It’s been brought to my attention that I’m too tough on the Beavers. Too negative, too condescending, and far too “real” in the midst of a feel good moment. So in an attempt to square things with Benny, Bernice and any other predominant front-toothed rodent, I’ve decided to temporarily discard my alleged dark cloud of negativity and drink from a cup half-full in this time of black and orange bliss … kind of.
That’s right, Pleasantville has had nothing on Corvallis since their opening season win versus then #13 ranked Wisconsin, and not since the Rodgers brothers left town has the Oregon State campus seemed so much like Munchkinland. Students are geeked, alumni are excited, and there’s been talk of a Lollipop Guild reunion, likely preceded by a Lullaby League opening act. Maybe not, but following last Saturday’s upset at UCLA, the Beavers find themselves 2-0, ranked in the top-25, and raising eyebrows throughout the Pac-12 Conference.
And I think it can continue.
Oregon State is never going to wow you with athleticism or dominate you via an abundance of talent, but what they habitually do in times of success is get the most from “their guys,” accentuate the talent they do have, and coach the hell out of the defense. In years past, such deeds would’ve included implementing the fly-sweep to increase James Rodgers’ touches, using swing passes and screens to get the ball in Jacquizz Rodgers’ hands, and taking advantage of a group of upperclassmen to create a cohesive and aggressive defensive unit. Contrary to popular opinion to begin the year, Mike Riley and defensive coordinator Mark Banker can coach, and they’re using their aptitude in said field to build a winner around Sean Mannion, Marcus Wheaton, and an aggressive defense playing with something to prove.
Was Wisconsin overrated? It seems that may have been the case, but it was still a good win. Is UCLA a great team? No, but I don’t think anyone thought they were to begin with. But they were a team much improved, had a quality win over an above-average Nebraska team, and had the benefit of the home field. That makes it a good win, and considering where the Beavers have been for the better part of 2 years, it makes it a great win for them and theirs.
Beaver Nation is fired-up and I grant them permission to be just that. One good win is a date, a second is a relationship, and a couple more wins like the first two could quickly lead to a potential marriage between a team, its fan base and one of those magical years every decade or so tends to spit out. Sean Mannion is settling in at the quarterback position, Cooks and Wheaton have showed glimpses of electricity, and the once highly questionable offensive line has been acceptable, allowing just 5 sacks in 2 games; a stat considered more impressive due to Mannion’s two game total of 82 pass attempts. Defensively, the Beavers have held their opponents to 107 yards rushing, while averaging a mere 2.1 yards per attempt, and Wisconsin and UCLA completed just 58% of their passes en route to 544 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. Dominant? No, but definitely on the right side of a winning equation.
Then there’s Riley. Few coaches have been less appreciated and fewer yet are better suited for their situations than “hip-hip-hooray” himself … and this is where the “kind of” in my opening paragraph comes into play. Mike Riley is and always has been a very good football coach. He built the foundation for Dennis Erickson prior to his stint in the NFL, took the Beavers to the brink of two Rose Bowls at the tail end of the last decade, and has always remained steadfast in his commitment to the program he rebuilt, the school he grew up rooting for, and the town in which he starred as a quarterback at Corvallis High. In spite of his success, his recent failures have had many suggesting he move on. He was considered by many to be on the “hot seat” to begin the season, and a startling number of fans and alums hinted that another losing year could mean the end for Riley and his staff. This couldn’t be more preposterous and the Beavers first two games are evidence why.
If Beavers fans want respect, then I suggest they start giving it to the man responsible for earning it in the first place. Prior to Riley’s arrival, abysmal would’ve been the best way to describe the Oregon State football program. Jerry Pettibone had just finished a 6-year stint in which he amassed a 13-52-1 overall record, and 6-41-1 record in the then Pac-10 Conference. They’d only finished better than 8th in the conference once in 20 years, hadn’t had a winning season in nearly 30, and hadn’t been to a bowl game since 1964. Riley won 3 games his initial year in Corvallis, 5 his second, and following a short stint in the NFL, returned to Oregon State where he’s been nothing but solid since. Sure, he’s had a couple subpar seasons, but it’s unrealistic to expect a coach to be elite at a school like OSU and equally unrealistic to think you’re going to be able to keep a young up-and-comer following a year or two of success. Riley is good, wants to be there, and is a proven commodity. What’s the problem?
The Oregon State Beavers couldn’t have scripted a better start to the 2012 season. Seriously, expectations couldn’t have been lower entering the year and even the deepest Beaver Believers were bracing themselves for another meaningless campaign. But here we are, two games in, two upsets later, and two steps towards a season worthy of respect. So I’m giving it to them. I appreciate what they’ve done and am cognizant of what they might be building towards at the very early stages of a season of – dare I say – destiny. Ridiculous? Maybe on paper, but I’ve seen this act before and in spite of a lackluster roster, typically low expectations, and a much underappreciated coach, this team can win. And they’ll continue to try and do just that.
There’s some respect, but you’ll have to earn the rest … no “kind of” about it.