Riley Meets The Press

Dec. 27, 2004

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - Oregon State head football coach Mike Riley's comments to the media during the Insight Bowl press conference held Monday morning. The Beavers held their walkthrough practice at Bank One Ballpark later in the day, preparing for Tuesday night's Insight Bowl against Notre Dame.

'We are certainly getting excited about the ballgame and feel like it's time to play. In our words, the bowl trip is over and the game is on, and I think our guys are looking forward to it. We've had good practices down here. We've had great accommodations, great hospitality, and we appreciate that a lot. This has been a very nice experience for us and we need to top it off as best we can with a win.'

(On Oregon State's passing offense against Notre Dame's pass defense) 'It kind of unfolds the other way, too. They have one of the top rushing defenses in the country and we haven't run the ball very well. I don't know if we can get our lone breakout game of the year on the ground; we're not exactly going to count on it, but we'd like to run the ball better. We've had our moments running the ball. We haven't been a running team, but we'd like to think that in every ballgame we've made some big plays on the ground although not as consistently as we want to. In the passing deal, I think one of the major factors will be how we protect. They have a good pass rush, and No. 44 (Justin Tuck) is a particularly good pass rusher so we're going to have to do a nice job there. We're going to have to protect, handle the pressure, the blitzes, then we'll see how the matchups go. It's obviously one of the ways we've moved the ball the best is throwing the football, and we're going to need to do that, for sure.'

(Are you adamant about trying to establish the run, or will you bypass that and go to the air?) 'We're not going to beat our heads against the wall. We've been there already this year, and we've put too much of a burden on our quarterback throughout the year by not being a consistent running team. Early in the year, that was all a negative for us. We've overcome some of that and we've played our best football in the last six games of the year, but we haven't been as balanced as we want to. We will always look in the ballgame and try to get some runs in there, that's just got to be part of it. And in the future, that's where we're headed and we will always want to be a balanced football team. Now, whether or not we can establish some consistency and get some runs and do that, we're going to have to play it but we're not going to beat our heads against the wall thinking that's what we've got to establish to win the game.'

(When you don't play a game for over a month, do you keep the momentum you had during the stretch where you won five of your last six games?) 'I don't know if it continues or not. We certainly hope so, because we did play our best games later in the year and probably our best game the last game of the year (in a 50-21 win over Oregon). I told our coaching staff this morning, this is a different season. It's almost like going through a camp period, and then getting ready and tailing into a ballgame, counting down to a ballgame. Early on, we approached it like that. We've had a lot of interaction within our team, our ones against our ones, playing a lot of football, Beavers against Beavers. Then as we've approached the game - our cutoff point was just before we came down, we started putting in some Notre Dame periods and have increased that. But even up until two days ago, we went some ones against ones just to try to keep football ready and play against speed, because if you're just playing against the scout team all the time I don't think you can really keep that sharpness. That's obviously been our goal, and it will only tell in the ballgame.'

(Have you ever been in a situation similar to the one Notre Dame's coaches are in right now, with all the things they have to do right now away from getting ready for a game - finding new jobs, trying to coach these kids, and trying to figure out their futures?) 'Probably not just like that. Coaching is funny. I felt like that the last two months in San Diego; it felt like there was a lot going on at that time. Professionally, in the business, what we tried to do then was focus on the team and prepare your team the best you can and try to get ready to play, because that's really all you can control. That factor is something they've had to deal with. Not being right in it, I can't even comment on it because that's something they have professionally had to deal with. They've got a great group of coaches and many of them have West Coast backgrounds, I've known them a long time. I appreciate what they're doing and how they're professionally handing it.'

(On the 2001 Fiesta Bowl between Oregon State and Notre Dame) 'I can't talk much about that game, I wasn't here. Obviously, I knew a lot about the program and the people in the program and it was one of the great wins in Oregon State history. But that's what it is, is history, and this is a new era and a new ballgame.'

(Will offensive guard Roy Schuening be okay for the game, and will placekicker Alexis Serna's foot infection limit him?) 'Roy has gotten better. He had a little bit of a flu and he practiced some yesterday, most of the practice, and I think he's getting better all the time. Alexis' deal is all over. I think what he lost a little bit was his rhythm, and he's that kind of guy where he keeps working and is more and more consistent. From that foot deal, he's still kind of finding his way back to his consistency.'

