WSU in Week 10: Oregon State

WHEN WASHINGTON STATE squares off against Oregon State late in the 2014 season, will the Beavers will try to get back to running the ball or will they again look to ride the right arm of quarterback Sean Mannion?

All signs this offseason point to OSU throwing it a lot in 2014.

The OSU offensive line is replacing three starters and was perilously thin this spring. C Isaac Seumalo, a future NFL pick, and G Josh Andrews both figure to be back in the fold for fall camp but depth is a big question mark.

One possibility looking more likely is for Oregon State to move Seumalo out to tackle and Roman Sapolu or Grant Bays stepping in at center. Seumalo is not a prototypical o-tackle but he’s their best lineman and he filled in away from center last year when injuries struck. It likely depends on if JUCO transfer Bobby Keenan is ready to play in the Pac-12 at tackle – results this spring were mixed.

OSU wants to run the ball more, they want more balance. They ranked 115th out of 123 teams in the nation in rushing but found something in their last two games, rushing for 231 and 195 hashes against Oregon and Boise State, respectively.

This spring, however, the Beavs again struggled on the ground. And when push comes to shove, Mike Riley will talk all week about running the ball more but on Saturdays, he’s going to do whatever works best and that’s been the passing game of late.

In the backfield, Terron Ward can be bullish, Storm Woods has some wiggle to his game and fans are wondering if Chris Brown will get more touches this season. But none of the three has great speed to the boundary not can they make a lot of yards on their own when the o-line loses the majority of the battles up front. And that means more Mannion.

Mannion was spectacular in the first half of the season, a legit Heisman candidate who led the nation in passing early. But the schedule was stacked in the second half of the season and Mannion struggled against better defenses who brought more pressure. He threw 12 interceptions over the last five games.

Cougar d-linemen Xavier Cooper, Toni Pole and Destiny Vaeao will play a key role in determining the outcome of this game.

But Mannion remains one of the better QBs in the conference and this will be his senior year. Mannion last season threw for a Pac-12 record 4,662 passing yards on 400-of-603 passing with 37 TDs against 15 picks. He has the ability to take over a game if a defense doesn’t get enough heat on him.

He’ll be without all-everything receiver Brandin Cooks but OSU has a potential star in sophomore Victor Bolden – he has the same kind of burst that made Cooks special. Richard Mullaney is a sure-handed chain mover when healthy and OSU is expecting big things out of 6-4, 245-pound redshirt freshman wideout Jordan Villamin in the same way WSU fans anticipated Vince Mayle’s arrival a year ago. They’ve also got one of the best pass-catching tight end combos in the Pac-12 in Connor Hamlett and Caleb Smith.

Defensively, the Beavers should be better than a year ago. Up front, they get DT Jalen Grimble on the field this year after he sat out 2013 following his transfer from Miami. He had a standout spring. Fellow DTs Siale Hautau and Edwin Delva are seniors, the question is if the former JUCO players will pop in their second season playing.

On the edge, OSU is dealing with a big loss after Tacoma’s Scott Crichton went pro early but Dylan Wynn is an underrated d-end with a motor. A reserve last year, Jaswha James is the odds-on favorite to replace Crichton in the starting lineup at d-end.

The Beavs’ strongest position on defense is found at linebacker, with three experienced seniors in the starting lineup. Michael Doctor is back after missing almost all of last year, alongside D.J. Alexander and Jabral Johnson. Johnson moves to the MIK after finishing second on the Beavs in tackles last season (94) while filling in for Doctor.

OSU has experience and speed at corner with Steven Nelson, a JUCO transfer who made the transition almost seamlessly his first year, and the rising Larry Scott -- they might not miss Rashaad Reynolds too awfully much. At safety, Tyrequek Zimmerman is underrated, don’t be surprised for him to emerge this season alongside the more well-known commodity and one of the better safeties in the Pac-12, Ryan Murphy.

Oregon State’s defense should keep them in a lot of games but if OSU’s offense remains one-dimensional, they will have some of the same challenges to overcome as they did last year, when they suffered through a five-game losing streak.

It’s usually best to catch the Beavs early, for whatever reason Mike Riley-led teams tend to take a few games to get things in sync. That won’t be the case this season for the Cougs who play OSU on Nov. 8 in Corvallis. Last year saw the Cougs outplay OSU for three quarters only to suffer a complete meltdown in the fourth quarter. If WSU can bring consistent pressure this time around, however, their chances to get out of Corvallis with a win increase substantially.

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