Oregon State hopes to avoid early-season road woes

September, 10, 2009
9/10/09
6:44
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


If Oregon State's season had only started the second week of October the previous three years, who knows what might have happened?

The Beavers are 22-3 after Oct. 8 the past three seasons. And are 6-9 before.

After Oct. 8, they have three bowl wins. Before, they have nonconference road losses by 28, 31 and 31 points.

The Beavers probably feel ahead of the game starting 1-0, but they also did that in 2006 and 2007.
 
 Gene Lower/Getty Images
 The UNLV offense, led by Omar Clayton, was tied for first last season in red zone efficency.

Up next is a visit to UNLV on Saturday.

While many Oregon State fans are probably thinking, "Whew! That's not Penn State or even Boise State," the Rebels are not a gimme. They have 15 starters back -- seven on both sides of the ball plus their kicker -- and lots of other returners who saw action during a 5-7 season in 2008, which included a win at Arizona State. And recall that the Mountain West Conference wasn't too shabby last year, either.

Of most particular concern: The Rebels have an experienced quarterback in junior Omar Clayton -- who threw 18 touchdown passes a year ago with just four interceptions -- and a pair of receivers who are Pac-10 quality in Ryan Wolfe and Phillip Payne.

Clayton & Co. were particularly potent in the red zone. Get this: The Rebels tied Ohio State for No. 1 in red zone offense. Twenty-nine of 37 red zone opportunities ended in touchdowns, so we're not just talking about a bunch of field goals, either.

And, as mentioned a few times, the Beavers have four new starters in their secondary and just three starters back on defense.

"They are productive receivers and there's some experience there and in the spread offense," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "It's a lot of one-on-one coverage as you get going. They either run the ball or run the option or fake all that stuff and get you into one-on-one pass coverage. It's going to be a big challenge that way."

So this is a test of your Beavers Don't Start Slowly Again Network.

There's a second level of intrigue. Riley and UNLV coach Mike Sanford are tight. As in darn near best friends tight.

"I think he's the greatest guy in the world," Riley said.

(Riley was exaggerating. Everyone knows you are the greatest guy in the world. Or woman).

They have a long history working together, too. Sanford, a former USC quarterback, coached under Riley at USC and with the San Diego Chargers.

Sanford got his opportunity at UNLV in 2005 after a highly successful run as Urban Meyer's offensive coordinator at Utah. After a slow start, things seem to be trending up in Las Vegas.

"I see that improvement -- I know personally how hard it is to make those jumps," Riley said.

Friendship notwithstanding, the Beavers would like to make a jump to a 2-0 start for the first time since 2005 and see how that might affect the rest of the season.

Of course, that 2-0 start in 2005 was a prelude to a 5-6 finish, one of only two losing seasons that program has posted since 1999.

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