CORVALLIS — Shortly after upsetting then-No.13 Wisconsin in Reser Stadium Saturday afternoon, Oregon State coach Mike Riley was asked what a victory like that could do for a team like this, a group of guys desperate to prove that 2011 was a fluke.
The question prompted Riley, now in his 12th year at Oregon State, to reflect on his early coaching days, when he was the defensive coordinator at Linfield College in McMinnville under now-retired coach Ad Rutschman.
"One game does not make a season, but it's just a great deal for this team for confidence reasons, on both sides of the ball," Riley said. "Confidence is such a huge thing. Coach Rutschman used to talk about what comes first, success or confidence; that's the chicken or the egg debate (in sports)."
Rutschman, the legendary small-college coach who led the Wildcats to three national championships in football and one in baseball, knows a thing or two about success and confidence.
"I think you have to have some degree of success to get confidence, and maybe that success comes just from good practice," Rutschman said Sunday. "There is something that built up to Oregon State's defense playing that way, and it's probably been in the way they've practiced. What happens when you have success, is that it anchors that confidence."
No matter which came first, the Beavers can say they have both right now — the question is, can OSU hang onto them?
Senior cornerback Jordan Poyer has been candid when discussing the Beavers' woes last season: There was a noticeable lack of swagger, he said, and without it, Oregon State stumbled through most of the fall.
Last week, as the Badgers came to town, many wondered if it would be more of the same problems. Though OSU had more time to prepare, let's be honest — the Beavers had some obstacles stacked against them.
With no Week 1 game to work out the kinks, what kind of mistakes would OSU make?
Coaches often worry about players finishing tackles in the first game, and Riley and his staff were no different as they readied to play Wisconsin.
And exactly how was Oregon State supposed to get its confidence fix if it wasn't first able to beat the snot out of Nicholls State?
Turns out, none of those issues were cause for concern. Instead of looking like 2011, it looked more like 2007, when defensive coordinator Mark Banker and his guys led the country in rush defense, allowing just 70.6 yards per game.
But where to go from here?
The Beavers have a bye this weekend, so through no fault of their own, the Wisconsin game has become strangely isolated on the 2012 schedule. While coaches and players would probably love to take this momentum into another game, they'll have to wait another week before seeing UCLA.
UCLA, under first-year coach Jim Mora, suddenly looks like a tough test after convincing wins over Rice and Nebraska.
"The thing about that type of game," said Rutschman of the victory over Wisconsin, "is that it's infectious. A win like that, it carries over to all parts of the team, to the fans, to the community. If they can put together another solid performance. ..." Rutschman trailed off, but his point was obvious. If OSU can continue its success with this renewed confidence, 2012 looks much more promising than originally thought.
Saturday evening, with an ear-to-ear grin and a little swagger in his step, Poyer said the Beavers "got a taste" of what the future could hold with the win over Wisconsin.
It's not clear if Poyer meant that OSU got a taste of success or confidence. Maybe he meant both. Right now, the order in which they arrived doesn't matter.