(How is running back Dwight Wright? Back to 100 percent?) 'I don't think he's 100 percent, but I don't think he was going to be at this point. He's practiced all the time since we've been down here for five practices, and I think he's ready to start the game and play from there, and then we'll have to play it by ear to see if Ryan (Cole) and/or Yvenson (Bernard). Because of Dwight's injury, early on when we started the bowl practices, Yvenson Bernard got a lot of work so that's all been very good for him and he should be ready to go.'

(On the role reversal of the two programs, with Notre Dame not having won a bowl game in 11 years and Oregon State being in its fifth bowl in six years, having won two of those bowls already) 'I can talk about Oregon State in that regard. It's been a great resurgence in the program, I think one of the great stories in college football in the last 10 years. And we've seen that around the country a little bit in places like Kansas State, and I think Oregon State stands right up there and has now gained a stature with more expectations and obviously more production and a lot more things going on in the University and the football program, the new stadium renovation, the whole deal, so there's a definite spinoff, there's been a tremendous story involved in Oregon State football in the last seven or eight years. We're all very proud of that and we're going to do everything we can to keep it going.'

(On how Oregon State's players have dealt with the absence of suspended defensive tackle Sir Henry Anderson) 'We don't like missing a player in our program, for sure, and a guy who's contributed, but one of the things that's happened within our team - and that we absolutely expect - is that those people who have been playing behind players in certain positions that are no loner there, whether it's due to injury or some other circumstance, it's absolutely their job to come in and make plays. We got a nice performance out of George Gillett against Oregon, and that's exactly what we expected George to be able to do, and we'll expect the other guys to take up the slack and play ball tomorrow night for us at defensive tackle. And no, there's not any major reaction to it. We've just gone to work.'

(If quarterback Derek Anderson has a very good game against Notre Dame, how much would that help him in the eyes of NFL scouts?) 'I haven't thought a lot about that in particular, but it probably would be a factor, for sure, because as the senior year winds down and bowl games and all-star games take place, obviously those people who are in positions to draft are paying more and more attention. I would say a good ballgame would do nothing but help his status in the draft.'

(On Oregon State offensive line coach Jim Gilstrap, who grew up in South Bend, Ind.) 'Jim will not talk about that much anymore, but he always used to brag about growing up at the gates to Nortre Dame Stadium and selling programs there, but you can't get him to talk right now about it. But it is great. Jim is just a great football coach, a great guy, and has grown up loving football and literally did that. I think this is his first experience actually getting to coach against Notre Dame so he's very excited about it, but you wouldn't know it by talking to him.'

(On quarterback Derek Anderson's development during your two seasons with him at Oregon State) 'Derek has been a tremendous young man to work with. What we as coaches like are eager students, and he's been one of the most eager guys that I've ever been around. He loves the game. He's kind of a gym rat - he's always around the office, he's always wanting to watch some more film. He and our offensive coordinator (Paul Chryst) have really developed a relationship that way. I think he's developed a lot over the years. His opportunity to play pretty early was good for him. He's had to change systems, which is hard to do, but I really appreciate how he has developed. I think his decision-making and poise, his ability to go through a progression - he has just done a great job of working within the offense and getting better and better. We're not a high-percentage team; we throw a lot of balls down the field so he's not going to be a 65-percent thrower in our offense, but where he's some from and where he is now, we're very pleased with that. We'd like to send him off with a great ballgame here. But as far as a guy to work with, none better. He reminds me, in how he likes the game, of (former Southern California quarterback) Rob Johnson - he was an ultimate gym rat guy, too. Having quarterbacks like that is a lot of fun, because they have a bigger role in an overall learning of what you're trying to do. For Derek, it's just a shame he didn't redshirt. He threw 41 balls as a freshman, and that's about a game for him. He did that in five games (as a freshman). His production would be almost unparalleled in the Pac-10 Conference if he played next year; by mid-year, he'd have all of (John) Elway's records and all of that. Considering where he's come from, he's the only quarterback in this program's history to have three bowl games, so he'll leave quite a legacy with the Beavers.'

