OSU relies on defense to turn things around
CORVALLIS — When you look at the final statistics and see Team A gained 431 yards of total offense and outgained Team B, the first thought is that Team B's defense isn't leaving the field with a smile.
It was just the opposite Saturday at Reser Stadium.
Arizona — Team A in this equation — showed up that way on the stat sheet, but the defense of Oregon State — Team B — was a big reason the Beavers earned their first win of the season, 37-27.
"I felt like we wanted it more," Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton said. "We wanted to create turnovers, we wanted to create opportunities for our offense. I felt like that's what we did."
OSU's defense had to answer the call early, as Beaver quarterback Sean Mannion was intercepted on his first throw and the Wildcats took possession on the Beaver 28-yard line. Oregon State didn't allow a first down and Arizona's Alex Zendejas missed a 38-yard field goal try.
The Beavers forced four turnovers and largely held Arizona and its star quarterback, Nick Foles, in check for just over a half. By the time the Beavers built a 30-6 lead late in the third quarter, Arizona had just 171 yards of offense. The Beaver defenders then made key plays down the stretch as Oregon State held on.
The Beavers went after Foles early, not recording a sack but pressuring his throws and picking off a pair of passes. Foles and the Wildcats rallied in the second half.
"We knew they were going to come back," Oregon State safety Lance Mitchell said. "Foles and that offense are talented. They're going to get theirs. We said this week: 'They're going to make their plays because that's who they are, they pass the ball and make plays and they're a good offense.'
"So when they started making plays, we just felt like we had to answer."
While OSU's front was effective early, the secondary knocked several balls away from UA receivers in the final minutes. The biggest breakup came with 3:06 left and the Wildcats, trailing 37-27, going for it on fourth-and-goal from the Beaver 2; cornerback Jordan Poyer got a hand on a throw intended for Arizona's Dan Buckner to bat the ball down and all but wrap up the game.
"I think it started last week," Mitchell said of the secondary's improvement. "We had to step up in order for us to win and be good, and I think we took on that role and responsibility. I'm proud of the guys that worked so hard through the weeks, and keeping our nose down and grinding through the tough times."
Arizona, which averaged almost 75 plays per game entering the contest, had just 25 at halftime and OSU coach Mike Riley called that "a big deal."
"That was really important in this game," Riley said. "I really didn't like it when he (Foles) had the ball."
MITCHELL'S BIG DAY: The senior safety had a pass interception that set up OSU's third touchdown and a fumble recovery; he also caught a pass from punter Johnny Hekker on a fake punt in the second quarter that kept a scoring drive alive.
Mitchell — who now has six career interceptions — was asked about coming up with his first collegiate catch of a pass intended for him.
"It took me back to '07, high school days," Mitchell said. "I did a little bit of that. It felt good to contribute and give our offense another chance at it."
Said Riley: "Lance Mitchell has great ball skills, and that's one of the real strong abilities he has playing his position. He's also a real tough guy. He's playing with a lot of pain, basically (due to an abdomen injury), and he will all the rest of the year, too."
RUNNING GAME: The Beavers rushed for 128 yards. While they only had 46 at halftime, it seemed like more; OSU was effective enough running the ball early to take some pressure off Mannion.
Sophomore running back Jovan Stevenson finished with a career-high 99 yards after taking over for starter Teron Ward. Stevenson also had five catches for 32 yards.
"It was great — I know most of those guys out there," said Stevenson, who is from Tucson, where Arizona is based. "I just did it for my team; I don't do it for records or stats."
With running back Malcolm Agnew still out with a hamstring injury, the Beavers planned to rotate Ward and Stevenson. After Ward, a freshman, fumbled on OSU's second possession and Oregon State recovered, the Beavers opted for the more-experienced Stevenson.
Stevenson remained in the game until suffering a concussion early in the fourth quarter.
"He had a great day — I was very proud of him," Riley said of Stevenson. "He's a slippery runner "… he has great patience and he has quick feet to get through the hole. He really came to play today."
SPECIAL TEAMS: A week after special teams miscues hurt Oregon State in a loss at Arizona State, the Beavers made a number of big plays in the kicking game.
"They might have been the difference today," Riley said. "And that's the way they work — that's the burden you bear as a special teams player and coach. One play can tip a game."
It started in the second quarter when walk-on junior Clayton York blocked a punt, then picked up the loose ball and scored the Beavers' second touchdown to make it 14-0. The fake punt pass from Hekker to Mitchell kept alive the drive that resulted in a field goal and a 17-6 lead.
Just before halftime, the Beavers scored a touchdown to make it 24-6; Arizona fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Trevor Romaine hit a 40-yard field goal on the final play of the half for a 27-6 lead.
Hekker also had a 63-yard punt to pin Arizona at its own 5-yard-line in the fourth quarter, helping blunt the Wildcats' comeback.
"Plays like that, they're football plays, but they're not on the normal path," Riley said. "And when they come off the path like that, they can throw the game a number of different ways."
RODGERS' REVENGE ... ALMOST: Last season, OSU wide receiver James Rodgers suffered a season-ending knee injury in the Beavers' 29-27 win at Arizona when Wildcat safety Adam Hall dragged him down in the end zone.
Rodgers, who had four catches for 41 yards Saturday, almost had sweeter revenge when he hauled in a pass in the end zone near Hall. The play was called back by a holding penalty, but not before Rodgers appeared to give Hall a long, hard look.
Rodgers wasn't brought to the interview room after the game, so Riley was asked about the interplay.
"I know the history," Riley said. "But I don't know anything about what they said or what went on."
THIS AND THAT: Stevenson was asked if Riley — known for his mild-mannered demeanor — had told the Beavers anything different leading up to this week's game. "The last couple of games, he's been more intense," Stevenson said. "You know, 'Let's go, let's go!' Louder. His urgency was there, so we had to step up ours." "… Oregon State wore its orange jerseys for the first time since beating Southern California last season; that was also the Beavers' last win. Riley was asked if the jerseys would be donned again next Saturday, when OSU hosts Brigham Young. "I don't know," Riley said. "I'm out of that one. That's up to the players and the equipment guys." "… Oregon State's 27 points in the second quarter were the most for the Beavers in a quarter since scoring 28 against Arizona in the second quarter in 2003. The final of that game was 52-23 "… With the victory, the Beavers won their fifth game in the last six matchups against Arizona. Oregon State is 11-2 against the Wildcats dating back to 1999. UA leads the all-time series 21-13-2 "… OSU's Joe Halahuni finished with two touchdown catches, giving him 12 for his career and tying him with Roddy Tompkins (1996-99) for ninth place on OSU's all-time leaders list.