Beavers bounce back despite adversity
Last season they were Team Turnaround. This season they’re the Bounce-back Beavers.
Oregon State was stunned in the season opener by lower-tier Eastern Washington but since then the team has won three straight. The latest two victories, against Utah and San Diego State, were late-game comebacks.
“I don’t know if I can take this anymore,” coach Mike Riley joked following Oregon State’s 34-20 victory over San Diego State on Saturday night. “But I know I can. It’s actually really fun. It’s fun to see those kids competing. And of course it’s fun because we win.”
The Beavers trailed the Aztecs 27-14 going into the fourth quarter, but they pulled to 30-28 with 2:40 to go on Sean Mannion’s 10-yard pass to Terron Ward. Oregon State won it with Steven Nelson’s 16-yard interception return on the next series.
The week before against Utah, the Beavers were up 27-10 in the third quarter, only to surrender the lead and then head to overtime. This time, Mannion found Brandin Cooks with a 6-yard pass to win it.
“I think there’s good and bad in getting an ugly win,” Mannion said. “Obviously, we’re happy to just win. That’s the objective, no matter what. It shows even when we leave some plays out there that we have enough guys on this team to come together and make a big play late. So while it might be ugly, it shows a lot about the way we stay persistent.”
Even the game against Eastern Washington was close, with Oregon State falling 49-46 after Vernon Adams’ 2-yard run with just 18 seconds to go.
“We’ve played three games that have gone tight down to the very end of the game. The Eastern Washington game, which we lost, the Utah game of course and this one,” Riley said. “Now if a team can learn to play in those games and make plays in the clutch, it’s really good for you. And if you can carry that forward, maybe it becomes part of your identity.”
The season-opening loss to the Eagles isn’t the only adversity the Beavers have faced, They’re also been beset by injuries.
Oregon State was without top running back Storm Woods against San Diego State because of a concussion he sustained against the Utes. Woods is the Beavers’ leading rusher with 152 yards and two touchdowns. He had 940 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns last season.
The Beavers lost three other starters during their second game, a victory over Hawaii. Starting right guard Roman Sapolu is likely gone for the season after suffering a foot injury. Starting right tackle Grant Enger suffered a sprained knee and will likely be out until the end of this month. Starting linebacker Michael Doctor is also out for an indefinite period after undergoing left foot surgery.
The loss of Woods against the Aztecs seriously hampered a running game that is averaging just 55 yards a game this season, 121st among FBS-level teams. The Beavers had just 10 yards rushing against San Diego State. Against the Utes, they had 48.
Oregon State probably won’t have Woods back this Saturday when they host Colorado. Riley said Tuesday it’s “doubtful” he’ll play Woods, even if he is medically cleared to go. Woods was not participating in full practice early this week.
The Buffaloes haven’t played since a 38-24 victory over Central Arkansas on Sept. 7. The team’s game against Fresno State on Sept. 14 was canceled because of flooding in Boulder. Then Colorado had a bye this past weekend.
Buffs coach Mike MacIntyre said the team has been scrimmaging often in practice “so we could keep the speed of the game going.”
Last season, Oregon State finished 9-4 — a six-game turnaround from the season before, when the Beavers went just 3-9. It was the biggest season-to-season improvement in team history.