Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion passes over UCLA defender Sealii Epenesa during the second half of their game in Corvallis Saturday. Mannion passed for 287 yards, but UCLA won, 27-19. - AP

Riley: Don't push panic button

CORVALLIS — Oregon State may be headed for its worst football season in at least 15 years, but coach Mike Riley said Sunday he still believes in his team's ability to win games and he said this is no time to panic.

OSU, 0-3, is one of seven winless FBS teams.

The Beavers, who lost their Pac-12 opener 27-19 to UCLA on Saturday, are off to their worst start under Riley and have lost five straight games and seven of their last eight going back to last season.

OSU is a 171/2-point underdog against No. 25 Arizona State in Saturday night's game in Tempe.

The Sun Devils (3-1) snapped an 11-game losing streak against USC Saturday night, beating the Trojans 43-22.

If freshman place-kicker Trevor Romaine makes a 27-yard field goal against Sacramento State and the Beavers put a helmet on UCLA defensive end Damien Holmes on a fourth-and-one call from the Bruins' 34, Riley might be talking about a 2-1 team instead of trying to talk a restless OSU fan base off the ledge.

"That's football for you,'' said Riley.

"There's reasons for us being 0-3, and we've got to correct those reasons.''

OSU hasn't won a game in 10 months, since defeating USC 36-7 last Nov. 20 at Reser Stadium, but Riley wasn't interested in re-hashing what's happened since then.

"We can't focus on where we're at, we've got to focus on where we're going,'' he said. "There's no sense in looking backwards, or looking at our record right now. Let's just get ready for the next game and try to put ourselves in a vacuum. ... we've just got to try and work out of it.''

OSU's ranking of 119th nationally in pass defense out of 120 FBS teams is not likely to scare Sun Devils' quarterback Brock Osweiler or his stable of quick receivers.

"That's going to be a hard one,'' said Riley of the ASU game.

"They're good.''

The Beavers have won four of their last five against the Sun Devils — including a 28-17 victory in Tempe in 2009 that was OSU's first win at ASU since 1969.

Despite that, OSU won't be given much of a chance this week.

In fact, if Riley reads the message boards (he doesn't), he would see a lot of dire predictions about an 0-12 season.

That seems overwrought, but reality says if this young, mistake-prone team doesn't improve dramatically, 2011 could turn into something similar to 1996 (2-9) or 1995 (1-10).

It is possible the Beavers will be underdogs in each of their remaining nine games.

Asked about the frustration level of the coaching staff, which is taking heavy criticism, Riley said, "everybody has to say, 'I can do this better.' Coaches have to say that, players have to say that. And then you don't have a problem blaming anybody else.

"If I thought we had a team that wasn't working hard or didn't try to prepare, or didn't play hard I would be really worried,'' he said. "But I'm energized by the fact I think we do have really good people here.''

How fragile is OSU's confidence level?

"They're young, they're wide-eyed, they're looking (to the next game),'' said Riley. "That's why our coaches have to stay positive and keep teaching, and don't panic. We can't afford to do that. Everybody's just got to be going in the same direction.''

Riley said freshman tailback Malcolm Agnew, who missed two games with a hamstring pull, could be back practicing by today.

Wide receiver James Rodgers came out of his first action since last October in good shape and didn't report any problems with his left knee. Same for tight end Joe Halahuni, who was playing for the first time since spring shoulder surgery.

Riley said if OSU can't run the ball in Tempe — the Beavers had just 10 yards rushing in the first half against UCLA — it could be a disaster.

"We don't want to live like that. We have to be balanced,'' he said.,

When OSU lit up the Sun Devils' defense last season in a 31-28 win at Reser, the Beavers got huge days from Jacquizz Rodgers (145 yards rushing, two TDs) and quarterback Ryan Katz (19-for-29, 260 yards, two TDs).

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