Oregon State back to its upset-pulling ways
By TIM BOOTH
CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) It has become a staple of Mike Riley's time at Oregon State. When the Beavers pull at least one upset of a Top 25 team, their regular season usually turns out to be pretty good.
The rarity is getting that in game No. 1.
The Beavers did just that on Saturday using a suffocating defense to stymie then-No. 13 Wisconsin 10-7. It marked the 10th time in the last eight seasons that a Riley coached team had pulled an upset of a ranked squad during the regular season. Last season, when the Beavers finished 3-9, was the only time since 2005 they failed to beat a ranked opponent.
And the way Oregon State did it, relying mostly on a smothering defense that didn't let Wisconsin star running back Montee Ball get started, was also a stark change from last season.
"We certainly haven't had an opener like this," Riley said. "We've started pretty slowly through the years, so this was a good opener for the Beavers."
The upset of the Badgers knocked Wisconsin out of the AP Top 25 and put the Beavers on the cusp of cracking it. Oregon State has not been ranked since the middle of the 2010 season.
There might be no better sign that Riley and his club have put the disappointment of last season in the past than what the Beavers were able to do in stopping Wisconsin's vaunted ground game. A year ago, the Beavers gave up 196.8 yards per game on the ground to opponents, including 300 to Stanford, 296 to California and a season-worst 365 to rival Oregon in the Civil War.
Wisconsin was a stern test to see if the Beavers had improved and corrected those problems. The results could not have been more pleasing for Riley and his coaches.
Oregon State allowed 35 total net yards rushing. Ball finished with 61 yards on 15 carries, the fewest yards of his career since he became the Badgers full-time workhorse late in the 2010 season and had his string of 21 straight games with a touchdown snapped. The 35 yards were the fewest allowed by Oregon State since allowing just 39 yards to California in the 2009 season - also an upset of a ranked opponent.
Riley was quick to praise defensive coordinator Mark Banker, who took some heat a year ago for the Beavers struggles.
Banker was aggressive with his schemes, taking advantage of having an extra week to prepare thanks to the Beavers opener against FCS squad Nicholls State being postponed due to Hurricane Irene. He called blitzes off the edge and stunts on the inside, trying to confuse the Badgers offensive linemen and keep Ball from being able to bounce runs to the perimeter.
The strategy worked.
"From the (defensive) line to the linebacker to the secondary everybody was making plays," cornerback Jordan Poyer said. "That's the type of defense that we want to be this season."
If there is a criticism of Riley's squads in the past is that they usually stumble in the month of September and get better as the season goes along. The last time Oregon State got through September without a loss was 2000 when the Beavers started 4-0 before losing at Washington.
They'll have that chance now, but it comes in a month that's already turned odd with the schedule and gives the Beavers two weeks to savor the upset of Wisconsin.
The Beavers were already scheduled to have their bye in Week 3 before opening Pac-12 play on Sept. 22 at No. 22 UCLA. But because Oregon State's opener was postponed, the Beavers will play just once in the first three weeks of the season. After playing at UCLA, the Beavers go to No. 24 Arizona before returning home again on Oct. 6 against Washington State.
Riley said after Saturday's win the school looked briefly into trying to fill Week 3 with an opponent but found it too difficult.
"Confidence is such a huge thing," Riley said. "... I just think that this is a good game for us because we played well and hopefully built confidence going forward."
Updated September 9, 2012