What a difference a Markus Wheaton makes.
Hot and cold performances from Cody Vaz and the OSU offensive line left fans wondering ‘Where's Sean Mannion?' in the first half.
But the second half was another story, thanks to some desperately needed offensive production -- in the running game, and that opened everything else up.
Oregon State PULLED ahead in the third quarter and never looked back, largely due to the contributions of Wheaton, who ended the evening with four receptions for 108 yards and two TD's. However, short term memory was a friend of the orange and black in this tilt, considering the first quarter for Oregon State was so… lousy.
Mistakes happen. Vaz lost the ball on a missed cue by tackle Michael Philipp just 21 seconds into the first quarter -- and talk about a three and out. It was more like a three and knocked out.
Arizona's Junior Onyeali recovered the Vaz fumble and took it in for six. And an amped crowd that has barely found their seats went dead silent at Reser Stadium before the game was a minute old.
And was Vaz a bit nervous at the start or what? His first few tosses were great – had his receivers been 9-feet tall. Attribution for OSU's lackluster first quarter offense goes to the front five though, as does Vaz's apparent inability to throw a normal pass on the Beavs first three drives. The Oregon State offensive line looked lost for most if not all of the first quarter. .
But Philipp and crew began to turn the tide, slowly but surely.
A 50-yard TD pass from Vaz to Wheaton midway through the second quarter got the crowd back into it. Until the OSU front five sucked the life out of Reser Stadium again. They missed numerous blocking assignments, and ASU's defensive line was doing everything right in the early portions of the game, posting three tremendous sacks, all of which probably left Vaz hearing the twittering birds.
Whatever was in the air during the first half, it sure wasn't friendly to Vaz, who was sacked a total of six times on the night (not all were the o-line's fault, as Vaz failed to recognize the pressure on occasion.) But to make matters worse, not even the special teams unit could catch a break for OSU – a Keith Kostol punt from inside the OSU end zone was blocked and rolled through the end zone for a safety – putting ASU up 16-10 with time still remaining in the first quarter.
The atmosphere at Reser early on was quiet, stale… grumpy.
The inability of the run game to find its legs in the beginning left many fans nervous. But that would change. With an injured Storm Woods out, in his stead would be a healthy dose of Malcolm Agnew and -
Enter Terron Ward.
The third string tailback behind Woods and Agnew opened up the Beaver's offensive attack early in the second quarter with a stellar 53-yard run for the pylons that was followed by a roar capable of shattering the glass in the press box.
The offensive line was energized before heading out onto the field for the second half, and it began to show on the scoreboard.
WHEATON MAY RECEIVE the player of the game award, legitimately, for his solid performance – but from this chair, the award should go to Ward, who wrapped up the game with 19 carries for 146 yards and a TD.
His race toward the sticks in the first half was the play that shifted Ol' Mo in OSU's favor, pushing the Beavs into high gear on both offense and defense for the remainder of the game.
IT WAS THE Beaver D that needed the boost the most early on. As the first half came to a close, it looked like the dynamic ASU rushing trio of D.J. Foster, Marion Grice and Cameron Marshall was going to have its way with an off kilter and sluggish front seven for OSU.
But looks proved to be deceiving…
Time and time again, OSU tamed a beast of a running attack, leaving the Sun Devils limping along toward the finish line with 150 total yards rushing between Grice, Foster, Marshall and Kelly (who actually closed out the game as ASU's top rusher, with 80 yards).
The last gasp of ASU's premier tailback squadron was snuffed out in the second half as Scott Crichton, Dylan Wynn and Rudolf Fifita found their groove and started penetrating the backfield, forcing Kelly (and occasionally Michael Eubank) to head for the hills on a few key plays.
BUT ALSO GIVE credit where credit is due – Vaz ended up putting up strong numbers (267 yards, three TD's and one INT), despite a less than desirable sack collection (again, not all his fault).
I said it earlier this week - if Vaz could toss for between 250-300 yards and three TD's against an intimidating ASU secondary, he would have effectively proven himself worthy of the reins for the OSU offense and would lead the Beavers to victory.
Thanks for making me a prophet, Cody.
Now the question is this – should we all expect Vaz at the head of the offensive attack for the next big matchup on Oregon State' agenda – No.14 ranked Stanford?
My magic eight ball says: You bet your bottom dollar.