TUCSON, Ariz. — Here’s something impatient Oregon State football fans never thought they would see.
OSU normally stumbles out of the gate and finishes strong to salvage the season, but the Beavers are off to a fast start.
Saturday’s 38-35 Pac-12 victory over Arizona made the Beavers 3-0 for the first time since 2002, when they opened the season with four straight victories.
They’ve gone undefeated in the month of September for the first time since the 2000 Fiesta Bowl campaign.
Does that mean this is the beginning of one of those magical seasons?
“It’s unbelievable right now,” running back Storm Woods said. “It goes to show hard work pays off. We busted our butts in spring and fall and we deserve to be 3-0.”
It’s early in the season, but if the Beavers can stay healthy and play like they have for the next two months, it could be a big year.
When the Beavers execute on offense and defense like they did on Saturday, they can beat most everyone on their schedule.
If they do, the Nov. 24 Civil War in Reser Stadium could be interesting, and might be for a North Division title.
“We are enjoying this,” Woods said. “Last year it took us the whole year to get three wins and we opened up with three wins (this year). What a better way to start. We are going to keep working hard and the sky is the limit for us.”
What turned out to be the most important aspect of the game for OSU’s development was rallying back in the second half. It took a monumental effort in all facets of the game.
The Beavers dominated most of the first half. The offense did whatever it wanted and the defense didn’t let Arizona get loose for anything long.
Persistence, however, paid off for the Wildcats and momentum changed at the end of the first half.
Then, at the beginning of the second half, it looked like the Wildcats would be able to control the rest of the game.
They scored 21 unanswered points to take the lead as OSU’s defense couldn’t stop the pass or the run.
“I think that we came back and didn’t hang our heads was great,” coach Mike Riley said. “They could have run away with it in there at one point with the momentum and the home crowd.”
The offense struggled moving the ball in the middle of the game. Quarterback Sean Mannion temporarily lost his accuracy and the offensive line allowed him to be roughed up.
When a big play was needed, cornerback Jordan Poyer came through with a third-quarter interception.
The pass was tipped and Poyer stayed with the play and did what was needed to secure the ball.
“We talked all week about accepting the challenge they were going to throw at us,” Poyer said. “Our secondary, we did the job. They got me on plays, but all in all we stepped up tonight.”
The effort Poyer showed sparked the rest of the team. The defense buckled down and contained Arizona enough so the offense could complete the comeback.
“The defense didn’t play as well as we wanted to play but the offense really stepped up,” Poyer said. “The game today, the game ball goes to the offense.”
Mannion engineered a game-winning drive that culminated with a 9-yard pass to backup tight end Connor Hamlett. He found the open man when the Wildcats were cautious of Brandin Cooks and Markus Wheaton, who killed them all night.
“We did a nice job of making plays,” Riley said. “We had spurts where we weren’t doing well. That’s what I like the most. When they looked like they were hot, they had the momentum, they were stopping us and then we put a drive together a or a defensive play to get the ball back.”
The special teams, however, still must improve. Trevor Romaine missed a 35-yard field goal before the half that gave Arizona momentum.
And the return game hasn’t impacted a game in a positive way yet.
“At first, those points we could have gotten early was going to haunt us, and they did,” Riley said. “I just thought it was a great job of being resilient of playing hard, playing with character and not quitting.”
Cliff Kirkpatrick covers the Oregon State football team for the Corvallis Gazette-Times. Follow him at Twitter.com/cliffgt.