Notes from a Sunday night interview with Oregon State coach Mike Riley
Saturday's 49-46 loss to FCS power Eastern Washington wasn't the OSU defense's finest hour. In fact, it may have been the low point in the 13-year Riley era.
Don't think for a second, though, that the OSU coach has lost confidence in defensive coordinator Mark Banker or his staff on that side of the ball -- Joe Seumalo (line), Trent Bray (linebackers) and Rod Perry (secondary).
Banker has been with Riley through his entire time at Oregon State -- the last 11 years as D-coordinator. Banker has experienced highs and lows during that time. He has developed dozens of players who have gone on to the NFL. There have been seasons where the Beavers have been one of the best defenses in the conference. On Saturday, Banker and Co. probably hit its nadir.
On Sunday, Riley said, Banker was down but resolved and resilient.
"Those guys are good," Riley said of the defensive coaches. "They see it all. They've made some assessments already on what they can go and what has to happen."
The Oregon State defense not only gave up staggering numbers -- 31 first downs, 448 yards passing, 625 yards total offense -- but also an almost unprecedented number of big plays. The Eagles had 31 plays that went for eight yards or more. Eighteen of them came in the first half.
"Two main things," Riley said. "We weren't in great position in our alignments to cover guys. Too many times, we weren't close enough or in good enough position to make a play. The other thing that killed us, when we had decent coverage, the quarterback (Vernon Adams) escaped, ran with the ball or bought time to get a receiver open. We mixed in a lot of different stuff trying to find an answer."
Riley gives Banker almost complete autonomy with the defense, though the other defensive assistants are largely in charge of substitutions at their positions. And Banker did try "a lot of different stuff." Against Eastern Washington's spread attack, the Beavers employed the nickel and dime packages more often than not to get speed to the outside. They mixed in blitzes with linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks. Most of the times the Beavers got into the Eagle backfield with pressure, the fleet Adams eluded pursuit and made something happen.
Was the OSU defense not ready for Adams?
"I don't think we were unprepared," Riley said. "We didn't execute. Pass rush lanes were big issues. Adams is a terrific athlete and played a great game, and we didn't contain him.
"We have to solidify some stuff is when we go nickel and dime. We have some inexperienced players in there who have to learn more and get better, guys like Zack Robinson, Cyril Noland-Lewis, Micah Audiss and Steven Christian. We have to get more solid with that group."
Oregon State's defense has struggled to defend spread teams with mobile quarterbacks in recent years. Why?
"There have been times when we've had trouble (against the spread), but everybody runs a little different version," Riley said. "We did a nice job covering against Washington State last year. We were pretty sound against Arizona and UCLA. Mobile quarterbacks have hurt us in the past, but they've hurt other (teams), too."
The offense did its part despite missing starters Isaac Seumalo and Gavin Andrews on the line. The Beavers amassed 30 first downs, 422 yards passing and 527 yards total offense. Normally, those numbers result in a comfortable victory.
Junior quarterback Sean Mannion completed 37 of 43 passes for 422 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.
"Sean made terrific decisions most of the way," Riley said. "He saw the coverage, made good choices on where to go with the ball, made some tough throws. It was a really good example of what we need to get from him."
Brandin Cooks had career highs in receptions (13, one short of Mike Hass' school single-game record) and 196 yards for two touchdowns and ran two times for 14 yards.
"Brandin did an outstanding job," Riley said. "We have to do whatever we can to get the ball in his hands."
Connor Hamlett hauled in eight passes for 85 yards and a TD and the other tight end, Caleb Smith, made two superb catches for 39 yards.
"Caleb is coming on," Riley said. "It's good to see. I expect he'll be a bigger part of our offense as we move forward."
Richard Mullaney (four receptions, 48 yards) and Storm Woods (68 yards and two TDs rushing, eight catches for 44 yards) were also effective. And center Josh Mitchell and guard Roman Sapolu made good in their first career starts.
"I was proud of Josh and Roman," Riley said. "They battled. Roman lost one guy in protection, but for the most part, they were on the right guy and did a nice job throughout the game."
Riley is nothing but optimistic as the Beavers look to their next game Saturday at home against Hawaii.
"I'm very disappointed with the loss," he said. "Now it's our job to help these kids play better. We have to have a great week of practice. We'll be very detailed with what we give to them. They'll be eager for more. It's a good group of kids. They're the same kids we had last Friday and we appreciate everything they'd done.
"We have good coaches and good players. I know we'll take a lot from this game and learn from it and make improvements. I'm energized by our chance to get things going in the right direction on Saturday."
NOTES: X-rays on Cooks' sore lower back were negative. Riley will hold him out of practice on Monday but expects him to be ready for Hawaii by Sunday night, Riley had watched only defensive cut-ups of video of the Warriors' opening 30-13 loss to Southern Cal. "They did a nice job on the Trojans," he said. "SC was 3 for 14 on third down. (The Warriors) were very disruptive." After watching OSU-Eastern Washington game video, Riley singled out tackle Mana Rosa and Jabral Johnson as the Beavers' most effective defensive players. The Beavers need much more production from All-Pac-12 D-end Scott Crichton, who made only two tackles, both unassisted. JC transfer tackles Edwin Delva and Siale Hautau each played only about 10 plays. "Inexperience, mostly, and Mana had a good game," Riley said. "We'll be working (Delva and Hautau) in more next week." Eastern Washington won the special-teams battle, especially in covering kickoff returns. "We were average there," Riley said. "I was hoping we'd be better than that. We missed some blocks and didn't let (returner Victor Bolden) go anywhere." Riley expects Isaac Seumalo and punter Keith Kostol to return for the Hawaii game. Linebacker D.J. Alexander (knee) will miss at least one more game. Andrew (mononucleosis) will be tested on Sept. 10 to see how he is progressing but will not play against the Warriors.