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October 28, 2012

Abandoning the Run Hurts Beavs



By the time Mike Riley determined running the ball was the best strategy against Washington, it was too late to prevent Oregon State's first loss of the season.

Riley's play-calling throughout Saturday night's 20-17 loss to Washington at CenturyLink Field leaned heavily in favor of the pass over the run even though the Huskies brought the Pac-12's worst rushing defense (196.0 yards per game) into the contest.

When the final gun sounded, the Beavers had thrown the ball 45 times compared to keeping it on the ground 23 times. Essentially, OSU threw the ball two out of every three plays.

Sure, Storm Woods had 15 carries for 90 yards (6.0 yards per attempt), but the second most active rusher had just four carries - Brandin Cooks. He gained 22 yards, averaging 5.5 yards per rush.

Oregon State finished with 109 yards rushing, a tick above their season per game average of 108.4 yards.

Excessive reliance on the pass and the lack of a consistent rushing attack haunted the Beavers on the long bus ride back to Corvallis as starting quarterback Sean Mannion, returning from a two-game absence due to a torn meniscus, tossed four interceptions, including a pair on Oregon State's first two possessions of the fourth quarter when the score was tied, 10-10.

"We had over 100 yards rushing but it was an average night that way," Riley said Sunday night during his weekly teleconference with reporters. "We're running the ball better than a year ago, but we're not great. I probably have to call it more and stay after it a little bit more. We just have to get more consistent with it."

Mannion's propensity for throwing the ball to Washington defenders was the difference in a contest Oregon State dominated statistically - the Beavers outgained the Huskies by 134 yards (427-293), had four more first downs (19-15) and averaged 1.6 yards more per play (6.3-4.7).

However, finishing minus-three in turnover margin (4-1) was too much to overcome. Oregon State threw four interceptions in the first six games, but matched that number on a single night in Seattle.

"Summarizing that game, it was about the turnovers," Riley said. "We either gave them good field position or gave up points ourselves. What had been a strength turned into a weakness."

The setback dropped Oregon State to No. 11 in the latest BCS standings, the second highest ranked Pac-12 team ahead of Stanford (No. 14), Southern Cal (17) and Arizona (22). Unbeaten Oregon stayed at No. 4.

Washington turned Mannion's second interception of the fourth quarter into seven points when they drove 30 yards for the go-ahead score on a short touchdown run by Bishop Sankey with 8:19 left in the contest.

Riley replaced the struggling Mannion (18-of-34 for 221 yards and one touchdown) with backup Cody Vaz on Oregon State's ensuing possession after the Huskies had converted Mannion's fourth interception into seven points.

Vaz was 5-for-5 for 71 yards on a seven-play, 76-yard touchdown drive that briefly evened the score at 17-17 with 4:58 remaining. Vaz then led the Beavers into Huskies territory on a final drive but two completions and a sack produced a fourth-and-14 from the UW 42.

After a delay-of-game penalty Riley blamed on a "mixup in mechanics," the final pass by Vaz was incomplete.

Even though Vaz was fairly effective (7-of-11 for 97 yards) in his brief outing, Riley maintained the quarterback spot was "status quo" on Sunday night. Any changes will be announced on Monday, he said.

"(Mannion) made a lot of good plays and then he made some bad ones," Riley said. "I thought there were some uncharacteristic plays, for sure. It's hard for me to judge if he was pressing. (His absence) wasn't that long. It was two games. But in that's stretch of time, he practiced. You take it for what it was."

Following the first three Mannion interceptions, the Oregon State defense managed to keep the Washington offense off the scoreboard with a trio of three-and-outs.

However, the fourth pick proved to be too much for the Beavers defense. The Huskies started at the OSU 30 and needed just two plays before Sankey barreled from a yard out into the end zone.

Oregon State's opening possession of the third quarter embodied the curious play-calling.

Starting from the OSU 30, the Beavers managed to move the ball by keeping it on the ground four of the first five plays, gaining 31 yards and putting Oregon State within earshot of the red zone.

But from that point the Beavers threw three straight times, with just one pass finding the arms of a Oregon State receiver and a once-promising drive fizzled out when a fourth down pass from the UW 28 fell incomplete.

While Mannion's shaky performance could be blamed on rust, the failure to establish some semblance of a running game was out of character for the Beavers. Entering Oregon State's fourth road game of the season, the run-to-pass ratio in the first six games has been 48.1 percent-to-51.9 percent with 210 rushes and 227 passes.

However, on a chilly night in Seattle, Riley stubbornly decided throwing the ball about 66 percent of the time was the best course to beat Washington. But it wasn't.

"We should have run more and stayed with it a little bit more," Riley lamented.

Now the Beavers prepare for an Arizona State team that ranks 81st nationally and 10th in the Pac-12 in rushing defense by allowing 173.63 yards on the ground per game. Yet, they are third nationally and first in the Pac-12 in pass defense and second in sacks with an average of 4.13 per game.

"This is a fast team, both offensively and defensively," Riley said. "They have good speed. Offensively, they have some weapons and a good young quarterback that's executing for them. They have a good pass rush and they pressure a lot. They'll bring the linebackers, sometimes the safeties, sometimes the corners."

Will Riley's remorse about the way the Washington game unfolded cause him to remain more patient with the run against the Sun Devils, who are coming off consecutive home losses to Oregon (43-21) and UCLA (45-43)?

"We are capable and we have some good runs," Riley said.


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