its opening game with the Beavers on an unscheduled bye week. That didn't prevent Riley from taping of the game, complimenting the efficiency of quarterback Danny O'Brien, the balance of Wisconsin's two running backs Ball and James White and saying Chris Borland and Mike Taylor are, "as good as we'll see."
He also can tell that offensive coordinator Matt Canada has already put his fingerprints on Wisconsin's offense that was run for seven years by good friend Paul Chryst.
"He's putting his mark on it, changing it up enough to make it more interesting for us," Riley said of Canada. "They have been a really good offensive team. They haven't abandoned that, but they've tweaked enough of it to say, ‘OK, this is different.'"
Due to the cancellation, Riley said Oregon State started Wisconsin preparation Friday and Saturday, calling it a ‘silver lining' from having another week off. With the Beavers having a bye week following the opener due to another scheduling quirk, everybody in Corvallis is ready to get to work.
"You find out most about your team when they play in a game, which we didn't get to do," said Riley. "We're trying to spin the positives and get ready for a big game."
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