The biggest turnaround in a conference series for the Oregon State football team has come against Arizona.
OSU was dominated early, but has a significant edge in the last decade.
However, the outcomes are never easy. Some of OSU’s most dramatic games in recent years have come against the Wildcats.
“Arizona is always tough,” coach Mike Riley said. “They give you fits defensively. (Arizona coach) Mike Stoops is a really good defensive coach. They really changed that program over the years.”
The latest showdown begins at 12:30 this afternoon in Reser Stadium when OSU and Arizona meet in a Pacific-12 Conference game.
Arizona was one of the favorite teams to win the Pac-12 South Division before an uncharacteristic slow start. However, the Wildcats are still potent with strong-armed quarterback Nick Foles leading the way.
“I love that guy,” Riley said. “He’s a great quarterback with a great arm and great composure.”
The Wildcats lead the series 21-12-1. The first meeting was in 1966 with OSU winning 31-12 in Portland.
Arizona then won 12 straight from 1971-88. The outcomes weren’t even close. OSU’s biggest loss, 50-6, came in 1983 in Tucson.
OSU won the 1990 game 35-21 in Corvallis, but then lost seven of the next eight, the only exception being a tie in 1992.
Since then it has been nearly all Beavers.
They won six straight from 1999-2004, and 10 of the last 12 games.
The biggest wins came in 2001 and 2002 with 38-3 games, both in Corvallis.
“It has been fun playing them and I have a lot of respect for what they do down there,” Riley said.
However, an interesting note to the series is that OSU has won the last five games played in Tucson.
It didn’t matter if the Wildcats were down and with small crowds or if they were hot and the stadium packed. The Beavers play well at Arizona.
One of the most dramatic games in recent years came in 2008 when the Beavers won 19-17 on the road.
Arizona held a 17-16 lead late in the game when OSU kicker Justin Kahut missed an extra point that would have tied the game.
The Wildcats then played conservatively in an attempt to run out the clock.
That allowed OSU to storm back. Quarterback Sean Canfield hit Sammie Stroughter on a long pass inside the Arizona 5-yard line to set up Kahut to win the game in the final second with a field goal.
The biggest disappointment there in recent years was last season. While the Beavers won 29-27 when the Wildcats were ranked No. 9, that’s where star receiver James Rodgers was hurt.
He had caught a long pass and crossed into the end zone. Rodgers relaxed and the defender pulled him down late in the play, causing a season-ending knee injury that he returned from just two weeks ago.
OSU’s season unraveled after that game, and the program hasn’t recovered yet with a 2-9 record since.
“The series with Arizona as of late has been very good with us going into Tucson and taking away their dream season, but we’ve also lost James since,” said OSU junior Kevin Blank.
On the flipside of game sites, Arizona’s two recent wins have been in Reser Stadium in close contests.
The 2005 loss was OSU quarterback Matt Moore’s biggest meltdown. He threw six interceptions and fumbled once in a 29-27 loss.
“Our rivalry with them is funny,” Riley said. “We win down there and they win up here. We have to change that this year.”
What has made the series so intense in recent years is that both teams play the same defense so each knows what to do.
The game is less of a chess match and more of a slugfest. The battle of wills and talent make the difference.
“Arizona is a good indicator series of where OSU is at,” said 2004 OSU alum Aaron Beitler. “Arizona always has similar talent to OSU and combines that with solid effort. If we beat Arizona, we are doing well.”