CORVALLIS — In the Valley Football Center meeting room where Oregon State players and coaches meet the media after home football games, one of the whiteboards retained a simple message, one written in orange earlier in the week: "Score more points."
The Beavers took that to heart Saturday — including its lack of specificity. OSU not only scored more points than Nicholls State, the Beavers scored more points in a game than any team in school history in blasting the Colonels 77-3 in a nonconference mismatch at Reser Stadium.
The game was to have been played as both teams' opener on Sept. 1, a common time for teams from major conferences to play schools from the "championship series" classification — the ones formerly known as Division I-AA to the big boys' I-A. But Hurricane Isaac forced postponing this game until after the Civil War.
And instead of a couple of teams feeling their way into the new season, you had a resurgent Oregon State team taking on a Nicholls State squad that had lost nine of its 10 games thus far. With its emotion spent on the previous week's loss to Oregon and anticipation centering on which bowl will pick OSU, Beaver Nation had a difficult time getting up for this one.
A pregame walk across campus showed about one-third the usual number of tailgaters. Reser Stadium appeared to be perhaps half full on a cold, windy, wet afternoon for a morning kickoff.
"This was a strange scenario," Oregon State head coach Mike Riley said. "This is a game that's normally played the first game of the year against an opponent from a lower division. I thought it was great that Nicholls still wanted to play and come out here, because it's good for you.
"You get 12 games, you might as well play them. I'm glad we played it. It was really good for us to get past that game last week; that game today should be good for us getting ready for our bowl game."
Any electricity in the atmosphere came from the Beavers themselves. After the thumping by Oregon, OSU cornerback Jordan Poyer said he wanted to take his frustration out on someone and the Beavers did it in record-setting fashion.
"We knew the game was going to be on us," Poyer said. "They're not going to come out there and physically beat us. It was going to be on how well we executed on defense and offense and special teams."
Nicholls State head coach Charlie Stubbs — an OSU assistant coach under Dave Kragthorpe in the late 1980s — had approached meeting the Beavers as though it were the Colonels' bowl game. They had two weeks to prepare and got to play in a major-conference venue; however, unlike the circumstances of playing in a season opener, the Beavers got to see recent video of Nicholls State.
"They knew who couldn't match up favorably and they attacked that," said Stubbs, who didn't have second thoughts about rescheduling the game. "I signed up for these games and I want to play them. We want to be more competitive, there's no question about that. I aspire to bring this program up and it's tough on me, but I know it's something that I want to do."
Those who were on hand saw the Beavers put up rarely attained numbers. The points topped a 76-0 win over Willamette in 1931, and the margin of victory was second only to that game in school history.
Oregon State scored touchdowns the first 11 times it had the ball. In fact, OSU's only possession that didn't conclude in the end zone was its final one, when it took over after an interception with less than a minute to go and ran out the clock.
"This might be our closest thing to a complete game from start to finish," OSU quarterback Sean Mannion said. "Having good tempo, executing our plays well "… I think we scored touchdowns every drive, and that's the goal."
The Beavers 683 yards of total offense was the second-most in school history, surpassed only by the 703 against Utah in 1951. OSU had three quarterbacks complete passes, nine players carry the ball and 13 players catch — South Medford High's Mitch Singler had three catches for 49 yards and one run for 13 yards — as it emptied the bench but kept its play sharp.
"That's pretty unique, because a lot of times you get in a deal like that and you start substituting — which we did pretty early — and then it looks sloppy and you don't feel good about a game you should feel good about," Riley said. "It's a weird feeling for a coach, but I'm glad these guys went in and just kept playing."
TURNING IT AROUND: OSU's turnaround of 3-9 in 2011 to 9-3 so far this year is the biggest turnaround in school history and perhaps the most dramatic one-year swing in Pacific-12 history. Riley was asked what has made the 2012 Beavers — picked to finish last in the conference's North Division — so special.