(On Oregon State's offense being No. 1 in the Pac-10 in red zone efficiency, and Notre Dame is very good defensively there and has shut people down about half the time in the red zone and as it relates to your team's penalties, perhaps) 'I hope it doesn't have any relation to our penalties. We're a little better in that. In our first four games, we had 15 more penalties than our opponents overall, and we were minus-seven in the turnover ratio when we were 1-4. Then in the last six games, we were plus-15 in the turnovers and we had less penalties than our opponents. That's been a big deal. And we're good in the red zone on both sides of the ball, No. 1 in the Pac-10 on offense and I think No. 2 in defense. We obviously work on that a lot, almost from Day One of practice we have a red zone period. It doesn't always pay off in coaching that what you work on is what you're going to get in ballgames, but we do work on it hard. And Notre Dame's good at it, so that's the challenge. And that's a fun part, because that's all payday when you get down in there. Guys have to make plays, and the windows are all smaller and the doors of opportunity close faster. It should be a big, big challenge that way, because I agree - Notre Dame is good down there.'

(With the Raising Reser stadium expansion underway, how important is it to go into the offseason with a win to keep boosters involved?) 'I think that's right, because the momentum from a football season - if we can build on the momentum from the last part of our season - there's been a lot more interest in buying suites, buying tickets, all of that. That's just the nature of our deal - the better you do, the more people want to be involved, so we would like to help that out.'

(What will be the last thing you say to the guys before you send them out to play - do you talk about sending the seniors out on the right note? About how far you've come this season?) 'There are a lot of thoughts there that are probably all true. We've been talking about our senior class for quite a while and even did yesterday, as a matter of fact, because that's a big factor. But there are two things. We want to win the ball game; that's the last thing we'll say before going out on the field. That's No. 1, and that's important for the things we've already talked about. But we would love this senior class to win this ballgame and go out with a good feeling. Because of the way the bowl season takes shape, and because it really is a separate season and you practice for a longer period of time, it is the beginning of next year. It's like a kickoff with our young guys, our redshirts - they've all gotten more practice, more time to work. It's a momentum-builder for next year; it's a great, great time for our seniors and it's a great, great time for our coaches.'

(With Notre Dame going from head coach Tyrone Willingham during the regular season to interim head coach Kent Baer for the bowl game, do you expect the Irish to stay with the tendencies they've shown throughout 2004?) 'That's a very good point. Kent scared me the other day when he said one of his big choices was going to be whether to punt or go for it, and he said we'll probably just go for it. I have a sense that it's like any game, you have to be ready for the unexpected but we've had their film to basically form our game plan around - a lot of film, the whole season, so there's going to be a foundation there. But you've always got to be ready to adjust, and you always have to be sound in every way - the kicking game, the whole deal. I don't know that that would be any more than normal, but that's why you have to be ready.'

(What is the greatest difference in coaching in college and the NFL, and why do some guys seem more suited to one or the other?) 'That's a hard one, because there are all different circumstances, there are all kinds of teams. There are different things. I'll talk to personal experience. When I took that job in San Diego, I found out pretty soon that I was not prepared for that job. I think it's a lot better for a guy like Nick Saban who has coached in the NFL and had that experience and knows about calendars and rosters and salary caps and forming a team and the draft - all those kinds of things going in. Very, very important. So the comfort level of going from an assistant coach in college to a head coach in college, compared to what I did - I just felt that was the truth, I would have been much better off if I was ever going to do that, to have had some time there. I think that preparation is big.'

(What do you think Charlie Weis will bring to Notre Dame as its head coach?) 'When I listen to him on TV, I can tell he's going to bring some passion to it to a place he knows well, and that's exciting for him. I don't know Charlie but I've enjoyed watching their team; I watch a lot of their film because I like watching their offense. I think he's a very good football coach, so I think he'll bring a lot to Notre Dame.'

(On Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn) 'I think he's a good young talent, and I like his poise. I've noticed that right from the beginning, I watched on TV game and you could see it in his eyes, he has an eagerness and a passion about him and a poise about him that's special. He's made some nice plays throughout the year. I know Bill Diedrick, their offsensive coordinator, really well and I know Billy loves working with him. I think he's got a great future and I hope he starts it off real well next fall.'

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