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Thursday, October 12, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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UW Football | Believing in better days

Seattle Times staff reporter

Used to be the only thing ugly at Oregon State's Reser Stadium was all that orange.

Now the crowd is getting into the act, as well, as coach Mike Riley's struggles to make fans forget about Dennis Erickson have only increased in the fourth year of his second stint in Corvallis.

Those fans grew increasingly frustrated Saturday as Oregon State fell to 2-3 with a 13-6 loss to Washington State, the first time since 1997 the Beavers didn't score a touchdown at home.

Late in the game, OSU quarterback Matt Moore got into a brief verbal tussle with a heckling fan in the student section, though apparently not any of the ones who held up orange letters much of the day that alternately read "Canfield" in reference to backup QB Sean Canfield and "Can Riley."

"We definitely see that," said kicker Alexis Serna. "I can't speak for everybody, but I do take that personally because this team is a family here, and seeing that, it definitely bothers me to think that people would be that ruthless. When you have family out there that could see the sign as well, I think that's kind of rude."

It's against that backdrop that the Beavers come to Husky Stadium on Saturday for a 3:30 p.m. game against Washington.

Riley calls it a "crossroads game" for the Beavers, though adding that "every game is a crossroads game for us right now."

Saturday

Oregon State @ UW, 3:30 p.m., FSN

In Oregon State lore, Riley successfully navigated a similar junction at Husky Stadium in 1998 during his first stint with the Beavers when OSU scored on the final play to pull to 35-34. Without hesitating, Riley, a Corvallis native and son of a former OSU assistant, went for a two-point conversion and the win, a ploy that failed when UW safety Nigel Burton — now Oregon State's cornerbacks coach — broke up a pass in the end zone.

But simply going for two, and leading the Beavers back to respectability (OSU finished 5-6 that season), seemed to cement Riley's place in school history.

"To me, that was the defining moment for this program," OSU athletic director Bob DeCarolis is quoted as saying about the UW game in the Oregon State media guide. Riley, who was on Barbara Hedges' initial shortlist to replace Jim Lambright after that season, instead left for the San Diego Chargers. Erickson took over and led a team made up of primarily Riley recruits to an 11-1 season and a No. 4 ranking in 2000. After Erickson jumped ship for the 49ers after the 2002 season and a 31-17 overall record, Riley (who had been fired by the Chargers) came back.

But he found a different OSU program than the one he had left, with a fan base that now viewed winning as the norm.

Going 8-5 and 7-5 his first two seasons kept them happy, but the 5-6 record last year and the stumbling start to this season have the natives uncommonly restless. With five of the last eight games on the road, OSU's season could quickly spiral out of control.

Al Reser, a big-time OSU donor and the man whose name is on the stadium, told Oregonian columnist John Canzano last week that the current direction of the program is "unacceptable" and Canzano wrote that donors would have no problem helping buy out Riley's contract after this season if need be.

Riley said he was "aware" of Reser's comments. "I'm concerned about how we are doing, too," Riley said.

Riley's critics say the Beavers often look sloppy and unprepared. OSU is leading the Pac-10 in penalty yardage and is tied for third in lost turnovers, for instance. OSU also has suffered six losses by 18 points or more in its last 14 games. And OSU hasn't scored more than 18 points in any of its last five Pac-10 games, and has lost four straight conference home games.

Moore, a transfer from UCLA, is also a popular target. Since taking over as OSU's starter to begin last season, he has thrown 22 interceptions against 15 touchdowns. Fans, primarily students, have booed him throughout the last two home losses, urging Riley to go with Canfield, a redshirt freshman who has put up solid numbers in four reserve appearances this year (27 of 37, two touchdowns, 334 yards).

Regardless, Moore, a senior, will be gone next season. The question is whether Riley will be as well.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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Football schedule

DateOpponentTimeTV
Sept. 2San Jose StateW, 35-29
Sept. 9at OklahomaL, 37-20
Sept. 16Fresno StateW, 21-20
Sept. 23UCLAW, 29-19
Sept. 30at ArizonaW, 21-10
Oct. 7at USCL, 26-20
Oct. 14Oregon StateL, 27-17
Oct. 21at CaliforniaL, 31-24, OT
Oct. 28Arizona StateL, 26-23, OT
Nov. 4at OregonL, 34-14
Nov. 11StanfordL, 20-3
Nov. 18at Washington StateW, 35-32

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