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October 16, 2013

Five Things Learned: Week 6

Scoring 35 points in a span of less than 10 minutes bridging the third and fourth quarters lifted Oregon State to a wild 52-24 victory over Washington State on Saturday night in Pullman, Wash. Here are five things we learned from the Beavers' hard-fought victory over the Cougars:

1. Coaches will soon be calling Mike Riley to learn his road game secrets: Does Riley have the secret to fourth quarter success on the road? He might. In three road games this season at Utah, San Diego State and Washington State, the Beavers have outscored the home team, 59-24, in the final 15 minutes and in two of those three games they dominated the fourth quarter Last Saturday night, the Beavers defense rose to the occasion with four interceptions and a fumble in 17 offensive plays by the Cougars, including three interceptions in five offensive plays by WSU, a dizzying stretch that still has Beaver fans buzzing with delight.

Here's the fourth quarter body count from the Beavers' three road games this season: 12 possessions by the opponents, seven interceptions, one fumble, one punt, two touchdowns and one field goal. Oregon State is 6-2 in its last eight road games dating back to last season when they defeated UCLA, Arizona and Brigham Young on their turfs. That's a lot of In-and-Out Burgers. Little wonder opposing Division I coaches will casting an eye towards Corvallis as they figure out how to prevail on the road with the same regularity as the Beavers.

2. Nobody can stop the Oregon State passing attack: Many have tried, nobody has succeeded. At this point, the Beavers possess the most prolific attack in the country with quarterback Sean Mannion and wide receiver Brandin Cooks posting video game like numbers in the first six weeks. Home or road, it doesn't matter. The Beavers are No. 1 in passing offense in the country (433.2 yards per game) and 11th in scoring offense (43.3 ppg). Remember when Mannion was locked in a fight with Cody Vaz for the starting job in preseason camp? Me neither. Well, if the competition was merely staged by Riley to motivate Mannion, the strategy has worked brilliantly.

He has cut his interceptions significantly from one every 23.8 pass attempts in 2012 (15 INT in 309 passes) to one every 96.3 attempts (3 INT in 289 passes), a huge difference. Cooks, meanwhile, has flourished since stepping into the No. 1 receiver role following the departure of Markus Wheaton. Last year, Cooks averaged 5.2 receptions and 88.5 yards per game. A year later, he's improved those numbers to 10.5 receptions and 157.3 receiving yards per game, essentially doubling his production.

3. The Beavers defense is better than you think: First impressions are difficult to overcome and presently there are a lot of college football fans out there that believe the Beavers defense is horrid. Why? They surrendered 625 yards to Division I-AA Eastern Washington in the season opener, a setback that still haunts Oregon State in the national polls. This week, the Beavers fell into the 'Others Receiving Votes" category with 21 points in the AP poll. Since that stunning setback, the OSU defense has steadily climbed its way out of the hole, allowing an average of 357.2 yards in the last five games. Only one of the last five opponents during the ongoing five-game winning streak has surpassed 400 total yards.

The Oregon State defense has excelled in two key areas - third down conversion percentage defense (31.1 percent by opponents) and interceptions (12). They've also been decent stopping the run (141.2 ypg, sixth in Pac-12), tackling opposing ball carriers behind the line of scrimmage (45th nationally) and forcing turnovers (15 in all, 2.5 per game). Individually, cornerback Steven Nelson has five interceptions in six games to lead the nation. The pass defense will be tested again on Saturday when Oregon State faces California in Berkeley. Recent history suggests OSU will hold its own.

4. The running game has life: Right now, Oregon State is debunking the long-held belief that you must to run the football in order to win consistently. Let's face it, the Beavers were horrible running the ball during the three-game stretch extending from Hawaii to San Diego State. Granted, the Beavers won all three games (thanks mainly to Mannion's right arm), but they averaged just 1.42 yards per rush in those three contests (combined 115 yards on 81 carries). However, in the last two games, the ground game has shown signs of life.

In the win over Colorado, the Beavers averaged 3.53 yards per rush (120 yards on season-high 34 carries). Last Saturday night, they amassed 102 yards on 28 carries (3.64 yards per attempt) at Washington State. Considering Oregon State is 122nd nationally in rushing offense (73.7 ypg), it's doubtful the Beavers are striking fear into the heart of opponents with the mediocre production (or lack thereof) from the ground game, but the last two games have seen signs of progress. Perhaps the return of Storm Woods from the concussion will ignite the run game.

5. Richard Mullaney is turning into a secret weapon: Brandin Cook gets most of the attention in terms of Oregon State's receivers, and for good reason. But Mullaney, who surpassed 100 yards receiving for the first time this season by finishing with 122 yards on five catches at Washington State, is threatening Cook for the title of best clutch receiver. All five of his receptions against the Cougars went for first downs. Mullaney has now secured a first down or touchdown on 24 of his 30 receptions in 2013. Clutch, indeed. Mullaney is the second leading receiver on the Beavers with 521 receiving yards. His yards per catch (17.4) is actually 2.4 yards better than Cooks' figure (15.0), although he has less than half the receptions (63-30) and far fewer touchdown catches (11-2). Here is the breakdown of Mullaney's catches at Washington State:

Third-and-6 at OSU 29: 13-yard reception (1st down)

First-and-10 at WSU 39: 22-yard reception (1st down)

First-and-10 at OSU 25: 18-yard reception (1st down)

Second-and-8 at OSU 45: 23-yard reception (1st down)

Second-and-10 at OSU 27: 46-yard reception (1st down)

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