Reed Saxon, Associated Press
UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. — Oregon State coach Mike Riley is looking for a few more yards on the ground this season, about 757 more to be exact.
The Beavers had trouble running the ball last season. After netting 266 yards rushing in a season-opening upset loss to Sacramento State, they managed just 777 more over the remaining 11 games.
Oregon State topped 100 yards in only three of the contests. Each, however, led to a victory — the only ones the Beavers experienced last season.
As such, Riley is eager for more consistency on the ground after back-to-back losing campaigns. He's hoping for about 1,800 yards this season. A year ago, eight players combined for just 1,043.
It remains to be seen, however, if the Beavers will once again employ a "by committee" approach to running the ball.
"Whatever way it works we have to run the ball better," Riley said while identifying it as the biggest problem they have had over the last two seasons. "… I think one of the main keys to our team is our ability to run the football. It keys everything we do."
Freshman Malcolm Agnew led Oregon State with 423 yards on 89 carries last season.
Another newcomer made an even bigger impact on offense. Quarterback Sean Mannion put up some solid passing numbers in the absence of a ground game. Mannion threw for 3,328 yards and 16 touchdowns. However, he was intercepted 18 times.
"Our team was young last year with a lot of freshmen playing," said senior wide receiver Markus Wheaton, who had a team-high 986 yards receiving and 73 catches in 2011. "Now that they have seen what it's like (and) what we have to do, they know what we have to get done."
OFFENSE: There's plenty of room for improvement here. A more balanced attack should make things easier for Mannion and the offense. The Beavers turned the ball over 31 times (19 interceptions, 12 fumbles) and gave up 27 sacks last season. Finding new starters at center and left tackle, however, may hamper immediate production.
DEFENSE: Riley expects Oregon State's defense to be much better this season. In 2011, the Beavers gave up 411.2 yards of total offense per game. Eight returning starters include senior cornerback Jordan Poyer (four interceptions) and sophomore defensive end Scott Crichton (14.5 tackles-for-loss), who are national award watch list candidates.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Poyer is a dangerous return specialist. He averaged 22.7 yards on kickoffs and 14.1 yards on punt returns last season. Trevor Romaine is back as the placekicker. The sophomore made 15 field goals and 27 PATs in 2011.
PLAYMAKERS: Wheaton has racked up more than 1,000 all-purpose yards in each of the past two seasons. Besides playing football, he's a sprinter on the track team. … Poyer is also an extremely versatile athlete — excelling on both defense and special teams.
TOUGH STRETCH: The Beavers open Pac-12 play with back-to-back road games at UCLA and Arizona. Losses would dam up the season early and likely lead to a third straight season below .500.
EXTRA POINTS: Riley, the longest tenured coach in the Pac-12, is just three victories away from surpassing Lon Stiner as the winningest coach in OSU history. … Freshman defensive tackle Fred Thompson died playing basketball at a campus recreation center on Dec. 7. … A school-record 10 true freshmen played for the Beavers last season.
Oregon State Beavers
2012 media poll: 6th, North
2011 record: 3-9, 3-6
Head coach: Mike Riley (72-63, 12th season)
Sept. 1 — NICHOLLS STATE
Sept. 8 — WISCONSIN
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