Only two games in to the season, the Oregon State Beavers are making each outing look like an adventure. After beating the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors 33-14, things don’t appear to be changing as they hit the road to face Utah this week in their conference opener. More offensive linemen are hurt and starting linebacker Michael Doctor looks to be done for the season. Another patchwork job required of Mike Riley, known for putting teams together when not much is there.
Before the season began, I noted this team would only progress as far as the offensive line would take it. With what looks like two injuries per week, only a miracle would save that side of the ball from total destruction. Running back Storm Woods has only run for 118 yards total in two games. Furthermore, as a whole, the team is averaging 2.8 yards per rush. Although quarterback Sean Mannion has looked relatively decent in the first two contests (throwing for 797 combined yards), how long can the passing game hold up if someone new is in there for protection each week? If the sacks start coming, the Beavers will be in serious jeopardy. Do not pass go, do not collect your 300+ yards passing. And if defenders get to Mannion, surely they will have no trouble dispensing Woods or Terron Ward (with his 21 total yards rushing is on pace for a less than sparkling 125 yard season). The run blocking needs dramatic improvement should the Beavers expect to stay on the winning track.
On the bright side, Mannion has only thrown one interception, on a ball under thrown by five yards. Against Hawaii, he had a few of those. Of course, these came at times under slight duress. When given time, Mannion looks solid in the pocket and zips the ball. In addition, if there is one thing he does well is the play action. No one is better than Peyton Manning, but Mannion is outstanding in selling it. If I were the coaches, I would have this routine in practice more often because when the defenders bite on it, this sets up the receivers. If you were to go back and see each game, the play action was deadly. Mannion can shred defenses on this go-to play, especially with Brandin Cooks as a target and Woods out of the backfield.
Speaking of Cooks, where would OSU be without him? If he is not the best player on the team by a mile, certainly the most valuable. With 196 and 92 yards receiving in the first two games, along with four touchdowns, his most unique quality may be his running after the catch. He is exciting, versatile and elusive. Although defenses are trying relentlessly to cover him, Cooks manages to get open in addition to spreading out the defense. While his receiving yardage did not get over 100 yards against Hawaii, it was clear his contribution was monumental.
It is still early; however, two areas of concern remain for Oregon State to prevent the season from falling from quality to average. For starters, improved blocking on special teams. Should Victor Bolden get more room to run and provide better starting field position, this would lighten the load of pressure off a depleted offensive line.
Lastly, turnovers. Creating them. The Beavers have committed one turnover and generated only one. This can be a difference maker for a squad struggling to find a defensive identity. No time like the present as a 7-5 or 6-6 (or worse) season appears closer than further.