It can’t be overstated.
The Oregon State football team faces a must-win situation to have any hope of salvaging the season.
Players know it.
The coaches feel it, but try to not make Saturday’s 12:30 p.m. Pacific-12 Conference opener with UCLA that ominous.
The Beavers are looking for their first win of the season when the Bruins come to town.
A win means hope and potentially momentum. A loss and the Beavers will be 0-3 for the first time since 1996, the last year of the Jerry Pettibone era.
“Every game is a must-win, but this is definitely a must-win,” senior safety Lance Mitchell said. “We have to come out and get established in our conference and as a team for the season. We haven’t won a game yet, and that’s a goal that we have to do.”
Coming off a bye week, the Beavers feel they recovered from the stunning loss to Sacramento State in the opener and the thrashing at Wisconsin.
They refocused, rested and healed. The start of conference play also signifies a new beginning.
“Everyone is on board with this,” receiver Markus Wheaton said. “We have to get a victory no matter what. It’s the competitive nature we have, and we want to be a winner. And it’s the opening of Pac-12 play. We’ve played them and know what they like to do.”
Coach Mike Riley has already addressed the typical slow start to the season with his players.
Many past teams came back strong. He hopes this one does the same, but doesn’t want that to be the expectation without the effort.
“We’ve recovered from things like this in the past and had good seasons,” Riley said. “But I also added (in player meetings) there are no guarantees. The other teams who did that earned that, and it’s not easy.”
Older players have experienced such turnarounds and taken up the challenge.
“We have to do that same thing,” Mitchell said. “Those teams worked hard to get where they were. We have to do that ourselves and establish ourselves to have a good season.”
Veteran players know what Riley means about the work to be done, but since the Beavers are so young the message might not have the same impact.
He called out his scout teams to push the starters so they are prepared for the games. It wasn’t until last week that Riley saw the needed effort.
So can the OSU-record nine true freshmen who have played and slew of underclassmen improve enough?
“We are not discouraged,” Riley said. “We know the number of new guys playing and the number of freshmen playing. We have to teach these guys this isn’t the end of the world.”
Wheaton said it was small details that held the Beavers back in the first two games. They compounded on themselves and created bigger problems.
That was not covering receivers properly on defense, and on offense not getting an adequate block.
The Beavers now rank last in the Pac-12 in scoring offense (14 ppg), pass efficiency (110.67 rating), pass efficiency defense (179.07), punt returns (0 ypg) and punting (34 yards per punt).
“When we get all those things down we’ll be fine,” Wheaton said.
Young players are typically the ones who don’t have all the details down. Figuring that out is the growth process at OSU.
A key player in this situation is redshirt freshman quarterback Sean Mannion, who will start his first game on Saturday.
How the offense improves depends on his development.
“I’m excited, but the team is real focused on getting ready for UCLA,” Mannion said. “The team is getting better each day as a group. There’s a lot I could have done better — decision making and being more accurate.”
The Beavers addressed those details during the bye week and should be refined this week.
“We practice hard every week for one game,” Mitchell said. “This week, it’s a conference game. We want to do well in our conference. That’s one of our goals.”