The Coach Mike Riley era of Oregon State football has been both exciting and maddeningly frustrating. Year after year, promising seasons are disrupted by slow starts. It was going on during his first stint prior to leaving for the San Diego Chargers and it has continued after his return.
Still, hopes for the 2008-09 edition of the Beavers are high. 2006 2nd Team All-American wide-out Sammie Stroughter is back after a tough year to lead a talented receiving core where help should come from Shane Morales and James Rodgers.The running game looks like the loss of Yvenson Bernard will not be a huge drop-off thanks to Jaquizz "Quiz" Rodgers and Ryan McCants. So offensively they should be good.
Defensively it is more of a question mark. The entire starting front seven from last year graduated and while the Beavers did a lot of rotating last year, there is still a reason the guys left were not the starters. They show promise but will need some time to come together.
Fortunately, the first game was against perennial doormat Stanford. Just 2 years ago the Cardinals won all of one game. Last season they improved to four wins including an improbable upset over USC that ranks as the largest upset in terms of point spread ever, but they still look to finish at the bottom of the PAC-10 along with Washington and Washington State.
At least, that was the conventional wisdom prior to the Thursday nights' game.
The fears that inexperience would lead to the front 7 needing time to gel were realized. All night long Stanford ran wild. Gelbart averaged nearly 8 yards a carry. It was tough for Beaver fans to watch the 3rd-and-15 play where Stanford ran a Toby Gelbart draw play for 23 yards. It was tough watching Gelbart run straight into the arms of two OSU linemen who hugged him and pointed out that if he bounced around right end he could go a long way and shoved him that way so he could score a touchdown.
Why tackle him when you could watch a dominant running performance? So they just didn't bother. All night Gelbart torched them.
Watching the Beaver defense struggle with the running game would have been easier to handle if they at least covered it with some nice pressure on the quarterback. They didn't. All night, Stanford had plenty of time to look over the field. It is a credit to the talent of the Beavers' secondary they did not give up more yards than they did.
Obviously the defense struggled. That left it up to the Beaver offense to carry the game. That should not be a problem because the talent is there. Well, mostly there. It is entirely possible that by the end of his career Lyle Moevao will develop into an accurate passer. The key word there is develop.
All night he launched the ball in the vague direction of hashmarks, sidelines, referees, fans, coaches, individual blades of grass, and defenders. In fact, the only people safe from his throws were his receivers.
This might seem harsh in light of his 34 for 54 stat line with just 2 interceptions. The word "just" should be frightening to all OSU fans. He easily could have been picked off five or six times if he were a little more accurate with his passes.
He also would have had a couple more touchdowns. Early on Stroughter broke free, running 5 yards beyond the closest defenders. It was an easy touchdown but Moevao overthrew him badly. Sadly, that was actually a pretty good throw for him.
Time after time Beaver receivers would get open only to watch Moevao throws bury themselves point first in the turf five yards behind them. As impressive as his 404 yards were, they should have been much, much higher.
As an aside, this does not bode well for Stanford when they run into teams with more accurate quarterbacks.
To be fair, there were times when Moevao looked brilliant and he showed flashes of greatness. If he can slightly alter his mechanics he might become the deadly accurate passer that will turn the Beavers from a middle of the road or bottom feeder into a Bowl Game contender.
Overall, there are signs for hope. James Rodgers worked his way from tentative, stutter-stepping kick returner into a dynamic returner by the end of the game. Quiz had a couple of nice runs. Stroughter is a phenomenal blocker and is going to do great things catching the football this year. The defense will figure out how to slow the running game and cause fits for the opposition.
But for now...it is more of the same as the 0-1 Beavers head to Penn State next week. Look for them to be 0-2 heading into their curse week 3, a week where Riley still has an 0-fer.