After a week of really, for me at least, railing against the coaches, asking for big changes, and looking to invigorate the fan base — as my wife and I walked from Pioneer Park to Reser to meet up with some friends, I felt justified in my complaints. While it was a frigid Saturday night game, the empty lots around the soccer fields and the vacancies around the stadium made me sad at how OSU Football has been this year. I felt bad for the players that give their all and yet are not able to fulfill the hopes they had for the season. I felt bad that they were playing in front of a 2/3 full stadium in their second to last game.
And that was the last time all night I would be sad.
Just like you cannot let the same mistakes go, I feel very strongly you cannot let good deeds go unmentioned. This game was a showcase of what people love about Mike Riley teams and why writers think Beaver Nation is crazy for wanting someone else. The players were playing loose, fast, and like the better prepared team. While ASU tried to confuse them with constantly shifting outside pressure, OSU ran up the gut and got huge chunks of yardage. Unlike in the past, the Beavers didn’t quit. They ran all game long and used 3-yard gains as well as 76-yard runs.
There was one play at the end of the first quarter that sticks out to me. Dustin Stanton had a false start, but he at least went all the way and he set up for a pass protection look, but was also upfield a bit, so he was, I assume, trying to bait the defender into coming upfield for a draw play. After the 5-yard loss, ASU showed the same defense, and OSU ran it anyway, and it ended up being a 35-yard run by Storm Woods. The coaches knew what was working, they knew what they could block, and they knew how the runners were running. A second and 2 turned into a second and 7, which usually ends up in shotgun with no backs or a pass play of some kind. Instead, they trusted in their players, and the extra five yards that probably helped sell it, and got a huge gain from it.
Plays got in on time, they ran at the end of the game to eat clock, they did little hurry up plays, and sometimes calling two at once, just to change tempo a bit and kept ASU guessing all game long. When the ASU defense backed up off the line of scrimmage and had to ease up on the blitzes, the Beavers passed all over the field. Moving Gavin Andrews to guard played huge dividends this year, but the play of Josh Mitchell was inspired.
Even a player like Caleb Smith, who has taken heat this year, used his athleticism well. While I am not sure he had a shot on the first pass to the end-zone in the third quarter, I am sure a competitor like Caleb would say he should have had the fourth down one. But rather than get down on himself, he kept with it, blocked like a boss, and came up with a huge first down catch later in the game.
The Beavers were filled with stories like that Saturday. Stephen Nelson, who was basically in charge of shutting down one of the best receivers in the nation, won more than he lost. Or Dylan Wynn who apparently had the refs out to get him early on, going out there, and shutting down their offense. Or DJ Alexander, Michael Doctor, and Rommel Mageo constantly flying to the runner, cutting between blocks, and playing at full speed.
All of the things we’ve complained about were addressed for at least one week and it resulted in a huge win against the 6th-ranked team in the nation and the potential Southern Pac-12 Champion. When this team, these coaches, and the fans that were there Saturday night are playing, coaching, and cheering like that, magic can happen. That is what a writer like Bud Withers or a coach like Rich Brooks sees when they hear Beaver fans malign Riley.
While we have not seen this from he Beavers consistently the last few years, it is still possible and it still can be done. Saturday proves this. It is up to the coaches now to find a way to do this week in and week out. To be the team that forces other coaches to use their time outs prematurely or to have their players running around on defense trying to figure out what to cover. It is up to the coaches to get the defense so ready that they are able to recognize what the play may be and shut it down. We need to see a disciplined defense that is not getting burned, getting out of position, and making plays when they have the chance.
That is what we saw Saturday, as much as I have ever seen in watching the Beavers, and that is what the coaches need to do. Because while it was more than amazing to see this group of seniors get a big win, have the field stormed, and experience the fun of football, it was perhaps more important that 20,000 fans stayed experienced it. Because no matter what happens, we will all remember the fun and joy of this game and we will always look at this season a little differently. There is nothing I can do about the past, and I have said my piece. One win doesn’t erase what ails this program. But what they do in the future, starting with UW this week, is what is going to be the stamp of this season. If we had to witness some bad losses, only to find an identity that gives us hope, and a strong finish that we haven’t seen since the mid 2000s, then I think there will be excitement during the offseason. If this is a great blip on an otherwise frowny season, then it will be more of an indicator of what could have been.
Regardless, no one can take away what I saw that Saturday, and it was not just the great final score, but it was the hugs, cheers, lost voices, the pumped up guy at the front of section 216 in the Beaver jacket. More importantly, it was the players smiling, laughing, and reveling in the victory as the students they go to school with and the fans who braved the cold swarmed them on the field, and for one night, reminded them that this game is not life or death, but sure as heck fun.
Go Beavers! Beat the dawgs!