- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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Oregon State head coach Mike Riley has a lot on his mind these days. He has a new recruiting class with one of the top offensive linemen in the country -- which is good for him, since a large part of his O-line is still rehabbing from last season. There's talk of his seat being toasty next season, and what's the next step for his young quarterback and standout defensive linemen?
Here's part one of a Q&A with the OSU head coach.
Passing yards you were top 20 nationally, rushing yards almost last. Is making those numbers a little more balanced a priority next year?
Mike Riley: Oh man, it was so unlike who we've been. We've always prided ourselves on the running game. We've had great runners with great production through the years -- we've been a good running team and it's been a key to the success that we've had. Last year, not running the ball was an indication of the lack of success we had. As I visited with our coaches coming off recruiting, I basically said, "work on the running game. Find our identity. Get our people positioned correctly on the line of scrimmage and let's have a great plan going into spring practice of who we're going to be and how we're going to do it." That's our No. 1 priority offensively. We can throw the ball. We have a good quarterback and receiving corps. We'll tweak what we do in the passing game as Sean [Mannion] gets older. But none of it is going to matter if we can't run the ball better than we did a year ago.
Depending on who you talk to, some are considering next year a "hot seat" year for you. Do you buy that? And do you care?
MR: You know what, I don't think about those things. I think coaches probably feel the hot seat every game. I think that's natural. The biggest pressure you have in the world is the pressure you put on yourself and the team to do well. I've coached 36 years and I know that kind of talk is natural. It doesn't affect my day-to-day life or my day-to-day thoughts. I know what has to be done. We're the least satisfied of everyone who pays attention. The people right here in the coaches' offices are the ones who were most displeased by what went on. We want to win. The biggest pressure is the pressure we put on ourselves.
What's your impression of the four new coaches in the conference?
MR: I think they were exciting hires. As long as I've been in the league, you end up being pretty good friends with the guys you get to coach against. I was disappointed for the guys who were let go and I have a lot of respect for them and thought they were doing a good job. But life goes on. There have been some very exciting hires and I know they have given a boost of enthusiasm in those programs. It will be, for us, with new staffs, new preparation. It's not going to be building on a plan for how Arizona State has been with Dennis [Erickson]. We're going to have to look at a new team and a new scheme and study as it grows and not have much history. It makes it interesting. I think we play every team that has a new coach next year. That will be four new kinds of preps for us and the gathering of new knowledge.
What's the next step for Sean Mannion?
MR: I think continued efficiency. He's got great poise and great knowledge and a great desire to succeed. He's a tremendously hard worker. He's a really neat guy. Relatively quiet, but really well-respected by the team for the work he puts in and he handles tough situations like we were in last year very well for a young guy. It's just a matter of more knowledge, more growth, more repetitions. I think his efficiency can jump up. He threw for a pretty good percentage but he can be a higher percentage. We want to be able to throw the ball down the field and he has the accuracy and the arm to do that. We want to help him make better decisions about taking that shot down the field or dumping the ball tot the tailback. When we're going good, our tailbacks or fullbacks or tight ends should be catching a lot of balls. [Rodgers] caught 78 balls one year and Sean Canfield was at his peak of making decisions, throwing the ball down the field or dumping it to [Jacquizz Rodgers]. When we're doing that, we're at our best. That's where Sean needs to continue to grow. When to get that ball down and when to take that shot. We want to have a high yards per completion and we want to have a high percentage so we'll continue to grow him in those areas.
MR: I really am excited about that. Those are two pretty special guys to start as freshmen for us. I think they have talent and they also have a lot of tenacity. They play hard. Joe Seumalo does a good job coaching them. They are pups, but they have a lot of experience behind them. And they are two of our hardest working guys. I think they're going to do nothing but grow. What's going to help them is they have a base talent level, but they are hard workers and now they have played a little bit so I think that combination of being talented and having experience should push them into spring practice and fall camp being ahead of where they were.
You need good cornerback play if you're going to survive in this conference. Jordan Poyer comes back as one of the best in the country. Talk about his growth this year and what you expect from him next season?
MR: I just love that guy. He's an ultimate gym rat. He played football, basketball and baseball. Matter of fact, he could have signed a baseball contract out of high school. Pat Casey our baseball coach thought he was a great prospect. We were going to allow him to play both sports, but he opted just for football after playing as a true freshman here. He brings a special savvy for sports. You can put him in a ping pong match and he'd be good. He just competes and he stays on top of everything. You might beat him once, but probably not twice because he's so smart and so aware. He's got that big-play potential. He'll step in front of a ball and take it all the way. He has that knack to him. He's not overly fast, but he is a very good athlete with very good ball skills and a very good sense of what he's doing.