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September 11, 2013

Five Things Learned: Hawaii

Oregon State dominated the second half in a 33-14 victory over Hawaii on Saturday at Reser Stadium, evening the Beavers' record at 1-1 heading into a two-game road swing to Utah and San Diego State. Here are five things we learned from OSU's win:

1. Yes, Oregon State is capable of playing solid defense: Technically, the Beavers are near or at the bottom of the Pac-12 ranking in the four major defensive categories: total defense (432 yards per game), scoring defense (31.5 points per game), passing defense (309 ypg) and running defense (123 ypg). Coming off the dreary display in the season-opening loss to Eastern Washington, the Beavers defense knew all eyes would be upon them. Sure, Hawaii has hardly been an offensive juggernaut under Norm Chow as they transition from a pedal-to-the-metal philosophy to a more balanced attack, but holding the Rainbow Warriors to 239 total yards is encouraging with the start of the Pac-12 play on the horizon this weekend.

In Hawaii's first nine offensive possessions, they ran seven or plays and gained more than 18 yards only once, a nine-play, 80-yard march in the second quarter that produced a game-tying touchdown. Prior to that drive, Hawaii ran 19 plays for 31 yards in the first 23 minutes of the game. Keeping the Utah offense under wraps to that extent in Salt Lake City might be too much to ask for, but the outlook for the Beavers is far more promising - and far less bleak - than 10 days ago.

2. Storm Woods is developing into a formidable dual threat running back: With 118 rushing yards (59 yards per game) in the first two contests, Storm Woods falls just outside the top 10 rushers in the Pac-12. But his name appears on another coveted conference list - average receptions per game. In eight quarters of football, Woods has 15 receptions to go along with 33 rushing attempts for a total of 48 touches, an average of six per quarter. Certainly, Woods can't complain about not being actively involved in the offense. Saturday, he had 50 yards rushing on 17 carries (more on that later) and caught seven passes for a team-leading 95 yards, including a 48-yard reception on OSU's second snap of the game.

In other words, he had almost as many yards on one catch as he did running the football for the entire game. The Beavers' first touchdown drive spotlighted Woods' importance to the OSU offense - four rushes for 20 yards and three catches for 10 yards for seen touches during the 15-play, 69-yrd touchdown drive. Right now, wide receiver Brandin Cooks (20 receptions) is the most explosive player on the Beavers offense, but Woods isn't far behind.

3. The Beavers must run the football better: The Beavers have just one home game between now and October 26 when they host Stanford in a possible monster game in the Pac-12 North. But, in order to make that game meaningful, the Beavers must maneuver through a five-game minefield that includes four road tests at Utah, at San Diego State, at Washington State (no longer a gimmee after the Cougars stunned Southern Cal in Los Angeles) and at California. What's the best recipe for winning on the road? Churn out long drives by getting the ground game going.

Quantified less diplomatically, run the football better with more consistency than they did in the two home games against Eastern Washington and Hawaii when they totaled 162 yards on the ground, including 57 yards on 33 rushing attempts against Hawaii. Run blocking must improve, for starters. Last season, one of the major reasons Oregon State was able to beat UCLA, Arizona and BYU in their first three road games was a reliable rushing attack. Woods had 161 yards rushing in the win over the Wildcats in Tucson, a major reason OSU won that game. Riley realizes his offense must get the running game cranked up to have success on the road.

4. The opponent can't score when they don't have the football (most of the time): Typically, time of possession is one of the most meaningless stats in football, particularly in these days of fast-paced, hurry-up offenses where the objective is to run as many plays as possible and tire out a defense rather than accumulate as much TOP as possible. After the halftime score was deadlocked at 14-14 (raising the uneasiness level with Reser Stadium), Oregon State thoroughly dominated the second half offensively, controlling the ball for an astounding 22:45 compared to 7:15 for Hawaii.

Why so lopsided? The biggest reason was third-down conversion rate, next to turnover margin perhaps the most important statistic in football. Hawaii was 0-for-4 on third down opportunities and ran just 26 offensive plays in the second half after going 1-for-7 on third down in the first half. Football contains few guarantees, but the odds of winning are greatly enhanced greatly when your opponent goes 1-for-11 on third downs. Oregon State's three second-half scoring drives lasted nine, nine and 11 plays, consuming a combined 12:28 in the process. Ironically, the Beavers longest drive of the second half was a 10-play possession that ended with a punt and drained 4:41 of the clock, undoubtedly frustrating Chow and the Hawaii coaches as they stood helplessly on the sidelines.

5. Sean Mannion is hotter than an active volcano right now: Sean Mannion is so sweltering hot right now even Mt. St. Helens is envious. He is second in the Pac-12 in passing yards per game (397.0) behind Jared Goff of California. However, his passer efficiency rating is third in the Pac-12 (181.2), 44 points higher than Goff, so Mannion isn't simply dropping back and slinging the ball haphazardly all over the yard. He has only been intercepted once in 86 pass attempts, as his touchdown pass-to-interception ratio is an impressive 7-to-1 after two games.

His completion percentage of 79.1 percent (68-of-86) is the highest in the Pac-12, while his yards per pass attempt (an underrated statistic for evaluating quarterbacks) stands at a gaudy 9.23. Frankly, if Mannion was playing for a major market program like Southern Cal or UCLA or even a Top 10 team such as the Fighting Phil Knights, national reporters from the four-letter network and elsewhere would be racing to interview him. Mannion will be tested this week by a good Utah defense in the conference opener for both teams. If Mannion makes the grade (he plays well and OSU wins), watch out because he could be headed for a magical year, one that might rewrite the Oregon State record book.


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