Mike Riley walked into the interview room at Valley Center wearing something not often seen in recent years: an easy smile.
Just minutes earlier, his Oregon State team was engulfed by an emotional sea of orange-clad students and fans celebrating on the field of Reser Stadium after the Beavers pulled off their 10-7 upset of No. 13 Wisconsin.
For an OSU program that has struggled so much in the past two seasons, there could not have been a more cathartic moment.
“That felt good," Riley said with that same grin. “That felt like it should be."
All those Oregon State worries were boxed up and shipped on a charter flight back to Madison, Wis.
One team displayed a dominating defense, and a knack for making big plays at the right time.
One team struggled to run the ball and made ill-timed mistakes.
One offense moved the ball drive after drive, tearing up chunks of yardage on the Reser Stadium artificial turf even if it didn't score much.
But on this day the script was flipped. The Beavers — so hapless in 2011 — largely dominated the reigning Big-10 Conference champions in front of 42,189 in attendance on a cool and at times overcast afternoon.
Those fans left with a simple and shocking truth: Oregon State is a superior team to Wisconsin, at least on this day.
And the Beavers' rise was due to its suffocating defense.
“That is one of the best that probably has ever been in that stadium," Riley said of his defense. “It was just a beautiful job."
Indeed it was. Wisconsin managed just 207 yards of total offense and 13 first downs. A once shoddy unit held the Badgers to just two of 14 on third-down conversions.
Badgers Heisman Trophy candidate Montee Ball ran for just 61 yards on 15 carries.
Read that again. A defense that last year ranked dead last in the Pac-12 in rushing defense held one of the best running backs in the country in check.
“We used last year's record as motivation for this season," said OSU star cornerback Jordan Poyer, whose second-quarter sack of Wisconsin quarterback Danny O'Brien snuffed out a promising Wisconsin drive. “Obviously last year was a pretty disappointing season.
“We knew we had to come out this season and show the world what we can do."
What might be most impressive for the OSU defense was its knack for making a big play when it was most needed.
The Beavers had the chance to let this game slip away when OSU punter Keith Kostol whiffed on a snap, setting up the Badgers on the Beaver 36 with 6:49 to play in the third quarter. Last year's team certainly would have.
But Oregon State's defense was up to the challenge. OSU defensive end Dylan Wynn beat his blocker and drilled O'Brien from his blind side, knocking the ball free before OSU's Scott Crichton recovered on the OSU 10.
Judging by the reaction after the play, anxious Beaver fans were beginning to believe. And when OSU's defense stonewalled Ball on a 4th and 1 play with 11:07 left, they were convinced.
“That's just poise," said linebacker D.J. Welch of his unit's ability to come up with a big play when needed.
Not all the positives were on defense.
OSU's formerly swiss-cheese offensive line proved stout. Quarterback Sean Mannion spent most of the day upright with plenty of time as he completed 29 of 47 passes for 276 yards and a third-quarter touchdown to Brandin Cooks. Most importantly, the Beavers yielded just one sack and no interceptions.
“I can't say enough about the offensive line doing an outstanding job," Mannion said. “I was hardly hit at all all day."
The Beavers hardly played mistake-free football. Oregon State made four trips inside Wisconsin's 35 in its first six possessions, but managed just three points, two failed fourth-down attempts and a missed field goal.
Those struggles ended when Mannion hit a wide-open Cooks with a 20-yard strike that made it 10-0 with 9:33 left in the third quarter.
But there is plenty more to clean up, especially the offense, which still struggled on third downs. And its run game, which was better, lacked consistency.
Against a well-regarded Badgers defense, that all might be understandable.
“We came close a couple times, but we just need to finish," said Cooks, who caught six balls for 80 yards. “That's what it is all about."
Of course, nothing in Corvallis seems to come easy these days. Wisconsin scored its only touchdown with 1:31 to play and appeared to recover the subsequent onside kick.
Oregon State and its fans were left nervously waiting as the replay reviewed the play.
“I was a little nervous," said Cooks. “But I was watching the play and saw that it didn't go 10 yards, so I wasn't TOO nervous."
A few long minutes later, the referee announced that Kyle French's kick did not travel the mandatory 10 yards: Oregon State ball.
As the students rushed the field it was finally and truly the Beavers' day.
After two tough seasons and a never-ending training camp for Oregon State, it could not have come soon enough.