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October 15, 2013When Mike Riley and his Oregon State football team awoke on Sunday, they found themselves in an envious position.
Saturday night's wild 52-24 victory at Washington State, highlighted by perhaps the craziest fourth quarter you will ever witness on the gridiron, kept the Beavers (5-1 overall, 3-0 in Pac-12) unbeaten against conference opponents and guaranteed them a spot atop the divisional standings along with rival Oregon heading into this weekend's pivotal prime-time matchup with California in Berkeley (7:30 p.m. kickoff).
"We like where we are right this minute from where we started," Riley said Sunday night following OSU's fifth straight win. "We really appreciate that. The biggest thing for us now is to find ways to help these guys get better. We were extremely proud of the win and the way we got it and how we had to fight in the fourth quarter. We kept our composure and kept playing hard and took control in the fourth quarter."
Stanford's upset loss at Utah gives the Pac-12 North three teams with one or fewer league losses (OSU, Oregon, Stanford). The Beavers face Stanford on Oct. 26 at Reser Stadium in one of the tasty second half showdowns that could decide the divisional crown.
"That's our world right now," Riley said about the intriguing conference race. "We know about Utah. I thought going in Utah was a good matchup for Stanford just because they're physical and they have a good balanced offense with the quarterback running game, good receivers and he throws the ball well. That's a sign there really are no surprises. Everybody is capable depending on how you play that Saturday."
As he seems to do every week, Beavers quarterback Sean Mannion threw for a school-record 493 yards and four touchdowns on 34-of-51 passing in the victory over the Cougars - guiding Oregon State to a season-high 598 total offensive yards - continuing his run as statistically the nation's best quarterback.
Mannion, who has surpassed 350 yards passing in all six games this season, still leads all Division I quarterbacks in five categories: passing yards (2,511), passing yards per game (418.5), passing touchdowns (25), total offense (406.3 ypg) and points responsible for (154).
Surely, Mannion's impressive statistics warrant Heisman Trophy consideration at this juncture, and that talk has started among some college football pundits.
"It's good. He can be in any conversation you want right now with his numbers," Riley said. "Maybe that will grow as we go. But our biggest concern right now is how we're going to play this coming week. I suppose if we keep playing well, that helps all of that. He
just needs to be consistent."
Even though he has attempted 289 passes this season, Mannion has been sacked just seven times, tying the Beavers for second fewest in the Pac-12 with Arizona and Stanford.
"They (offensive line) have done a very good job and they're well schooled, although the quarterback can save the line like Sean did (Saturday night) by throwing the ball away or getting rid of it quickly," Riley said. "We missed some protections and we're never perfect. But Sean is making quick decisions and feeling the rush and getting rid of the ball, which he did four or five times (Saturday)."
Brandon Cooks caught 11 passes for 137 yards and finished again as OSU's leading rusher along with 34 yards on four carries. The Mannion-Cooks combination hooked up for two touchdown passes, officially making them the most prolific duo in school history with 18 scores through the air.
Cooks, who is on pace to catch 126 passes for almost 1,900 yards during the regular season, ranks first nationally in receptions (63), receptions per game (10.5), receiving yardage (944), receiving yards per game (157.3) and touchdown catches (11).
As productive as the Beavers' offense was in Pullman, the OSU defense stole the show in the fourth quarter by forcing five Washington State turnovers, including four interceptions, three of which led directly to Oregon State touchdowns in the decisive 28-point final frame.
"I was proud of us being on the road again late at night playing. Our kinds handled it very well," Riley said.
Oregon State trailed 24-17 late in the third quarter, but scored 35 unanswered points in less than 10 minutes mainly because of the ball-hawking defense. OSU held the vaunted Washington State passing attack to 270 yards through the air, 383 yards overall, and enjoyed a critically important plus-four advantage in turnover margin (two for OSY; six for WSU).
"Defensively, our tackling was good," Riley said. "They only had two explosion plays of over 20 yards. They're very productive at what they do offensively, but our kids hung in there. Washington State is a very physical, tough football team. In order to win, we had to out-physical them. I thought we did that defensively. Our defense hit hard and kept hitting and got better as the game went on. And we were pretty darned good in coverage and very opportunistic. The turnovers were huge in the game."
This week, the Beavers will prepare to face a struggling California (1-5 overall, 0-3 in Pac-12) team that looks eerily similar offensively to Washington State.
And for good reason. First-year head coach Sonny Dykes served as an offensive assistant at Texas Tech for seven seasons under current WSU head coach Mike Leach before moving on to Arizona (2007-09) and then to Louisiana Tech as head coach (2010-12) before being hired by Cal.
Thus, Oregon State defensive coordinator Mark Banker will spend another week preparing for the 'Air Raid' scheme. Cal freshman quarterback Jared Goff is fourth nationally in total passing yards (2,036) and passing yards per game (339.3), although his success throwing the ball hasn't translated yet into many victories for the Bears.
"They throw the ball down the field a little bit more (than Washington State)", said Riley, who expressed displeasure at a second straight nighttime kickoff on the road. "They have an outstanding group of receivers. They have a lot of young talent that we certainly knew about in the recruiting process, including a talented young quarterback. They have a lot of speed. They are very capable of hurting you quickly."
* Updated injury report from Riley:
Zack Robinson - concussion (doubtful);
Connor Hamlett - knee (doubtful - underwent MRI)
Richard Mullaney - turf toe (day-to-day)
Tyler Perry - sprained shoulder (probable).
* Right guard Grant Enger returned to the starting lineup after missing three games with a sprained knee.
* Running back Storm Woods returned from a concussion injury and amassed 18 yards on 12 carries, although he did score two touchdowns from short distance and caught five passes for 64 yards. "He played physically and there appeared to be no hangover whatsoever from his injury," Riley said. "He had some good, tough runs inside and executed in the passing game real well."
* Oregon State totaled 102 yards on the ground, the third time in six games this season they have eclipsed 100 yards rushing in a single game. The Beavers ran the ball 28 times, tying for third highest in 2013. "We have to keep growing there," Riley said. "We've been pretty good in pass protection. We're getting a little better in the running game. We'll keep plugging away."
* Richard Mullaney hit the century mark for the first time this season by finishing with 122 yards on five catches. All five receptions went for first downs. Mullaney has now secured a first down or touchdown on 24 of his 30 receptions in 2013
* The Beavers led the Pac-12 in passing first downs entering the Washington State game. They had 19 in the win, giving them a 95 on the year, an average of 15.8 per game.
* The Beavers improved to 46-9 when committing fewer turnovers than their opponent over the last 118 games.
* Oregon State has scored 30 or more points in all six games this season, the longest streak since 2000 when the Beavers had nine straight.
* Placekicker Trevor Romaine moved into sole possession of third place in the OSU record books with 38 career field goals when he connected on a 20-yarder in the first quarter.
* Cornerback Steven Nelson finished the WSU game with a season-high nine tackles, while Rashaad Reynolds recorded the first multi-interception game of his career.
* Senior left tackle Michael Philipp made the 41st start of his career, tying him for 13th all-time at Oregon State.
* Riley on WR Kevin Cummings (18 receptions for 221 yards): "He is very intelligent and has maximized every bit of talent. He runs well and is probably our best guy in knowing how to beat coverage. I have a lot of admiration for him."
* Riley was pleased with how the Beavers executed the fly sweep against Washington State.
* Riley said OSU returned to Corvallis around 3 a.m. early Sunday.
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