In 2008, Oregon State head coach Mike Riley assigned the play-calling responsibilities to current offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf. That first year with Langsdorf calling the shots, the Beavers enjoyed a 9-4 season, including an upset of #1 ranked USC and a victory in the Sun Bowl over Pittsburgh. In the final AP Poll, the Beavers were ranked #18 in the country.
The following year, 2009, Oregon State again enjoyed moderate success with Langsdorf as the play-caller. Going into the Civil War, the Beavers were 8-3 and ranked #13 in the nation. A Rose Bowl berth was on the line as Oregon State went into Autzen Stadium to play an Oregon team ranked #7 in the country. The Ducks would win that game, but the contest was decided by only four points – a moral victory if there ever was such a thing. Despite a disappointing loss in the Las Vegas Bowl (to a BYU team that ended the season ranked #12), Oregon State fans had little room to complain after nine bowl games in eleven years, a run that saw the team go 6-3 in those games.
Though, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. 2010 would see the Beavers finish the season on a 2-5 skid. Their 5-7 overall record would not be good enough to earn another bowl trip. As if the Beavers fans were not disappointed enough, star running back (and fan favorite) Jacquizz Rodgers would declare for the NFL Draft with a year of eligibility left. 2011 picked up right where the previous season left off, as Sacramento State (an FCS team) would come into Reser Stadium and beat the Beavers. As redshirt freshman Sean Mannion struggled through the year, and Oregon State stumbled to a 3-9 finish, the calls for Mike Riley to be fired were loud and clear.
Not two full years later, Mike Riley seemingly has the Beavers back on track to make some noise nationally. Prior to the 2012 season, he did what many head coaches would never dream of doing – he retained Langsdorf as offensive coordinator, but took responsibility of the play-calling, sending the message that if he was going to go down in flames he would do it on his own terms. For better or worse, Riley wanted to be the one calling the shots. He orchestrated the largest turnaround in the country as the Beavers improved on the previous year’s record by six games, going 9-3 in the regular season and earning an Alamo Bowl berth. While Oregon State lost in the Alamo Bowl to a Texas team that finished the year ranked #19, there was once again excitement coursing through Beaver Nation.
This year, Riley is once again calling the offensive plays. When Eastern Washington (another FCS team) opened the season with a victory over the new-look Beavers, many fans prepared themselves for another season like 2011. Fortunately for Oregon State, the fans don’t play the games. Coach Riley didn’t flinch, calmly guiding the team through the next few games and the Beavers began to find their footing. There were no knee-jerk reactions to the early loss. Coach Riley simply shouldered the responsibility and pressed on. In a twist of fate, the Texas team that beat Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl only nine months prior felt compelled to fire their defensive coordinator only two games into the season, after BYU handed them one of their worst losses in program history. Maybe Mack Brown, who has made a yearly tradition of residing on the coaching “hot seat”, could take a cue from Riley and point the blame at himself rather than making a scapegoat of his defensive coordinator.
Oregon State is currently halfway through the season, and tied for the lead in the PAC-12 North. While it is fair to say that the trio of Oregon, Stanford, and Washington are still nationally perceived as better teams than Oregon State in the division, there is hope within the Beaver Faithful that the contests against Stanford and Washington could be won and perhaps the Civil War could be, at the very least, interesting. With a five game winning streak, and quarterback Sean Mannion making a legitimate case for Heisman consideration, it feels like that 3-9 season of 2011 was ages ago. Since Coach Riley took on the play-calling responsibilities, the Beavers have gone a combined 14-5 dating back to the beginning of the 2012 season. It is entirely reasonable to think that the Beavers could finish the regular season with nine wins this year, finding their way back to a decent bowl game.
Oregon State’s most recent game, a 52-24 victory over Washington State, was an excellent example of Mike Riley’s savvy as a play-caller. With no run game to speak of, Washington State knew that Sean Mannion would lean heavily on receiver Brandin Cooks. Despite the added attention, Riley found ways to get the ball in Cooks’ hands. Mannion finished with 493 passing yards, a school record, and Cooks accounted for 171 yards and three touchdowns despite being heavily shadowed for the duration of the game.
Mike Riley has kept Oregon State on the map for years now, despite Corvallis being a tough sell for recruits. He is regarded as one of the best teachers in the game, as he regularly takes three star recruits and coaches them up to the fullest of their potential. Looking forward, the second half of the schedule gets rough. After next week’s game against California, which should be a comfortable Beaver win, Oregon State’s final five opponents have a combined record of 23-7. Undoubtedly, each of those opponents will seek to stop the aerial attack that has Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks rewriting the Oregon State record books on a weekly basis.
Perhaps figuring out a way to keep this Beavers team rolling as they enter the thickest stretch of their schedule will be Mike Riley’s toughest challenge yet.