They sucked us all in, didn‘t they? Won six games in row, passing game was flowing and the defense turned the corner by creating turnovers on a regular basis. Even the special teams started blocking better. Yep, Oregon State football was looking good. Then, brain cells frazzled as someone turned off the electricity to the cerebral areas of the Beaver power brokers.
Coach Mike Riley and Sean Mannion have not had their best moments the last two weeks. Granted, Stanford was probably the best defensive team OSU faced all season (to that point). And USC came in with a ‘nothing to lose’ mentality. But the Beavers braintrust helped them out considerably.
Mannion was sacked a whopping eight times (cough, Alamo Bowl, cough, shades of) in the Stanford match-up. This number would be significantly lower had his pocket clock been in tune. Had Mannion thrown it way half of those sacks, where it appeared time was available to do so, the outcome may have been in the Beavers’ favor. His leadership skills have improved dramatically. Oregon State’s season has gone by way of his passing prowess, albeit facing the weak portion of the schedule. However, as Mannion’s career progresses, and perhaps to the next level, knowing when to dump it rather than taking the yardage loss will be imperative. Furthermore, his turf visits in the backfield underscores how well the offensive line actually performed. Perception is not always reality. Despite the sacks, the line played quite admirably.
Which leads us to costly judgment calls from the sidelines. It would be interesting to know if the thought process was points were going to be easy to come by. Knowing Stanford’s defense, it is questionable why Riley and his staff did not go after points in sure scoring opportunities. On consecutive possessions in the second quarter (one deep in Cardinal territory), Riley opted not to kick field goals. Instead of 9-0 at half, not converting fourth downs turned a sure lead in to a 7-3 deficit. A 13-point differential, and not the good kind. Going for it on the Stanford 34 yard line is not too far out there when you are staring at a 51 or 52-yard field goal. However, having Mannion rush on fourth is the puzzler. He was minus 26 yards at that point in the game, not to mention negative 92 coming in to the Stanford contest. It wasn’t fourth and inches. Why not give the ball to bulldozing Terron Ward or fullback Tyler Anderson? Where did the fly sweep go? The Beavers bread and butter play was nearly nonexistent. Opposing teams see it coming? So what. Until they stop it, keep running it. Besides, shouldn’t part of the plan be to spread out the defense to open up the passing lanes? The Beavers handed the Cardinal a game plan with little to no diversity in their attack.
Then came the Trojans debacle. Could there have been a more uninspiring effort? Throughout the season Mannion had taken monstrous strides in making Beaver nation believe he was the guy. Two seasons, eight games, 59 minutes, 15 seconds and down by 17. This is when Mannion decides it is time to throw the ball away? Good grief, Charlie Brown. Just like that, Mannion took three steps backward. Rumor has it a petition is being started to have his initials changed to DC-- as in double coverage. He was throwing to a sea of white USC jerseys all night, which resulted in three clean and easy interceptions (one pick was tipped only because the ball went right through the hands of the first Trojans defender).
And the defense was even more painful to watch. USC running backs Silas Redd (6.4 yard average) and Javorius Allen (8.3 average) combined for 273 yards on the ground. Quarterback Cody Kessler completed 17 of 21 passes for 247 yards in the air. Only four incompletions. Not enough pressure means high completion rate. Surprise! (See the ol’ Chuck reference above).
Those two games were winnable. Or so we thought. Against Stanford, OSU almost tied it in the end despite perplexing decisions. While it appeared USC manhandled the Beavers, the on-going dilemma of Riley and company battling mid game adjustments was a contributing factor in the loss. With Arizona State, Washington and Oregon left to play, which OSU team shows up is the biggest question. The smarter one which won six straight or the one who mentally disappeared for two weeks.