COLUMN: A labor lost for Beavs

FOR THE FIRST TIME in 2012, Oregon State fell. It was a game characterized by big plays on offense and defense – more for the Huskies than the Beavs. Oregon State struggled at Century Link, suffering a loss that can be attributed to any number of things – a wet ball, a wet field, Sean Mannion's four interceptions, questionable penalties or sloppy defense on behalf of OSU – take your pick. But...

Well, it happened. It's accurate to say while observing this tilt in Seattle that Beaver fans found themselves hanging their heads more than cheering. One team came to play and the other left their BCS cleats in Corvallis.

I mentioned earlier this week that Washington had been very Jekyll and Hyde throughout the season… and oh was that apparent on Saturday night. UW has now assumed the role of 2012 Giant Killers in the Pac-12, knocking off Stanford in Week Four, floundering for three weeks, and now eclipsing OSU by a mere field goal to go home with a win.

Indeed, Jekyll and Hyde were a conjoined entity Saturday night.

But in the end, this game was won -- and lost -- on the defensive side of the ball for Oregon State. And how strange is that.

WASHINGTON'S DEFENSE was excellent and OSU's wasn't. Yes, some of Sean Mannion's throws may have been questionable at best, but the Husky defenders were the tipping point. Sean Parker and the Washington secondary brought the heat tonight and proved especially effective on fourth down, preventing the Beavers from converting in the clutch on three occasions.

For the Beavers, the bane on defense was their inability to prevent Washington from converting on third down. The momentum shifted in Washington's favor every time the Huskies converted on third and eight, third and thirteen, third and what-the-hell ever.

Parker was a game changer for the Huskies, astute in his reads all game long, and wrapped up nicely in the open field. And then there was that hit.

Oregon STATE'S Markus Wheaton got absolutely decked by the Husky safety halfway through the second quarter - should a flag have been thrown for helmet-to-helmet contact? Replays showing a helmet-to-helmet strike seemed to indicate oh, hell yes.

But it wasn't. And would it have mattered in the end? All we know is that Wheaton looked practically comatose for a minute as he lay on the soaked fields of Century Link. (Thankfully, he looked completely lucid later on. But he was done for the night.)

And while OSU has more offensive weapons than Mr. Wheaton, the upshot was that Mannion and Co. sure had a rough go of showing after that – the loss of Wheaton was a knife to the ribs during a first half that made Oregon State look like they had been ridden hard and put away wet in Seattle.

MANNION'S UNFORTUNATE HABIT on Saturday of finding Husky defenders as opposed to his own wideouts all night long did little to assist the Beavers in gaining the upper hand. But the burden should not be placed solely on the shoulders of the sophomore QB. The OSU offensive line struggled in the first half against a young Husky D-line.

That resulted in running back Storm Woods getting a slower start than usual, which not only affected the tempo of the game but forced Mannion to toss the rock a little more than he should have in such wet weather.

But darn you, Mike Riley.

It was clear at the end of the second half that Mannion, fresh off the disabled list, wasn't the answer. Wasn't it?

I imagine I was not the only one thinking, "Where is Cody Vaz?" as the first half came to an end. And yet Riley kept Mannion in through the third quarter. Granted, the OSU offense showed a bit of a spark on a two-play, 83 yard drive where Woods showcased some breakaway speed on a clean 29 yard run, followed up a pass to Brandin Cooks to paydirt along the sidelines. And yes, the sophomore receiver looked like he was at a track meet.

But that was but a brief respite, a mirage for all that had come before and would continue to come again. The OSU flame in the second half was repeatedly snuffed by an aggressive and frequently overpowering blitzing approach from the Husky front seven. One play after another, Mannion felt the pressure and failed to look off defenders – he was so dialed in on his No.1 that the Husky secondary had little issue reading his eyes and making immediate adjustments.

And as you already know, it led to four picks. Four painful picks.

JUST WHEN Beaver Nation had resigned themselves to the inevitable, enter Cody Vaz.

And out of the blue, the momentum shifted back to OSU -- a rousing 29-yard touchdown completion to Connor Hamlett that tied up the game in a low-scoring affair will do that. But in the end, Vaz's impact was too little too late. The game ended on an incomplete pass from Vaz intended for Kevin Cummings – a play that an apoplectic Riley couldn't believe a pass interference penalty wasn't called.

BUT IN THE end there were no more reprieves, and OSU's loss was a bitter one. Their chances at going 7-0 dashed at Century link by a Washington Husky team that came ready to upset a budding giant in the Pac-12.

Perhaps this lesson will ignite a fire under the feet of an OSU team. Perhaps the Beavs will feel they cannot let this loss prevent them from knocking off their next opponent, No.17 Stanford, and getting back into the BCS conversation.


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