Riley Meets The Press

Aug. 31, 2004

'I feel real good about what we've done in our camp and the fact that I think our players have stayed focused and headed into this thing with a lot of preparation and a lot of enthusiasm. It's a great time of the year. With our situation, we went into our camp with a lot of question marks - who's going to be where, and we switched some things around during camp and there was a lot of competition. We feel real good about where we are right now - like in our offensive line and at our receivers - but we all know that the proof is in the pudding. Doing it in practice is in one thing, but producing in the ballgames is another one. It's time for us to get going and see where we are.' (The receiver positions had been a question mark; how do you feel about that position now?) 'I think the talent at receiver is good. There have been some guys step forward, and I think through this process we haven't only solidified who is going to start but also guys who are going to play in the ballgames. Like at slotback, I feel real good about Marcel Love and Brandon Powers; they've both done a nice job. At flanker, I feel good about both Anthony Wheat-Brown and George Gillett. And at split end, Mike Hass and Josh Hawkins have done well and Sammy Stroughter has kind of entered into this picture. It's really important, obviously, to find starters but you've got to have other guys who can perform and you feel confident having them step in. 'Then our tight end is going to play a major factor, and our H-back is going to play a major factor, and Joe Newton and Dan Haines have done a nice job at those positions. In our running back situation, I never wanted to say it but I think it will be somewhat by committee. I think we will have a first- or second-down back or backs that we'll rotate in, and I think we'll have a third-down back who will play more in those situations initially than the others. I think that's all rounded out with a pretty good vision and picture of what's taken place and where we're headed in the next few weeks.' (Did you begin preparing for Louisiana State before this week?) 'We actually already started beforehand with LSU prep by our coaches, way back when in the spring. Heading into the game plan, we did last Friday, which is a couple more days than you'd normally get. Part of that is because you have the time, and the other part is that we're losing a lot of Thursday because of the travel, so we're going to try to get ahead in what we normally do so Thursday isn't a very big burden, practice-wise.' (How excited are you and your team to play Louisiana State, and what are your thoughts on LSU's team?) 'I think the hype for the game has been outstanding and probably something we all anticipated. It's been a unique schedule for Oregon State, for sure, over the last quite a few years. I think that's exciting, and that it's time for the program to step into something like this. I think that has only been emphasized by the reaction of the fans and the alums and our football team. I think that's good. 'Now we have to go play the game, and we're playing an outstanding football team. I mean, this team throughout - offense, defense, special teams - they play at national-championship level. The speed and athleticism is outstanding throughout the team, and that's why their special teams are so good. Their coverage teams are tremendous, their return teams are great, so every phase of the game you're going to be challenged because you're facing top-notch athletes in those areas.'(On Oregon State's new kickers, punter Sam Paulescu and placekickers John Dailey and Alexis Serna) 'They'll step into quite an environment for their first kicks of the year, whether it's a kick or a punt. Our punter, Sam Paulescu, has really shown to be a consistent player during our fall camp, one of the most consistent punters I've seen. Again, just like the receivers, just like the line, you've got to do it in the ballgame but he's shown some very good things. We have an ongoing battle at the kicker position; those guys have gone back and forth. I could probably tell you who's going to do it right now but I haven't told them, and they're still continuing to kick and compete. They're going to get baptism under fire, too - it's going to be a great environment for them to kick in.'(What are the keys to Oregon State's offense when it works against Louisiana State's defense?) 'They're very good at disguising what they do. I think one of their keys has been that they've been so good against the run, they've forced teams into one-dimensional games. They get ahead and the other team is forced to play their game, and when you do that, you're asking for trouble because you're seeing a lot of different kinds of pressure - all-out pressure, zone blitzes. And then when they don't blitz, they have pretty good people just rushing the passer and they have good coverage people, so you see the whole thing there. The only way to try to combat it is to have some form of balance in the ballgame. Florida didn't necessarily run the ball real well when they beat them last year until near the end, but they did keep trying to run the ball and they found a little bit of balance in that game. But very few other people did.'(In terms of focusing your team in the offseason and during fall camp, how valuable was it to have Louisiana State for the season-opener? And do you think there's an advantage to playing a team like this either in the first game or later on in the season?) 