Oregon State's dreams of playing in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1965 may have been severely damaged by Saturday's frustrating 27-23 loss at Stanford, but coach Mike Riley isn't one for sitting around and sulking about what-ifs.
Instead, he is focused squarely on getting the Beavers prepared for Saturday's important Pac-12 clash with struggling California (3-8 overall, 2-6 Pac-12), the first of three straight home games to conclude the 2012 regular season.
Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. PT at Reser Stadium with the game being televised by the Pac-12 network.
Following the four-point setback to the Cardinal, multiple Beaver players expressed openly about bitterly disappointed in seeing the team's Bose Bowl hopes take a significant hit.
Riley's unyielding message delivered Sunday was loud and clear - it's time to move on. With a 7-2 overall record, 5-2 in the Pac-12, Oregon State has plenty on the line over the final three games. Perhaps not the Rose Bowl or the Pac-12 North title, but surely the best bowl game possible.
"The players have got to get over it," Riley said Sunday evening during his weekly teleconference. "We have another game to play, That's just life. We lost the game. We never talk (about that). You never heard me talk about the Rose Bowl. We're just talking about the next ballgame. We have another big one coming up and that's all we have to worry about."
The biggest question facing the Beavers this week is who will quarterback the offense against the Golden Bears. Cody Vaz (23-of-38 for 226 yards and one TD) suffered an ankle injury late in the Stanford loss and was replaced by Sean Mannion for a fourth-and-16 play. It turned out to be OSU's final offensive snap of the game.
"Cody is sore and it's going to be day-to-day," Riley said. "I'm doubtful he'll do much tomorrow. We'll have to see how he gets through the week. We never try to force somebody to play. When a guy is hurt, we give them to the doctor and trainer and they tell us when he's ready.
"In the meantime, we get the next guy up ready to go. For sure, we'll see where he (Vaz) is tomorrow. Tomorrow will say a lot. If he can't practice at all for a couple of days, we'll make a decision. If Sean is the only one who can practice tomorrow, he'll take the turns (reps) and we'll see what the next day brings."
Mannion is completing 61.3 percent (125-of-204) of his passes in six games, more than four percentage points higher than Vaz (57.1 percent), but Mannion has seven more interceptions despite throwing just 44 more passes. Mannion, who last started against Washington on Oct. 27, is averaging 263.2 passing yards per game.
"We feel very confident in both guys," Riley said.
In addition, linebacker D.J. Alexander has sore ribs and offensive lineman Grant Enger is hampered by knee and ankle ailments.
"They're checking his ribs out. They're doing some more tests to see what's up with that," Riley said of Alexander. "He's out right now. We'll have to see how he progresses during the week. It appears all the tests are pretty good on Grant Enger. It's just a matter of how he gets better during the week. I don't think any of the injuries are long term, but I don't have much definition yet as to whether they'll be ready to play."
Doctors are checking out Alexander thoroughly to determine if he has broken ribs, Riley said.
Saturday's white knuckler was the fifth this season decided by seven points or less, and the fourth decided by four points or fewer. Oregon State is 2-2 in those games.
"All of our games have been winnable or losable in the fourth quarter," Riley said. "They have all gone almost to the wire. That's just been our life this year. I don't think I've ever experienced something quite like that. We have nine games under our belt and all of them have been decided in the last few minutes. It's been very, very competitive."
While Vaz's costly fumble at the OSU 27-yard line with 8:34 left that led directly to Stanford's game-winning touchdown will be remembered as arguably the biggest play of the game, Oregon State squandered numerous opportunities on both sides of the ball in the final quarter that could have fashioned a different outcome.
Oregon State forced four Stanford turnovers (two fumbles, two interceptions) and won the turnover battle by plus-three (4-1), but converted the Cardinal's miscues into just three points.
Two drives following turnovers started in Stanford territory.
"You'd like to be able to turn those into touchdowns, but we're in a tight game and we're playing one of the nation's leading defenses," Riley said. "Everything is going to be hard. They're highly ranked for a reason. It's not surprising they can make some stops. We can look back at our opportunities and wish we would have scored more. We have to try to fix that for the next game."
In addition, they couldn't get the Stanford offense off the field in the first quarter and fell behind, 14-0, until scoring 23 straight points. They looked to take a 23-14 lead into the fourth quarter until a 40-yard touchdown play in which Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan was hammered by Scott Crichton but managed to flip the ball to Stepfan Taylor, who raced into the end zone as the third quarter clock expired.
At the time, Oregon State still held a three-point lead, but Taylor's touchdown changed momentum in the Cardinal's favor and that's where it stayed throughout the final 15 minutes.
With the Beavers ahead, 23-20, they had first down at the Stanford 38 early in the fourth quarter looking to expand the lead. Instead, two incomplete passes and a one-yard sack forced a punt.
After Vaz coughed up the fumble, the Beavers defense tackled Stanford's J.R. Patterson for a seven-yard loss. But the Cardinal wiggled out of the second-and-17 jam with consecutive runs of 12 and six yards, enough for the first down at the OSU 18.
Because the ensuing kickoff sailed out of bounds, the Beavers got the ball at the 35-yard line. Then a Stanford offsides penalty gave OSU a makeable first-and-5 at the OSU 40, but they failed to generate a first down and punted.
Finally, consecutive completions of 21 and nine yards set up Oregon State nicely with a favorable second-and-1 situation late in the game. But offensive tackle Colin Kelly false started before a head-scratching sack in which Vaz was hurt produced a challenging fourth-and-16 from the OSU 31.
Mannion's pass fell incomplete with just under two minutes remaining and Stanford ran out the clock.
"The guys came up with a good plan. We ran the ball better against Stanford than just about anybody," Riley said. "We did some real good things. But we just didn't execute. I wish we would have run some plays better. We had some opportunities. Those little details that pop up are magnified in the losses."
Because the Golden Bears, coming off a 59-17 loss to Oregon, will fail to reach the six wins necessary for bowl eligibility, they will play their final game of the year on Saturday. And if you believe the speculation, it could turn out to be the finale of Jeff Tedford's 11-year tenure as head coach in Berkeley.
Cal, forced to play 12 straight weeks without a bye, carries a four-game losing streak into OSU's fifth home game of the season.
"They had an impressive win over UCLA (43-17). They're very capable," Riley said. "They ran the ball well in the Oregon game. They have a lot of good players. We're going to have to expect another tough game. We have to expect their best. I've seen them be pretty darned good."