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September 1, 2013

Riley optimistic that Beavers will bounce back

The morning after is always the most challenging time when your world is turned upside down.

For Mike Riley, he devoted the early hours of Sunday analyzing and dissecting video of Oregon State's well-chronicled defensive collapse in the stunning 49-46 loss to Eastern Washington, searching for answers to the fundamental questions bothering Beaver Nation: How did it happen? How does a veteran secondary with three returning starters look utterly helpless trying to keep the Eagles' passing attack in check? Will OSU bounce back against Hawaii on Saturday?

"It's always enlightening to see exactly what happened," Riley said Sunday night during his weekly teleconference. "Every football game, win or lose, there's always some good stuff that gets lost in a loss and some bad stuff that get neglected in a victory. It's never perfect.

"What we have to do now is help these players by having a good plan and getting them ready to play confidently and fast this Saturday. We absolutely do have the pieces and the scheme. We just have to become a little more sound within the schemes."

Foremost in Riley's mind is keeping the Beavers from suffering a crisis in confidence following an unexpected season-opening loss in front of 41,649 fans at Reser Stadium.

"I have a lot of faith in them," Riley said. "I think we have real good kids here and I don't think they've changed since Friday. They feel bad about losing and I think they'll come back to work and do their best to get ready and try to win the game against Hawaii.

"I believe they can rebound, for sure. We can learn from it. It doesn't have to define us and we can play better football and win games."

Riley contended the Oregon State coaches must be ready to provide the players with "concrete stuff to improve" rather than a nebulous 'to-do' list.

"I think that's motivating and gives them an answer to some of the problems we had," Riley said. "They want to win and play the best they can. Our job is to help them do that. The best way to do that is have a good plan for them and teach like crazy. Our staff is very, very good. That will be our approach to Monday's practice."

Few positions on the Beavers compel a timelier pick-me-up than the secondary, torched for 448 passing yards, including touchdown passes of 31, 48 and 47 yards by EWU in the loss. Eagle receivers ran free down the field all afternoon long.

"It's obvious we broke down in containment responsibilities and sometimes in coverage responsibilities," Riley said. "We have to shore all that up and really define it for the players so they can perform better. Saturday, we tried it all. We just have to be sounder."

The secondary faltered in their positioning and technique close to the line of scrimmage, Riley said.

"We lost receivers at the line of scrimmage and we didn't have great position for them to start with," Riley said. "They can do a better job of basically getting lined up and being in position to play and take something away. That will be a big issue on getting better."

Pleased the players didn't play the blame game afterwards, Riley said season openers are made for learning about your team and keeping your composure regardless of the outcome.

"I hope you learn a lot in the first game about your team," Riley said. "Where we can go with some stuff or where we shouldn't go and give them some stuff to get better at. It's up to the kids to respond as men and own up to the fact they've got to do better and support the people around them. That's old-fashioned, but it's real and I think these guys will do that."

One EWU offensive play in particular haunts Riley: the Eagles faced third-and-14 from their 22-yard line on their second possession of the game, yet were able to complete a 49-yard pass to the OSU 29. The play ignited EWU and they never looked back.

"It was a disappointing play to me in that situation to give up a ball like that," Riley said. "But it may have been personal than the way it affected the team."

Hawaii is coming off a 30-13 loss to Southern Cal in which the Rainbow Warriors mustered just 23 yards rushing on 31 attempts - an average of 0.7 yards per carry - and converted only 4-of-18 third down chances.

In addition, the Hawaii offensive line allowed seven sacks by the Trojans. Rainbow Warrior QB Taylor Graham completed 16-of-41 passes (39 percent) for 208 yards, 60 of those yards coming on a meaningless late touchdown throw with 30 seconds remaining.

Even though he has a reputation of owning a pass-first philosophy, Hawaii head coach Norm Chow prefers a balanced offensive attack. In fact, Hawaii ran the football more than they threw it last season.

"We have a lot of history with Coach Chow and I really have a lot of admiration for him," Riley said. "Norm likes to run the football, likes to play-action and bootleg and likes to have a balanced attack."

Defensively, Hawaii held Southern Cal to 3-of-14 on third down chances, and allowed less than five yards per play.

"Hawaii is very aggressive defensively," Riley said. "They gave USC a lot of trouble with pressure and good aggressive play. I was impressed with physically how hard they played and with the amount of pressure they got. They did a very nice job of disrupting the timing of what SC was trying to do in a lot of areas."

NOTES:

* Riley said X-rays on wide receiver Brandon Cooks' lower back were negative, but he remains sore after catching 13 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns. He is unlikely to practice on Monday, Riley said.

* Michael Doctor has a slightly sprained ankle, but should practice on Monday.

* Riley said the snap on the field goal try in the final seconds was a "tough snap back on the hip" of holder Tim McMullen. But he managed to get the ball placed, so the timing with kicker Trevor Romaine wasn't affected greatly.

* Riley said OLB Jabral Johnson, playing in place of the injured D.J. Alexander, played a "solid game" in his first career start, along with defensive tackle Mana Rosa.

* Riley said the offensive line performed well considering starting center Isaac Seumelo wasn't ruled out until after pregame warmups. Josh Mitchell and Roman Sapolu stepped in and "did a nice job in there and allowed us to function pretty well for the most offensively," Riley added. Sapolu hustled to recover a fumble.

* Riley said he received words of encouragement in text messages from a number of former Beaver players.


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