'With the question marks we have, it's a daunting task, but we basically made the decision, `Yes, we want to do this' so this is where the game is. Now, right off the bat, who knows what's going to be best. I think it's a great chance to take advantage of a tremendous opportunity, and to win and grow. We're not going to face any tougher environment and we're not going to play a better team - maybe as good - later on down the road, but this is a very good football team. So there are a lot of positives here, and I think our next step has to be to go play the game. And that's going to be the biggest factor, is not being intimidated or worrying about the tiger or the crowd or the whole deal; we've just got to go play good football. The start of the game is going to be big - the first quarter, I think, is going to be very interesting and special teams have to be major. We've got to be really sound.'(Is Louisiana State's team speed the scariest part of facing them?) 'That's the overwhelming thing you see on film, the overall speed of the team. They are fast throughout their team - defensively, offensively, special teams. They've got that factor. It was a lot like watching USC last year, so there's a reason for those two teams to be where they are, besides the fact that I think both of those teams are very well-coached and know what they're doing. They've got their systems in place and they know what they're doing, and you combine that with athleticism and speed and it's pretty lethal.'(Is protecting quarterback Derek Anderson your first priority?) 'That is a major factor. You see it time and again in films where quarterbacks are being overwhelmed, including Oklahoma's. That's where I think you have to say a balance in being able to run and pass, and having the will to run the ball and also the balance in the type of passing game you have ... There are going to be times you're going to want to take some shots, and there's going to be some times where you have to get the ball out of your hands and play a ball-control game. I think the mixture and balance are crucial to keeping this team off-balance.'(On the problems presented by Louisiana State quarterback Marcus Randall) 'You're looking at a situation where they can attack you from the quarterback position in other ways than just throwing the football, so we will have to do a great job of lane integrity and rushing the passer. We have to make plays when we have the opportunity to make a play. So many times, you watch the game the other night and the quarterback from Virginia Tech, he's so big and strong and they have a chance to tackle him and they miss a tackle and he runs for 25 more yards. So we have to make plays when we have a chance, and cut down those opportunities when that athleticism presents itself to us.'(Have you done anything to prepare for the climate you're likely to encounter at Louisiana State?) 'The special preparations for the heat were all done in the winter and spring and summer workouts. We told our team way last winter that our hope of being able to handle the heat is to be in great, great shape. We were not going to be acclimated to the climate if we went down there today (Tuesday). If you're not in good shape, it doesn't matter, so that is where I think this thing is. And I think we came back in good shape, and I think it was evidenced by the fact that we went through a very tough, grueling camp in good shape with few injuries. The work has already had to be done for us to be able to handle that, but it's an obvious factor and it's going to have to be something that we fight through. We've had good weather up here; we've had 90-degree weather for at least 10 days of our camp, but it doesn't compare to their 90 degrees.'(Any environment similar to Tiger Stadium that Oregon State has played in?) 'It will be very unique. I think there are some great environments in our league and some places where are our guys have played right in the Pac-10, but I would say this would probably exceed most everybody's thoughts about what they've been in.'(What have the strengths of your new kickers been so far?) 'I would say that Sam (Paulescu), the punter, is very, very consistent. I think he has the ability to hang the ball up there, which is what we want - we're more interested in hang time than we are in distance, and he's got that ability. What I've seen in him is the real consistency in where the ball is going. He can directional punt, and he can put it pretty high, so that's been the major factor there. Frankly, in the kickers, I've seen good and bad. I've seen some inconsistency that we didn't like, but I've seen the ability that I do like, so it's going to be a matter of performance.'(On quarterback Derek Anderson's growth in your offensive system since you arrived) 'Derek has made great strides, and it's been through his hard work. With the difficulties in the early season last year, I thought he stuck to it and worked harder and got better as the year went on. This spring, the comfort level with what we do was really evident, and I think it's really evident in the fall camp and I think, like I said before sometime during fall camp, he is not my biggest concern. My biggest concern has been finding people around him who will make up for the vast number of yards that were gained last year by Steven Jackson and James Newson and Tim Euhus. The guys have to go make plays, and a quarterback can do so much, so who's going to make those plays, and then who's going to block, which is more important. Derek has progressed tremendously with what we do and he's poised for a good year; it's a matter of the whole thing working together now.'