September 22, 2004
In accepting an opportunity to open the season at defending co-national champion Louisiana State, Oregon State football coach Mike Riley knew there would be double the risk.
In addition to the daunting task of facing the Tigers, the Beavers’ next game was scheduled for a day earlier, on a Friday. It was also on the road again, at Boise State, which was eager to slay its first Pac-10 dragon.
The way in which Oregon State lost to LSU — in overtime on a missed conversion kick — exacerbated an already difficult assignment. Boise State routed the Beavers, 53-34.
But Riley believes the nonconference schedule, despite the two losses, has prepared the Beavers for the Pac-10 season.
"I always knew going to Boise State would be difficult," Riley said Tuesday. "We had a dogfight with them a year ago. I knew it would be felt mentally for sure. But we’re over that now. I hope the experience has hardened us for this week."
Boise State was at the top of its game for the Beavers. Riley said he wouldn’t use the LSU game as an excuse for Oregon State’s performance.
"We came back mentally OK. We practiced hard," he said. "We prepared for Boise State. I was impressed."
But while the spirit was there, the body wasn’t.
The overtime loss drained the Beavers of energy. The team got back to Corvallis, Ore., at 7 the following morning. Its charter flight was diverted to Portland, which meant the team sat in the airport for 90 minutes until the buses arrived.
"Physically, it was as hard as anything I’ve seen," Riley said. "We had eight guys on IVs when we got back. We had guys cramping and getting IVs on the plane."
In their home opener last week, the Beavers recovered from the two-game travails to defeat New Mexico.
So, Riley expects Oregon State to be in a good shape mentally and physically when it plays No. 22 Arizona State (3-0) Saturday in the Pac-10 opener for both teams.
"We’re headed on a new life," he said.
One that starts with senior quarterback Derek Anderson and ends with the defense.
Anderson, a three-year starter, had to assume more of a leadership role this season while nurturing a new corps of wide receivers.
"He’s had a good start to the season," Riley of his quarterback, who has passed for 8,550 yards and a schoolrecord 59 touchdowns.
"He played one of his best games at LSU. He has a better grasp of what we’re trying to do."
Mike Hass has emerged as a top receiver. Oregon State finally received production from the slot position from JC transfer Marcel Love. But the third wide receiver has not been productive. Still, Riley said, "We’ve made some progress there." Ditto for the ground game, which did little in the losses. Tailback Dwayne Wright rushed for 108 yards against New Mexico. "I felt good after the New Mexico game about running the ball," Riley said. "We had been unbalanced. I thought New Mexico would be a good test."
Oregon State’s defense bounced back from yielding 492 yards to Boise State. New Mexico gained 114. The Oregon State secondary limited the Lobos to 39 yards passing.
"Our defense was about as sharp as you can be," Riley said.