COMMENTARY: Developments hard to fathom

CORVALLIS--The moment I saw a trip to Madison on the schedule, it felt all too familiar. OSU's track record in September away games is dismal, and Wisconsin's No. 11 preseason ranking, and their powerful rushing attack pitted against the Beavs unproven front seven, combined to feel like another future painful, nationally televised experience. But this past week held a surprise I didn't foresee.

'We may not have a prayer, but we'll take our lumps, get that national exposure, and money, and chalk it up as a learning experience,' some Beaver Believers might be seeing about the Wisconsin game.

Apparently and unfortunately, given this week's events, the Oregon State coaching staff is thinking along the same lines.

That, I didn't see coming.


They won't come out and say it. They shouldn't come out and say it. But the decision to play two quarterbacks - junior Ryan Katz and redshirt freshman Sean Mannion - tells me as much.

Any glimmer of hope Oregon State has at Camp Randall Stadium rests on the right arm of a confident, in-rhythm Katz.

After what Riley hasn't said, Katz has to be anything but confident. And with Mannion in and out of the huddle, Katz will be anything but in rhythm. I've never been one to question Mike Riley. In Riley we trust, I say. But for the second time in as many weeks, I find myself second-guessing a decision Riley has made.

When Riley opted to bench Katz, who threw for 2,401 yards and 17 touchdowns last season, in favor of Mannion, I thought the coach was sending the second-year starter a message.

I thought he was trying to light a fire in Katz. I didn't think it'd go much further than that.

I assumed Riley would sit before the media Tuesday and give Katz a vote of confidence. I assumed Riley would squash any quarterback controversy talk. Instead, he used the less-than-reassuring "today" phrase. "Today, Ryan is our starter." Just like NFL, MLB and NBA general managers say "Today, (insert coach on the hot seat) is our coach" on the eve of that coach's termination. Not exactly a vote of confidence.

Then, Riley said both quarterbacks would play Saturday. Exactly the opposite of "squashing a quarterback controversy."

Maybe it is all a ploy. Maybe it's a long, drawn-out way to get Katz fired up. Maybe if he leads the Beavers to touchdowns on their first two possessions, we won't see Mannion again this fall. Assuming Katz even starts – Mannion took the vast majority of snaps with the 1s all practice week long.

But if it's anything other than that - if the coaches truly do intend to use both quarterbacks - they must be thinking about the future. They must be treating this Wisconsin game like an experiment. Because I do not believe that they honestly believe playing two quarterbacks gives them the best chance to win.

Katz did not play well Saturday, there is no hiding that. He was hesitant in the pocket. He missed on a couple throws. He checked down too early.

But he still has an NFL arm, and he's still the same guy who completed 30 of 42 passes for 393 yards in an upset of then-No. 9 Arizona in his fifth career start.

Sure, it's possible he could come out flat against Wisconsin, much like he did against Sacramento State. But it's also possible the flip could switch and he could turn in a Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week type performance.

The Beavers won't win Saturday with their defense. They won't win with their running game. The only way they'll win is if they put points on the board, and the only way they'll put points on the board is if Katz plays to his full potential.

Katz has the ability to go out and win a game. Mannion, at this point in his career, is simply a game-manager. A game-manager won't win an upset game like the one the Beavers are trying to win Saturday.

Riley should put the ball in Katz' hands and tell him to go win a football game and prove that he's worthy of keeping his job. Should Katz fail, so be it. Take the bye week to reevaluate the quarterback situation before hosting UCLA.

But giving the ball to both of them simply won't cut it in Madison.

Treating the game as though it's an experiment?

Good luck explaining that to the Beaver fans who paid for a plane ride, hotel room and game ticket.

Or, even the ones who altered and shifted around all their family plans on Saturday in order to take in the broadcast and root on the Beavers.

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