This past Saturday, while making my usual game day journey from southern Oregon to Corvallis, I found myself wondering about the current state of the Oregon State Beavers. They had posted three wins to only one loss going into their second conference game of the season, a record that sounded more impressive than it felt, considering they had been only a few plays away from anything between 1-3 and 4-0. Only the Hawaii game had been a convincing win, which could be attributed more to Hawaii being dismal than Oregon State being good.
The opponent visiting Reser Stadium was the 2-0 Colorado Buffaloes. They had only played two games going into the fifth week of the season due to a scheduled bye week coupled with a home date against Fresno State that was cancelled as a result of the flooding currently rampaging through Boulder. The Buffaloes were rested, presumably healthy, and coming off two wins in which they displayed their own version of the Mannion-to-Cooks combination that has been the primary bright spot for Beaver fans this season. Colorado quarterback Connor Wood had hooked up with receiver Paul Richardson for 21 catches, 417 yards, and four touchdowns in just two games.
After breathtaking last-minute wins against Utah and San Diego State, the stage was set for a Beaver meltdown.
Under a dusting of rain – not heavy enough to soak through my sweatshirt but constant enough to make the field sloppy – the game began, and this Oregon State defense soon appeared reminiscent of last season’s squad. For the first time (consistently, at least) all year, the defense appeared to have suited up and came to play. The line was getting penetration, and each run attempt seemed to be met by three or four Beavers. When Colorado would drop back to pass, orange-gloved hands would shoot into the air and attempt to knock the ball down at the line of scrimmage. Three or four times this tactic was successful as a pass attempt would be deflected and go skidding across the wet turf.
This sudden defensive intensity was welcomed by the fans and the Beavers offense alike, as Sean Mannion struggled early to get points on the board. After their first drive stalled out, netting only a field goal, an errant pass by Mannion (tipped off the hands of a receiver) was returned by the Colorado defense to the Oregon State 17 yard line. This is how it all starts, I thought. The defense buckled down, though, as Colorado could only reach the two yard line and had to settle for a tying field goal. The score was 3-3 after nearly 13 minutes had been played.
Thankfully, that near-quarter of sluggish offense would be the only respite that Colorado would receive. The ensuing Beaver possession featured a play that would jumpstart the offense for the next two quarters and leave the Buffaloes dazed and dumbfounded. Colorado would send a blitz, pressuring Sean Mannion, but the junior quarterback stepped forward as the pocket collapsed around him and lofted a deep ball to Brandin Cooks. Colorado’s secondary was far from beat on the play, as two members of the Colorado defense were matching Cooks stride for stride. The pass was slightly underthrown, and Cooks twisted himself around and jumped into the air with the two defenders, somehow coming down with the ball for a 52 yard gain. Three plays later, the Beavers would score the first of 5 unanswered touchdowns as they stretched the score to 38-3 by the start of the fourth quarter.
When the smoke cleared, and the formality of a fourth quarter was completed, the fans that had stood in the rain faithfully were rewarded with a 44-17 victory. Sean Mannion had stretched his streak of consecutive 350 yard games to 5 (a Beavers record), finishing with 414 yards and 6 touchdowns (also a Beavers record). Truth be told, Mannion’s numbers could have been much higher if not for a handful of drops and some throws to wide open receivers that flat-out missed their mark. Even the run game had somehow ended up with 120 yards, a perfectly acceptable total considering Colorado entered the game ranked 7th nationally in run defense and Oregon State sat at 121st in run offense, only two slots better than dead last.
A victory like this one is exactly what the Beavers needed after the rollercoaster start to the season. Despite the impressive offensive numbers, the defensive effort has me the most pleased. It wasn’t perfect, by any means, but going into the game there was concern about Colorado’s best receiver, Paul Richardson, having a field day against Oregon State’s soft secondary. Cooks held up his end of the hype, catching 9 balls for 168 yards and 2 touchdowns. Richardson, however, was only able to manage 34% of his usual yardage output as he caught 5 balls for 70 yards and 1 “replay-shows-his foot-was-out” touchdown, caught with 13 seconds left and the game out of reach. The Beaver defense came up with two interceptions, two fumble recoveries, one sack, and a handful of batted balls and quarterback pressures. The two touchdowns allowed by Oregon State came in garbage time against backups with the Beavers holding leads of 35 points and 33 points, respectively.
The last few weeks have been unsettling for Oregon State, but they have now put another victory between where they stand today and their season-opening loss, navigating their way to a 4-1 overall record. More importantly, they are 2-0 in conference play with a bye this Saturday, giving the injury-plagued team a chance to allow their many wounded some time to heal. There are still 53 FBS teams in the country that have no more than one loss. Considering the many trials this team has faced through five weeks, showing enough poise in crucial moments to be one of those 53 is reason enough for Oregon State fans to be proud of this team.