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December 1, 2013

Beavs now play waiting game for bowl invite

In the aftermath of one of the wildest, highest-scoring Civil Wars in recent years, Mike Riley insisted Oregon State should spend December like the majority of Division I programs - preparing for a bowl game.

Even though Friday's unsatisfying 36-35 loss to Oregon in Eugene dropped the Beavers to 6-6 with their fifth straight loss, they could earn an at-large berth in one of several lower tier bowl games throughout the country due other major conferences failing to fill all the available spots in their affiliated bowl games.

"It's absolutely necessary for us to get a bowl game for lots of reasons," Riley exclaimed Saturday in a teleconference with reporters. "One, it's really important for this team. Second, it's important for recruiting and future teams. Then we get the extra practices for the younger guys. There are lots of reasons."

Riley said Oregon State could announce a bowl berth by the middle of next week, or they could have to wait until next weekend until conference championship games are played, including the Pac-12 title tilt between Stanford and Arizona State.

"There is a lot of speculation. I hope that game (Friday) night helped us with regards to bowl games," Riley said. "I know some bowls are selecting soon or we might not know for a week."

Either way, Oregon State would not begin bowl practice until Monday, December 9, at the earliest, Riley said.

"We're going to have to get more information (specific bowl, date of game, location, etc.) before we make any plans," Riley said. "None of us are going on the assumption that we're done. We're bowl eligible and looking forward to getting a bowl bid."

Although a sixth straight Civil War loss is not easy to digest based on how well the Beavers played for most of the game, Riley exited the rivalry game knowing his team could have beaten the Ducks - perhaps should have - in Autzen Stadium but for a late nine-play, 83-yard touchdown drive by Oregon that produced the winning score with 29 seconds left.

"It was a great showcase for our state," Riley said. "The atmosphere, the intensity, the passion, good football, it was there. All the players on both teams did us all proud.

"You want to be playing defense to win it. You'd rather be in that situation than trying to score and taking the lead. You just need a stop of some kind. But they were pretty flawless on that drive."

Despite the loss, several aspects of the contest pleased Riley. Coming off the embarrassing home loss to Washington last weekend, the coach first wanted to see the Beavers play hard and compete for 60 minutes, something that didn't happen against the Huskies.

Check.

Oregon State fell behind early, 14-0, but fought back to take a 20-17 lead early in the third quarter. The entire second half - one of the most exciting in Civil War annals - was a scintillating, see-saw affair in which the lead changed hands six times.

"That was more like us than last week was," Riley said. "We were just ourselves and had fun playing. A lot of people told me they hadn't seen us like that before in the Washington game. That was disappointing to hear because one thing you always want to do is feel like everybody is trying, prepared and into it.

"I told the guys this week, and I know this sounds horrible, that I didn't care about the score. I just wanted us to play football like we are supposed to. Then we'll check the scoreboard. We played with enthusiasm and passion and energy and did everything we could to try to win. We accomplished that. We went after it."

Additionally, Riley craved the Beavers establishing the run after struggling all season long to crank up the ground game's motor.

Check.

Terron Ward amassed 145 yards on 17 carries (8.53 yards per attempt), becoming Oregon State's first 100-yard rusher this season, while Storm Woods had 73 yards on 15 carries as the Beavers totaled a season-high 231 yards on the ground.

"Our coaches put a good plan together based on Oregon's defense," Riley said. "We were absolutely going to go after the run. We just prepped it and the kids executed."

For one of the few (first?) times this season, the Beavers displayed a commitment to running the football beyond a quarter to two, rushing 39 times and throwing it 47 times.

"It makes me feel good and it makes me feel bad," Riley said. "I reflected on what might have been had we been able to accomplish that (running the ball) as an offensive team during the year. We certainly would have been better down the stretch against the better teams. We had close to 600 yards in offense (545 yards) and were pretty balanced. That's a pretty good way to go."

With Ward and Woods both returning next season, Riley hopes Friday night's success running the football carries over into any possible bowl game and next season.

"It truly was a picture of who we want to be and what we're going to shoot for in the future, meaning a bowl game and next year too," Riley said.

Besides Oregon's final do-or-die scoring drive, which started at their 17-yard line with 1:38 remaining, three plays haunt the Beavers. First, Sean Mannion was intercepted in the end zone on a fourth-and-1 from the OU 27 on Oregon State's opening drive of the game.

"We had a short drag route we were trying to hit, but they picked him up," Riley said about the play. "I think we could have got the ball to him anyway, so we forced it down the field to Brandin. We elected there to just go for it."

Later, 25 seconds after Steven Nelson picked off a Marcus Mariota pass to give OSU the ball at the UO 32, Mannion hit Brandin Cooks for 31 yards, but the junior receiver fumbled the ball into the end zone for a touchback.

Finally, with just over three minutes remaining in the third quarter when the Beavers faced a 24-20 deficit, but with a golden opportunity to take the lead, Terron Ward slipped on fourth-and-1 from the UO 5 and lost a yard when it appeared he had abundant running room to gain the first down.

"There are a million what-ifs in that game,' Riley said. "Brandon's play (fumble into the end zone) had to be close. There were all sorts of stuff. In a one-point game with that many points on the board, there are going to be a million things you can look at and go, 'What if?"

Riley recognizes Oregon State outplayed the heavily favored Ducks for stretches during the game and deserved to win in the minds of many. However, the scoreboard ultimately determines who had a good day and who didn't.

"You have to win it to deserve it the whole way," Riley said. "We certainly played a good football game, as did Oregon. They just made the right plays at the right time to win it. So, they deserved to win. We certainly had an opportunity to have that same feeling.

"It was a good football game. Both teams fought hard. I don't think we need to make up a bunch of stuff besides that. They just had one more point than we did."

NOTES:

-- Most of the Oregon State coaches hit the recruiting trail on Sunday since NCAA rules allow in-home visits with prospects beginning December 1.

-- Riley said the OSU medical staff was "pretty sure" tight end Connor Hamlett suffered a meniscus injury. His status for any bowl game is questionable.

-- Caleb Smith, Kellen Clute and Tyler Perry combined for 141 receiving yards on the day, most by Oregon State's tight ends this season. "We have good players there, although we have to get better in some areas," Riley said. "They blocked well and they made some plays in the passing game. That's what we need at that position."

-- Riley on freshman Victor Bolden, whose 25-yard touchdown run on a fly sweep gave Oregon State a short-lived 35-30 lead late in the game: "I'm really proud of Victor. He's been an amazing freshman. He is a very mature young man. He never blinked all year. He had some good returns. He's fearless for a little guy."

-- Brandon Cook caught 10 passes for 110 yards and finished the regular season with a Pac-12 record 120 receptions. Cooks now has 1,670 receiving yards on the season, moving him to within 51 yards of Marquise Lee's single-season Pac-12 mark.

-- Quarterback Sean Mannion completed 29-of-47 passes for 314 yards and two touchdowns, pushing past the 10,000-yard plateau in career passing yardage. Mannion has 10,177 yards in his career, cruising past Arizona's Nick Foles to move into 11th place on the Pac-12's all-time list.

-- Mannion also moved into second place on the Pac-12 single-season passing yards list with 4,403, again surpassing Foles. The all-time leader is former Washington quarterback Cody Pickett, who has 4,458 passing yards in 2002. So, Mannion should break the record if the Beavers play in a bowl game.


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