In the aftermath of a missed opportunity for a Bowl Championship Series game and a fifth straight Civil War loss to Oregon, the heavy feel of disappointment naturally surrounds the Oregon State football team.
Still, despite that 48-24 loss to the Ducks hanging in the back of their minds, players are looking ahead to what remains with a positive approach.
The Beavers (8-3, 6-3) have one more regular-season game to play on Saturday against Nicholls State. And then preparations will begin for a bowl game.
“I think it’s a good thing, coming off a loss like this, I can’t wait to get back on the field,” senior receiver Markus Wheaton said. “Last year, we had to end on this, think about it all year. We get to get back to football and think about football soon.”
The Beavers will play Nicholls State, a Football Championship Series team, at 11:30 a.m. Saturday in Reser Stadium in a game originally scheduled as the season opener.
Hurricane Isaac hit the Louisiana area and Nicholls State couldn’t get out for the Sept. 1 game. The Colonels have since suffered through a rough season with a 1-9 record.
“We have another opponent so there’s no time to pout and feel sorry for ourselves,” quarterback Sean Mannion said. “It will be good to have a game. Everyone is hurting a little for this one, especially for our seniors. We would have wanted to get a win against The Ducks.”
The Beavers hope to get back in rhythm after a meltdown against Oregon. They are still ranked No. 16 in the nation and can finish the season strong.
“It’s a good thing we have this game because I want to take it out on somebody,” cornerback Jordan Poyer said.
OSU has a chance for invitations to the Alamo or Holiday bowls, depending on what happens in Friday’s Pac-12 Championship Game.
For the lower bowls, the nonconference games don’t mean anything compared conference standings, but the Beavers can’t afford a loss to a lower-division team to damage the program’s national perception.
“We are on to the next game,” coach Mike Riley said. “There’s some good things about all that. It will be nice to play a game, play better, win it and get ready for a bowl game.”
The Beavers must fix their defensive woes before taking the field. After starting out strong against the run, they’ve tumbled to 31st in the nation, allowing 137.9 yards a game. Oregon ran for 430 on Saturday.
Missed tackles have been a major issue in all three of the losses, but were magnified in the recent losses to the Ducks and Stanford.
“I’m very surprised because we are better than that,” linebacker Michael Doctor said of Oregon’s running success. “We just didn’t execute against them at all. Everyone wasn’t assignment sound. Our defense can’t give up points like that. Our objective is to stop the run and keep them off the board. We didn’t do that.”
The offense didn’t finish drives and Mannion threw four interceptions to reach 13 on the season.
Riley said it’s too early to say Mannion will be replaced because backup Cody Vaz is still nursing a high ankle sprain.
“We’ll announce that as we go,” Riley said. “We’ll see how Cody goes. I don’t know if we are ready to have this discussion yet.”
OSU experienced major breakdowns on special teams, specifically, not fielding kicks that led to two fumbles and poor field position.
“There were different reasons for it,” Riley said. “We started running before we had the ball. We just made mistakes — took your eye off it, hurried it and didn’t keep the poise. The people involved have returned it before.”
So it’s back to work today. While rescheduling the Nicholls State game didn’t make sense at the time and when the Beavers were in the BCS hunt, they need this game to regain momentum.
“This team will be like after the Stanford loss,” Riley said. “They will come back and work hard and play. You build an identity throughout the course of a year. This team has done very well.”
Several key players will be limited in practice this week. Receiver Brandin Cooks suffered a knee contusion against Oregon and will have more precautionary tests.
Wheaton (quad bruise) and Poyer (hamstring) will be limited in the early practices, and safety Peter Ashton has been slowed by a hip flexor strain that he originally hurt last week.