The Oregon State football team experienced several breakthroughs on Saturday night.
It started with three come-from-behind rallies to defeat Arizona, 38-35, in a Pacific-12 Conference game in Arizona Stadium that moved the Beavers up to No. 14 in the rankings with the first 3-0 start in 10 years.
OSU’s mastery of the Wildcats in Tucson continued with six straight victories and 12 wins in the last 14 meetings.
The Beavers (3-0, 2-0) played well again with more improvement to go. They’ll try to make it four straight against Washington State at home this Saturday afternoon.
“A lot of people doubted us again,” cornerback Jordan Poyer said. “So we wanted to come out there and prove to people we are a real team.”
Coach Mike Riley won his 75th game in his 12th season. He is now all alone atop the OSU career wins list.
“Until last year it wouldn’t have crossed my mind,” Riley said of the record. “Then realizing we had some longevity, it has been awesome. I’m just thankful for the time. We work hard at it. It’s not an easy job. Whatever limitations people say we have here, we work through them.”
With the wins over UCLA and Arizona, OSU won back-to-back road conference games for the first time since November 2009 when the Beavers accomplished the feat against California and Washington State with a home game in between.
The last time consecutive roads wins occurred in two straight games was at the end of the 2007 season at Washington State and Oregon.
A significant development was the emergence of a running game. OSU gained 180 yards against the Wildcats and running back Storm Woods accounted for 161 of them.
“I’m so hopeful and happy to see that,” Riley said. “It has been a while. When we play like that, when we have balance, that really changes everything. It was a big factor in this game, and I hope this is a big factor in the identity of this team.”
The running game set the tempo in the first half when the Beavers dominated. When the clock needed to run, it was there again in the second half.
The offensive line opened running lanes, Woods burst through and fought for extra yardage.
“We are hungry,” Woods said. “We are going to fight to the end, and we are never going to give up no matter what happens.”
With his 10 catches vs. Arizona, Markus Wheaton, a senior receiver, moved into sole possession of fifth place in OSU history for career receiving with 163 catches. Sammie Stroughter (2004-08) is ahead of him in fourth at 164.
Wheaton also moved into sixth place in career receiving yards with 2,153 thanks to 166 in the game. Reggie Bynum (1982-85) is ahead of him with 2,231.
He’s second in the conference and sixth nationally with a 134.3 receiving yards a game. Teammate Brandin Cooks ranks second in the Pac-12 and fifth nationally at 134.7 yards a game.
Quarterback Sean Mannion threw for 433 yards to top 200 yards for the 14th straight game and surpassed 300 yards for the sixth time.
Mannion is second in the conference and 10th nationally for total offense at 350 yards a game. The Beavers are No. 1 in passing in the Pac-12 and fourth in the country at 362.7 yards a game.
While the offense put up impressive numbers, big defensive plays saved the game.
Defensive end Scott Crichton forced his first fumble of the season and seventh of his career. He is tied for second-most in an OSU career. Stephen Paea (2008-10) is the leader with nine.
Cornerback Rashaad Reynolds had a career game with five pass breakups, an interception and a team-leading 10 tackles.
The five breakups tied the OSU single-game record set by Dennis Weathersby in 2002. He’s also second in the conference in tackles with 8.3 a game.
The team’s rush defense ranks second in the Pac-12 and ninth in the nation at 83.0 yards a game. The pass defense, however, is last in the conference and 113th nationally with a 312.3 average.
Stats aside, the Beavers needed every bit of those individual plays to overcome Arizona since they trailed in a game for the first time this season.
“It’s easy to be up the whole game,” Woods said. “But when you are down I like to see how we come through with adversity in our face. And I think we answered it.”
DE Rudolf Fifita (concussion) will ease into practice this week. He’s questionable for Saturday’s game, Riley said. ... Wheaton (leg) and Woods (bruised knee) will be limited in today’s practice, but should be ready for the next game. ... LB D.J. Welch suffered a minor stinger in the game, but returned to play.