"I think maybe it's what they had to overcome — the adversity they went through a year ago, and they didn't just fold their tent and give up on everything and everybody," Riley said. "They just went to work — that might be the one thing that's special about this group, it takes pretty unique characters at a young age to be able to do that. Not many adults can handle things like that. It's really been an easy group to coach."
Riley pointed to a number of banged-up Beavers — Markus Wheaton, Brandin Cooks and Poyer among them — who, despite the opponent and the timing of the game, played rather than taking the day off.
"At a different time, and different people, they might not have tried to play at this stage of the season in a game like this," Riley said. "But that shows the leadership we've had this year. Those guys are big-time guys, and they're big-time players."
Wheaton, one of the seniors credited with directing the Beavers in their offseason efforts, wasn't surprised at going from nine losses to nine wins.
"Not at all," Wheaton said. "We worked hard. We worked hard in the offseason and this is what we expected."
QUARTERBACK SHUFFLE: Injuries and effectiveness have had OSU switching back and forth between Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz at quarterback much of the season, and this week Riley said he'd get both of them playing time against Nicholls State. Mannion started and Vaz saw action before halftime. Mannion finished 20-for-23 for 231 yards and two touchdowns, while Vaz was 14-for-17 for 190 yards and three scores.
"You guys saw today, they both can play," Riley said. "I planned to play them (both) regardless of the circumstances "… I didn't think there would be any disruption in what we did and there wasn't. That takes some doing, too, and that's a sign of both Cody and Sean, their work and getting ready. And then being able to respond to it and perform."
As for OSU's bowl game starter?
"I don't know yet," Riley said. "That's better left for longer thought."
BOWL POSSIBILITIES: Oregon State's bowl possibilities remain the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio and the Holiday Bowl in San Diego, with either game matching the Beavers against a Big 12 opponent.
"I think it's great to be going to a really good bowl game, and you're talking about two great cities," Riley said. "Wherever we go, all the Beaver fans, we travel so well anyway and those are great, great trips. And it's going to be a great opponent."
"We wanted to put an exclamation on this game, really, to say, 'Hey, we've got to solidify an opportunity to go to one of these two games.' Because I had no idea what would have happened if we'd lost this game today — I don't know, I didn't know where we might play and I didn't really want to think about that."
It will be OSU's first bowl game since the 2009 season, when it was beaten by Brigham Young in the Maaco Bowl in Las Vegas.
"I'm excited," Wheaton said. "We're out of school (after next week, when OSU has final exams and won't be practicing), we're just about football pretty much so I'm excited."
EXTRA POINTS: Early in the fourth quarter, OSU honored public address announcer Mike Stone, who was working his final game before stepping down. Stone has been working football and men's basketball games at Reser Stadium and Gill Coliseum since 1997; he has had a long career in radio and public address announcing that also included working for the Portland Trail Blazers and Portland Beavers. The tribute read over the public address system by Stone's successor, Brian Brooks, drew one of the loudest ovations of the day "… OSU had beaten California 62-14 two weeks ago, making this the second time in school history the Beavers have topped 60 twice in a season. The other was in 1921 (68-7 over the Oregon State Rooks and 68-0 over Chemawa) "… OSU's nine wins thus far ties for the third-most in school history, after the 2000 team (11-1) and the 2006 team (10-4). The other nine-win seasons came in 2008 (9-4), 2007 (9-4), 1962 (9-2) and 1939 (9-1-1) "… OSU finished off its first unbeaten nonconference schedule since 2002, when it beat Eastern Kentucky, Temple, Nevada-Las Vegas and Fresno State "… OSU's six victories tied its mark for wins in a season at Reser Stadium with the teams from 2003 (6-1), 2002 (6-1) and 2000 (6-0) "… Other dramatic one-year turnarounds for OSU include 1954 (1-8) to 1955 (6-3), 1959 (3-7-0) to 1960 (6-3-1) and 1934 (3-6-2) to 1935 (6-4-1) "… Saturday's paid attendance of 32,427 — the number of tickets sold — was the lowest for an OSU home game since 2000, when an early-season win over San Diego State drew 32,027.