- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Mike Riley knows a little something about comebacks. It’s little wonder his team does as well.

Riley’s Beavers (8-4), who meet Maryland (6-6) in Friday’s Emerald Bowl at San Francisco’s AT&T; Park, won six of their final seven games to finish third in the Pac-10 this year.

But it’s just the latest chapter in what Riley describes as “one of the great revival stories in the last decade.”

Riley took over the Beavers in 1997 at the tail end of 28 consecutive losing seasons. And while Oregon State didn’t snap the streak in two seasons before he left to take over the San Diego Chargers, the pieces were in place for Dennis Erickson to reach three bowls in four years.

Meanwhile, Riley lasted three years in San Diego and resurfaced the next season as an assistant in New Orleans. But he wanted to return to the West Coast, and Oregon State remained a near-perfect scenario. He grew up in Corvallis, Ore., while his father was an assistant coach, and the Beavers’ job opened again when Erickson bolted for the San Francisco 49ers.

“I went on missionary work for four years and landed back here, which is a very unique thing in football to return,” Riley said. “I was really, really pleased that they had an open mind. A lot of times you burn bridges, and I really appreciated they had an open mind and that things worked.”

It was a homecoming that paralleled the return of Ralph Friedgen to Maryland in 2001 after 15 years away from College Park. And it has been just as successful, in part because of a resiliency that surfaces nearly every year.

In 2004, the second year of Riley’s second stint, a team led by quarterback Derek Anderson won six of its last seven games and won the Insight Bowl. Last season, the Beavers rattled off victories in eight of their last nine — including the Sun Bowl — for only the second 10-win season in school history.

The script was similar this year, even though the only glaring preseason question was a quarterback competition between sophomores Lyle Moevao and Sean Canfield. But left guard Jeremy Perry broke his leg in the season opener, and receiver Sammie Stroughter was lost for the season with a bruised kidney, taking away two vital offensive pieces.

The ensuing identity issues, along with an ugly minus-10 turnover ratio in the first five games, led to a 2-3 start. But the Beavers turned to a misdirection-heavy approach to complement bruising tailback Yvenson Bernard (1,037 yards) and have thrived since the start of October.

“It’s tough for defenses to stop us, especially because there’s so many deceptions going on with sweeps and fly sweeps and bootlegs and that stuff,” said Moevao, who is 3-0 as a starter and will get the nod Friday. “It’s a great game plan for us and has been working. We’re going to keep using it and getting better at it.”

That isn’t the best prognosis for Maryland, which was ravaged by slippery backs who could gouge yards on the perimeter, with tackling and speed deficiencies the primary culprits.

West Virginia, Wake Forest, Virginia and Florida State took turns exploiting the Terps’ weakness, and Oregon State is sure to try Friday with freshman flanker James Rodgers, who has run for 471 yards on 40 carries.

“It initially gave us our only way to find big plays,” Riley said. “We used to be a big down-the-field passing team in the old days. We found it a little hard to do that, so we’ve found some other stuff with using players that gave us big plays. We’ve actually come back and thrown the ball better down the field. Maybe we’re finding what we really want to be pretty late.”

It’s a typical conclusion for the Beavers, who have won all three of their bowl games under Riley.

“It’s not the way you start. It’s the way you finish,” Bernard said. “The last couple years, the way we finished is one of the best I can think of. We’re always really impressive, and that’s our motto. With Coach Riley, he always tells us to finish.”

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