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MailTribune.com
  • Oregon State's run game not so scary

    Combined with a sputtering aerial assault, the Beavers' offense has been poor lately
  • CORVALLIS — In early September, Mike Riley sat before a horde of reporters in Valley Football Center and used a buzz-worthy adjective to describe Oregon State's run game.
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  • CORVALLIS — In early September, Mike Riley sat before a horde of reporters in Valley Football Center and used a buzz-worthy adjective to describe Oregon State's run game.
    Scary.
    A potent passing attack had just propelled the Beavers to a 19-point win over Hawaii. But the Pac-12's longest-tenured coach already faced a trying reality: A one-sided attack could struggle notching wins come Pac-12 play.
    Two and a half months later, OSU is grappling with a worst-case scenario. A nonexistent ground game can't seem to aid a sputtering aerial assault. And Saturday night, the result could be described as "scary." The Beavers fell to Washington, a one-point favorite, 69-27.
    Most of the 43,779 Senior Night crowd left soon after intermission.
    "Lots of parts were missing," said Riley, the only Beaver to address media after the game. "We are all responsible. ... All the parts of that deal were bad."
    It was a low point for a once-promising team. Four weeks ago, OSU rode a six-game winning streak into bowl eligibility. Now, it stares down the prospect of a .500 regular-season record. An off-kilter offense is responsible for much of the meltdown. As the Beavers slog through a back-loaded schedule, points are growing scarce.
    OSU hasn't topped 27 points in each of its past four outings, a sobering stat considering it entered the Stanford game averaging more than 44. Quarterback Sean Mannion, a Heisman hopeful in mid-October, has tossed 10 interceptions to four touchdowns over OSU's recent skid.
    In similar circumstances, most teams would lean on their run game. The Beavers don't seem to have that option. Their ground attack, which entered Saturday ranked 120th out of 123 FBS teams, has hardly shouldered a larger load in recent weeks. OSU (6-5, 4-4 Pac-12) has continued to rely on its struggling passing game, often completely abandoning the run during critical stretches.
    It followed a familiar script against an aggressive Huskies (7-4, 4-4) front seven. Beavers ball carriers took the occasional Mannion handoff, ran directly into a Washington defender and promptly fell to the ground. On the night, OSU mustered 106 rushing yards on 22 carries. Third-string running back Chris Brown netted a team-high 73. Of course, those numbers came with the Beavers staring down a sizable deficit.
    OSU owned negative-one rushing yards when it entered halftime down 27-0. Its offensive line struggled to open holes. Its ball carriers struggled to attack the minimal ones they found.
    "We didn't have any success with" the run, Riley said. "Physically, we've got to stay on the blocks a little longer."
    Wary of his team's rushing struggles, Riley continued to call more passing plays until even the faintest hopes of a win had evaporated. In the 13th-year coach's mind, it seemed, the ground attack wasn't a worthy complement. There was no available backup plan. So OSU continued to flounder. Dropped balls and picks mounted. The Beavers' deficit ballooned.
    "They outcompeted us," Riley said of Washington.
    Could Riley have predicted such a sequence in early September? Probably not. But he did know a stalled run game would eventually come with substantial consequences. Turns out, it's a key reason a 6-1 start devolved into a four-game losing streak.
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