Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Beavers try to regain mojo vs. Wisconsin
By Ted Miller
Oregon State coach Mike Riley isn't the sort of guy to toss over a table and spill 100 cups of Gatorade on his players to make sure they know how unhappy he is, but he's also not going to pat the Beavers on the back and wipe away their tears after an embarrassing loss to Sacramento State.
He's going to look for answers -- tough answers if need be. The one he immediately came up with Monday is announcing the quarterback job will be split between Ryan Katz, the 2010 starter, and redshirt freshman Sean Mannion.
Mannion played well in the loss to the Hornets; Katz did not. Ergo, the potential shakeup, though it's unclear how things will be rotated when the Beavers visit No. 8 Wisconsin on Saturday.
Yeah, Wisconsin. Not good. The Badgers are a big, physical team with a new, impressive dual-threat QB in Russell Wilson, a transfer from NC State. The Beavers lost at home to an FCS team. Now they are going on the road to play a national title contender.
The first issue: What went wrong for the Beavers against the Hornets in a 29-28 overtime defeat?
Riley isn't certain. And he admitted he didn't see such a flat performance coming.
"We trusted this team's work ethic," he said. "They were really good in fall camp. Everything up to that was positive. Why all of a sudden would you doubt what they are all about as far as getting ready to play?"
What's most worrisome: Riley thought the Beavers seemed tight, though they were playing at home against a supposedly overmatched foe. Sure, eight true freshmen and eight redshirt freshmen saw their first career action, in large part due to epidemic injuries, but that still doesn't fully explain a listless performance.
What does Riley expect -- hope? -- to see in front of 80,000 fans in Camp Randall Stadium?
"Poise is No. 1," he said. "We had some stage fright in our opener. It looked like we played with not much emotion but I sensed it was a fear."
Unfortunately, the injury luck still hasn't turned positive, even with the return of DT Kevin Frahm (knee) and potential return of DT Dominic Glover (academics). The lone bright spot from the Sacramento State game was true freshman running back Malcolm Agnew, who rushed for a nation-leading 223 yards. He's now doubtful for the visit to Wisconsin because of a hamstring injury suffered Tuesday.
The hits keep coming. The injury situation has been so bad that Riley made a decision he knew would inspire criticism: He opted to selectively enforce preseason player suspensions because of the thinness of the depth chart.
Fact is, it could get ugly at Wisconsin. It would be a tough matchup for the Beavers even at 100 percent. But with several key starters out -- most notably WR James Rodgers, TE Joe Halahuni and CB Brandon Hardin -- it's probably going to be a challenge for Riley to just restore his team's confidence.
There is a silver lining, though. The Beavers have a bye next week. Halahuni is likely back for UCLA's visit on Sept. 24. And Rodgers could be back, too. That will be a big boost in terms of skill and leadership, particularly in the passing game.
The hope is things will sort themselves out at QB this weekend -- and here's a guess Riley would prefer for Katz to reassert himself -- and the momentum will take a positive swing as Pac-12 play opens.
Otherwise, the Beavers could be looking at consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1997-98.