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October 28, 2013

Beavs looking to bounce back against USC

Oregon State has little time to lament.

Saturday night's physically demanding 20-12 loss to Stanford took a heavy toll on the Beavers, including starting quarterback Sean Mannion, who overcame eight sacks and seven knockdowns to complete 41-of-57 passes for 271 yards and one touchdown.

However, in the celebrated TV-driven world of major college football, often there is no rest for the weary and the Beavers must quickly regroup for Friday night's pivotal home matchup with USC (6 p.m. PT, ESPN2), which has won two of three games since the controversial firing of head coach Lane Kiffin on September 29 shortly after a 62-41 road loss at Arizona State.

Sunday at the Beavers football offices was devoted in part to reviewing film of the Stanford game and mourning the squandered offensive opportunities in the first half when a dominant Beavers defense went toe-to-toe with the Cardinal offense and won a majority of the battles.

"It was very, very physical," Riley said. "Stanford is that kind of team and it just turned into that kind of game, for sure."

The same, though, can't be said for the Beavers' offense, which struggled for consistency throughout the game and finished with a season-low 288 total yards, just 17 net yards on the ground when you factor in minus-60 yards due to sacks.

"It wasn't so much all the time about their blitzes, but they were winning one-on-one battles with a four-man or three-man rush," Riley said. "That was as big of a factor as anything."

In addition to being denied twice on fourth downs on back-to-back possessions in the second quarter, OSU wasted a golden opportunity to grab a first-quarter lead following Scott Crichton's fumble recovery at the OSU 20 when the Beavers had a first down at the STAN 16. But two sacks and negative yardage on a pass play drove the Beavers back to the 37 and out of field goal range.

Stanford's first five possessions in the rare defense dominated contest (neither team eclipsed 300 yards in total offense) ended with a punt, fumble (scooped up and returned 36 yards by Crichton) and three straight punts.

Stanford finished with only 273 yards in total offense, converted just 2-of-9 third down opportunities and lost the time of possession battle by more than 17 minutes, but the key fourth down stops and the fumble on the second half kickoff saved the Cardinal.

Explosive wide receiver Ty Montgomery was held to three receptions for 55 yards by Oregon State, with 37 of those yards coming on one reception late in the first half that led to Stanford's go-ahead touchdown.

"We did a ton of good stuff defensively," Riley said. "We certainly made a bunch of plays and had a lot of third down stops. The two hardest third downs, they converted. We had some outstanding, physical defense with good tackling. Lot of good plays in the secondary. We did a nice job in man-to-man pass defense."

Oregon State has moved up to No. 6 in the Pac-12 in total defense (381.2 yards per game) after starting the season at the bottom of the rankings

"We've come a long way from where we once were defensively at the beginning of the season to that team that played (Saturday) night. The coaches have done a very nice job with that group in building back the confidence and getting guys in the right places and preparing them week-to-week."

With Oregon State holding a 3-0 lead, the momentum swung when Stanford denied Mannion on fourth down at the STAN 34 with 46 seconds remaining in the second quarter. The rejuvenated Cardinal offense raced down the field in six plays to score a touchdown with seven seconds remaining before halftime.

Oregon State never led again.

The Beavers gifted a touchdown to Stanford right out of the gate in the third quarter when freshman Victor Bolden fumbled on a kickoff return and the loose ball was recovered by Stanford at the OSU 12.

Two snaps later, Stanford running back Tyler Gaffney carried nine yards for his second touchdown of the game, giving the Cardinal a pair of vital scores within a span of 59 seconds bridging the second and third quarters.

The Beavers closed the gap to four points on Mannion's 8-yard touchdown pass to Cooks, but Stanford responded less than four minutes later with a 32-yard touchdown run by Gaffney.

"I hope our players would be mad about not winning and disappointed in that," Riley said. "But I'm encouraged about what they're capable of doing. We had some good opportunities to beat one of the better teams in the nation and gave it away in about a three-minute span right before the end of the first half and the beginning of the second half.

"(The video) was hard to watch because you could see the possibilities and what we should have done better. We missed assignments and got beat one-on-one. It was a combination of those things. That's how you get eight sacks."

Even though Mannion completed 72 percent of his passes, the lack of big plays in the Beavers offense was glaring. The longest pass play was 20 yards. Brandon Cooks, normally OSU's best deep threat, averaged 8.9 yards per reception.

"The thing we missed (Saturday) night was big plays," Riley said. "We've been getting a number of big plays in every game. But we got virtually none on offense. We had one pretty good run and that was it. Stanford has a real good front. The opportunity to wait on a receiver to get deep enough (wasn't there). Their coverage was rather conservative. They played pretty deep. They play smart and they're very experienced."

The loss dropped Oregon State (6-2 overall, 4-1 in Pac-12) one game behind Oregon in the Pac-12 North standings and one-half game behind Stanford, which has a bye on Saturday leading into the monster matchup with the Ducks in Palo Alto, Calif. on November 9.

However, that clash means Oregon State has an opportunity to jump back into the race with a win over the Trojans heading into the second bye week of the season.

"We've got a lot of football in front of us," Riley said. "The most important thing is getting our team prepared and physically refreshed for Friday night against the Trojans."

Since Sunday is typically the NCAA mandated off day, the Beavers will have just three full practice days to prepare for the Trojans as opposed to the normal four days. Riley plans regular practices on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and "probably more than a walk-through" on Thursday.

"You just have to do something differently," Riley said. "It's just not a normal week, so we've adjusted two things - the physical part of practice and how long we're practicing," Riley said.

Riley plans shorter practices (average of 15 minutes or so less for each workout) during the week.

Universities seldom fire football coaches in the middle of a season, but USC athletic director Pat Haden pulled the trigger on Kiffin in the wake of the embarrassing performance at Arizona State. Since then, the injury-plagued Trojans have beaten Arizona (38-31) and Utah (19-3) and fallen at Notre Dame (14-10) under interim head coach Ed Orgeron.

The woeful outing in Tempe in Kiffin's swan song notwithstanding, the Trojans pack a powerful punch on defense, topping the Pac-12 in total defense (317.2 yards per game) and falling a couple of yards short for the No. 1 spot in rushing defense.

USC has allowed 14 or fewer points in five of their seven games this season after limiting Utah to three points Saturday afternoon in a 19-3 victory at the LA Coliseum.

"You just look at their scores through the year," Riley said. "Except for the Arizona State game, they've played lots of good defense. They have a great group of athletes. This team has not been scored upon very much in one game (except for Arizona State). They held Utah to three points and they've been a pretty dynamic offensive team. They are also very good defensively and the strength of their defense is their front."


* Riley offered the following injury report:

D.J. Alexander - stinger (day-to-day)
Kevin Cummings - wrist (MRI on Monday)
Caleb Smith - back spasms (checked daily)
John Braun - shoulder (day to day)
Connor Hamlett - improving after not playing against Stanford.

* Riley was optimistic Hamlett could play against USC on Friday night. If he doesn't play, the Beavers face the prospect of not having either of their top two tight ends available.

* Riley said Mannion played well despite being under constant pressure all night. "He completed 41 passes in a very tough situation," Riley said. "I thought he hung in there and made some plays."

* Terron Ward and Storm Woods combined for 60 yards rushing on 11 attempts, which is why Riley described the 17 net yards rushing as "misleading."

* Riley said Oregon State's special teams "rose to the occasion" by limiting Montgomery, one of the nation's top kickoff returners, to 50 yards on three returns.

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