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September 9, 2013

Next man up as OSU prepares for Utah

Just two weeks into the 2013 season, major injuries are mounting for Oregon State on the perimeter of the defense and elsewhere.

Already missing D.J. Alexander, who suffered a knee injury about 10 days into preseason camp, senior outside linebacker Michael Doctor's serious ankle/foot injury comes at a bad time for the Beavers because they will probably have to rely on backups with the first road game of the 2013 season on the horizon.

Doctor underwent surgery on Sunday morning to put a plate in his foot and could return to action in six to eight weeks following about a month of rehab, Riley said.

"(Saturday) I knew it wasn't good because he was on crutches with a boot on," Riley said Sunday during his weekly teleconference. "But I'm glad they went ahead and just took care of it."

The good news, though, is Alexander should return to practice on Monday, along with freshman cornerback Dashon Hunt. Whether Alexander is ready to play on Saturday when Oregon State visits is yet to the determined.

"Give us a couple of days and let him practice and see where he is," Riley said.

However, Alexander's absence, together with the concussion incurred by Darrell Songy, means Jabral Johnson (team-leading 14 tackles in first two games) and redshirt Caleb Saulo might be required to hold down fort at outside linebacker until Alexander is healthy enough to play in game.

"It's a blow, no doubt about it," Riley said. "Michael was one of our team leaders and best players. But it's football. The good news is Jabral Johnson has been playing well. Caleb Saulo went in and did a nice job (vs. Hawaii) without any experience at all and kept the flow going defensively for us. It's always next man up, the guy waiting on deck. If we get D.J. back and both Jabral and Caleb continue to play well, we'll be fine."

If he is unable to return this season, Doctor has a redshirt season available because he played as a true freshman in 2010 after greyshirting, meaning he could return in 2014.

"That will be between me and Mike as to whether he wants to come back and play this year or just rehab to come back (and go to NFL)," Riley said. "We'll cross that bridge later after he starts to get healthy."

Offensive tackle Grant Enger suffered a sprained knee and is expected to miss two weeks, while right guard Roman Sapolu is likely sidelined for the season due to severe midfoot damage commonly known as a Lisfranc injury, which occurs when the one or more of the metatarsal bones are displaced from the tarsus.

"It's not good," Riley said. "He will probably need surgery."

Gavin Andrews, eyed as the lone new starter along the offensive line when camp started five weeks ago, could be cleared to begin workouts soon, Riley said.

The number of injuries along the offensive front might leave Riley with no choice but to burn freshman Sean Harlow's redshirt.

"It's why you have a team," Riley said. "Someone has to step up and go in and do a nice job. We're expecting them to do that. That's why they're here, that's why they're practicing. Our expectations are very high in what they'll do when they get to go into the game.

"These guys know the next guy has to be ready to go. It's an opportunity for somebody. That's why we coach all the guys. It's not good, but it's not going to deter from what we've got to get done."

Riley said discussions about burning Harlow's redshirt have not taken place, but the spate of offensive line injuries makes the possibility those talks taking place soon "very real."

Concerns about the lack of a consistent running game have arisen just as the injury bug has struck the Beavers. Oregon State has 162 total rushing yards after two games, counting a paltry 57 yards against Hawaii, a team that finished 86th nationally in rushing defense a season ago.

Storm Woods amassed 50 yards on 17 carries (2.94 yards per attempt), while seven ball carriers combined to gain just seven yards on the remaining 16 attempts. During his post-game press conference, Riley described as 'scary' the lack of a productive rushing attack against Hawaii.'

Oregon State averaged 140 rushing yards in three road wins last season at UCLA (122 yards), Arizona (180) and BYU (118). They managed only 109 and 86 rushing yards in the two road losses at Washington and Stanford, respectively.

Lesson learned? You have to be able to run the football successfully in order to win difficult Pac-12 road tests like the one the Beavers face on Saturday.

"I suppose it's possible (to win on the road without running the football), but I don't want to go there," Riley said. "I don't want to rely on that. I know us and I know we're at our best when we have balance and we can really count on 100-plus yards in the running game from somebody. That's definitely a" key element for the Beavers right now."

Oregon State has plenty of opportunities over the next six calendar weeks to work on their ground game away from Reser Stadium since four of the next five games are on the road, starting with Saturday's clash at Utah.

"Coming off of last week, which as very disappointing," I thought it was good for us to come back and play better, particularly on defense," Riley said. "It was good for our guys to see what they're capable of and how this thing can work."

The Utes are off to a 2-0 start after edging Utah State (30-26) and walloping Weber State (70-7), a pair of Beehive State rivals.

"(Utah) will be a tough, physical game," Riley said. "Utah looks good. They're always very physical on defense. They've started off smoothly with two wins so they'll have confidence. We know it will be a tough game. We've played them a couple of times over there, so we know about the environment."

NOTES:

-- Riley was pleased with the improved defensive performance against Hawaii compared to the previous week's meltdown in the stunning loss to Eastern Washington: "We were much better at being sound and in much better position. We tackled guys when they caught the ball. Our tackling was better. We had four plays of 20-plus yards on offense and they had none. We limited big plays."

-- Riley on Utah dual threat quarterback Travis Wilson: "He's a year older and looks very comfortable. We're going to have to do a good job of containing him."

-- Riley said OSU must begin playing better in the second quarter. The Beavers were outscored, 37-17, by Eastern Washington and Hawaii in the second quarter of their first two games.

-- Riley said quarterback Sean Mannion "is doing a nice job getting rid of the ball" and avoiding sacks even though the offensive line had trouble sustaining blocks against Hawaii.

-- Riley is pleased Woods has 15 receptions after two games, second most on the team behind Brandin Cooks.

-- Riley said the Beavers have been "one block away" from a couple of long kickoff returns. Except for a bad snap on a punt, Riley was mostly pleased with the performance of OSU's special teams on Saturday.


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