(On Oregon State's special teams and Louisiana State returner Skyler Green) 'We feel real good about where we are in the kicking game with the people we have and our athleticism and the progress we've made installing some new systems and working with that - that's all good. Now we're facing the greatest challenge in America with our punt team. (Green) is a great returner, and he's a great returner because he has great ability and they do a great job of blocking for him. We run down the field and there's always a guy right there getting ready to block you and they're always in good position because they can run and they're athletic, so they make crucial blocks and the right time and their returner is good. So that's big. How we punt the ball is big, hang time is big, and then lane integrity is huge - making sure he doesn't just boom, pop right up the middle. Our people who are responsible for north and south have to do a great job, they have to make him maverick and then our other people have to be there. It's a great challenge, and I think we understand that. We've seen a lot of their film, but now it's time to do it on the field.'(On Louisiana State's defensive front against Oregon State's offensive front, and using a tight end or running back to help protect the quarterback) 'We will be careful about all that stuff, the protection. It's one thing to have an assignment, it's another thing about the matchup that's big. We'll have to pay close attention to that, whether it's a back or a tight end. All of that is in place, and we're going to try to mix up our protections and give them a different look so they don't always see the same exact thing. That's as big a deal as mixing up the pass patterns, it really is. Having different protection schemes, and getting into a game where you can use them because a lot of these have to do with play-action schemes and all that, but if you're not in a good ballgame it's hard for any of that stuff to work.'(On wide receivers Anthony Wheat-Brown and Brandon Powers) 'I've seen those guys perform now through the fall camp last year, through fall practice as redshirts, through our spring practice, and they've risen up. Their time is now; they've earned their position on the team. They're doing a nice job. They've won those battles, so our expectation now is to go make plays. They've proven it in practice, they've looked good, they know what to do - now they step out and do it. That's a great thing, and they're in good positions as young players to keep progressing. They've got to get out there and go toe-to-toe and make some plays.'(With Louisiana State receiver Skyler Green questionable and the rest of LSU's receivers relatively young, is that something you may be able to take advantage of?) 'We don't know all their guys yet, but I'm sure they have a good depth of people who can play. That really isn't a factor for us; we really want to play this game in a balanced way defensively, so we have to be good against the run and sound against the pass, and that's what we expect to have to do and we expect to have to do it against good players. So that's really our only approach to it right now.'(When you were a player at Alabama, what was it like to play at Louisiana State?) 'It was a tremendous thrill. When we were playing LSU down there the one year I did travel with the team - I guess it was my junior year - we had a real good football team and so did they. But the stadium was absolutely electric, and it was the tiger in the corner, and fans were throwing oranges at us because we had a chance to go to the Orange Bowl at the time. It was a tremendous, memorable atmosphere for sure in college football. What that does for our team, I don't know, but it was a great memory for me and I'm proud to be able to take our team down there and play in that place that has such great tradition.' (Why did you go to school at Alabama?) 'I'd always been an Alabama fan because of my family base; my dad is from Alabama, and he has six brothers and sisters and at one time one of his brothers, Hayden, was the head baseball coach at Alabama and an associate athletic director. So I had a lot of ties down there, and had always wanted to try to go to school there. That was always one of those childhood deals, so that's how I ended up there.'(Do you plan on substituting players more often or making any other changes due to the climate?) 'It's going to be real important that we are able to play more than just the starters, so the depth of our football team is huge in this regard whether it's defensive linemen or linebackers or receivers in particular. Our backs are probably built-in that way a little bit, but for the rest of our team, the depth of guys we feel capable of going in and playing the game is a big deal and will play a factor in this game.'(Is there a risk to having this game on your schedule?) 'I suppose there is. But what exactly is it? People talk about an opportunity to win, and what it means as far as a bowl game. There are a lot of negatives in that regard, but if we're going to be a good football team and we're going to a bowl game, then our season will play out. We have to grow. I mean, we have young guys in some spots. I've mentioned many times that we're looking for guys to make plays in ball games, and our season will be determined as we grow and then, more importantly, as we get into our conference - that's where we make our bread and butter; that's what determines our season as we go through it. Whatever those risks are, I think the preparation for what a guy has to do to play in a tough environment, to play in a tough football game against a good football team - this can be part of tremendous growth for us, so I see a tremendous upside in that and try not to look at those risks too much.'(On wearing white jerseys at Louisiana State) 'That was our option, and we chose to wear white.'

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