Ever the perfectionist, Oregon State defensive coordinator Mark Banker was quick to pick apart the performance from his guys following OSU's crazy 38-35 win over Arizona on Saturday night.
The Beavers made plenty of mistakes and looked downright bad when they tried to tackle in space. They let Arizona quarterback Matt Scott have his way with the secondary, passing for 403 yards.
A year ago, a second-half performance like that would have broken this team. But instead of folding, OSU made a big play when it needed it most, as cornerback Rashaad Reynolds picked off a Scott pass to kill Arizona's final drive.
"As was evident, we did not execute up to our capabilities," Banker said. "We made a lot of critical errors at the wrong time. ... But absolutely, I thought the players kept playing their hearts out. They weren't going to be denied. It was pure mental toughness."
Earlier in the day, ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit said he was an OSU believer, and proclaimed the Beavers' defense to be "for real." It certainly looked like it in the first two games, as OSU stuffed vaunted runners Montee Ball (Wisconsin) and Johnathan Franklin (UCLA).
Saturday against Arizona, it looked mortal, as the Beavers gave up 545 yards of total offense.
But here's the thing: OSU still won. There is absolutely room for growth and improvement — and those will be a must if the Beavers want to continue their winning streak — but after three games, it's time to take Oregon State seriously.
Sure, Wisconsin was probably overrated. But beating an established program can go a long way in terms of confidence, and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf maintains that Wisconsin's defensive line is as good as OSU will see all season.
UCLA has hopped back into the Top 25 poll, and Arizona, with that fast-paced offense, is no slouch.
The Pac-12 looks wide open outside of Oregon, and with the Civil War in Corvallis, who knows what will happen. Rivalry games are weird.
Asked if people need to start thinking of Oregon State as a contender, Banker didn't hesitate.
"We ARE a contender," he said. "We're 3-0. Absolutely our defense is still for real. And you have to remember that we still have players who are relatively young in our defense, starting with our ends, (Scott) Crichton and (Dylan) Wynn. And we're asking a lot of (linebacker) D.J. Welch, who's just a sophomore ... We've given these young guys a lot of different things to handle, and we're going to get better as time goes by."
This is a group brimming with confidence after back-to-back road wins, and rightfully so. Five of the Beavers' remaining conference games are at home, and you know Reser Stadium will be rocking after the 3-0 start no one saw coming.
OSU head coach Mike Riley admitted after Saturday's win that he worried about keeping his players focused in the wake of increased media attention and hype after the Beavers' win at UCLA.
But this is a humble group, buoyed by a youth movement that's too excited to get overconfident just yet.
"It was an ugly win," laughed senior receiver Markus Wheaton. "But any win will give you confidence, especially with a young squad like we have."
Oregon State hasn't dominated any of the games it's played in this season, so people aren't sure what to make of the Beavers just yet. That's understandable, but credit should also be given to a roster that finds a way to win.
A victory Saturday over Washington State — the Beavers opened as a 14.5-point favorite — could go a long way toward silencing doubters.
"It would have been very easy to fold our tent (after Arizona took the lead), especially with the way they were playing and their home crowd, but boy, we did anything but that," Riley said. "It takes everything. We've gone right to the end of three games to win, but ..."
But, they've come out on top. And while they still have lots to improve on, it's time to start thinking that it's not just Oregon State's defense that's "for real" — it's the entire Beaver roster.