Uneven Beavers look to close out strong

CORVALLIS — First a deflating loss against Eastern Washington, then a six-game winning streak, and now a three-game slump.

Oregon State's season so far has been uneven at best, but the Beavers are heading into their final two regular-season games looking for the positives to offset the negatives.

"I think there's some disappointment, but this is a good group," coach Mike Riley said. "They're going to be fine that way, they're not quitting or anything like that. I'm not worried about that. It's a good group and we've competed hard, we just haven't played well enough to win all the way around."

Oregon State is 6-4 overall and 4-3 in the Pac-12, coming off a 30-17 loss at Arizona State. This weekend they play their final home game, against the Washington Huskies, before visiting the No. 5 Oregon Ducks in the annual Civil War rivalry game.

The Beavers hope to finish with a winning conference record and go to the best bowl possible, as well as work out some of the issues that have vexed them during their recent downturn. Like the running game.

Oregon State is averaging just 69.5 yards on the ground this season. The only team with fewer in the Pac-12 is Washington State, with an average of 57.

The rushing attack becomes especially important when the passing game struggles, like it did against Arizona State.

Sean Mannion threw for 320 yards and two touchdowns, but he also threw four interceptions against the Sun Devils. Seven of his 10 interceptions this season have come in the last two games.

Still, Mannion leads the nation with an average of 386 yards passing a game and 33 total touchdowns. He's fourth nationally with an average of 32.7 completions a game.

Mannion's favorite target, Brandin Cooks, is the nation's leader with 144.3 yards receiving a game, and he's ranked second with an average of 10 receptions. His 100 catches this season broke the school record of 91 held by James Rodgers and Markus Wheaton, and he needs 90 more receiving yards to set Oregon State's single-season mark.

"He (Mannion) is throwing the ball for a reason. He thinks we're open so we need to be open," Cooks said about the recent struggles. "Whether we need to disengage from the defensive back quicker or get our eyes behind us ... we just have to make the play."

The Beavers' offense averaged more than 44 points a game until the losing streak, during which they've averaged about 14 points.

Riley notes that a positive has been the team's defense. The Beavers have forced 24 turnovers, good for a second-place tie in the league.

"I'm proud of the fact that I've seen a lot of growth. Defensively, we've really played some good football. ... It's really been fun to see our change there through the year," Riley said on the weekly Pac-12 coaches' conference call. "Offensively, we've still done some good things, but we've turned it the wrong way as far as turnovers, and some of those things we've been real good at."

Oregon State faces a very similar team in Washington (6-4, 3-4). The Huskies got off to a great start this season, winning their first four games and climbing to No. 15 in the rankings before a loss to Stanford that was the start of a three-game losing streak.

Washington is coming off a 41-31 loss to UCLA.

"We're frustrated, but we know what we're capable of and we know there's still plenty for us to go out and accomplish, and it's going to take really good effort to do so," Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian said during his Monday news conference. "But I think we've got the leadership in that locker room to do it; I think we've got really good coaches that can make it happen."

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