CORVALLIS – The football gods were smiling on the Beavs in the fourth quarter of their stunning 34-30 win over San Diego State. How else do you explain a win where OSU had just 10 rushing yards and a shaky pass attack for much of the game? A couple of huge defensive stops at the end moved Oregon State to 3-1 on the season. But there is so much to talk about here...
First, I would like to say that the Beavs have done it in style this season, gutting out a 3-1 early mark. But I'd be lying.
Players of the Game Offense
Quarterback Sean Mannion came up big when it mattered most, in the final 30 minutes. Ball control was the name of the game, and the Beavers QB managed to pull an accidental rabbit out of the hat on a pass that fell slightly behind Terron Ward, but ultimately gave the junior tailback the perfect position to sneak by a would-be tackler and into the redzone for six. It put the Beavs within two points after a 10-play, 81-yard drive that took nearly three minutes off the play clock.
Mannion ended the game with 367 yards and three touchdowns through the air, making this the fourth straight game where the junior has tossed for 350-plus yards and at least three TD's. He ended the night with a 69 percent completion rating after going 38-for-55, numbers below what he had established as an average through three games.
Steven Nelson pretty much won the game, so naturally the player of the game designation to him. But there was more to it than that.
Props are wholly deserved for the Beaver D-line and linebackers, who in spite of multiple missed tackles and poor angles of pursuit throughout the first half, pulled their collective selves together and shut down SDSU in the second half, allowing only 96 yards on 30 plays over the last two quarters. Contrast that with the first half effort of Mark Banker's troops, who allowed 241 yards on 36 plays over the first two quarters.
Turning Point/Game Changer
Nelson's pick-six was both the turning point and the defensive highlight of the game. You could argue Nelson was out of position had San Diego State QB Quinn Kaehler thrown an accurate pass. But Kaehler tossed an ugly pass under pressure from OSU and it landed right in the hands of Nelson, who needed only to stretch the ball 16 yards for a score. Nelson's pick for a TD was the second of the season for the Beavs, and the fourth interception of the year for Nelson. It put Oregon State up 34-30, and Ryan Murphy sealed it on SDSU's final possession with a pick of his own.
Defensive Play of the Game -
The Nelson pick six was the nail in the coffin to be sure. A stroke of luck for Oregon State that will surely go down as a gift from college football heaven that may well have saved the Beavers entire season.
Don't forget about linebacker D.J. Alexander's sack on first-and-ten with 2:20 left on the clock immediately following Nelson's pick. OSU had five sacks on the night, more than they have combined for all season, and Alexander's was the biggest and most important sack of the entire game. Alexander's drop on Kaehler put the first time starting QB in a tough spot that forced him to throw to make up yardage, and Murphy was there to capitalize on Kaehler's mistakes.
Murphy, on a tipped pass attempt by Kaehler, really did seal the deal. There wasn't much good on-field awareness by the D, but better late than never on a so-so evening for the secondary.
Offensive Play of the Game -
This was a lopsided offensive showing by Oregon State, who opted to air it out all day long with 55 pass attempts compared to just 20 runs. That said, I will give the award to what was arguably Mannion's best toss of the night – a luxurious, signed-sealed-delivered lob to Cooks that coasted right over the shoulder of an SDSU defender good for 32 yards. Mannion has found an element of ball control and vision that he lacked in 2012 and that toss was Exhibit A.
Unexpected Developments -
Freshman offensive lineman Sean Harlow was forced into action when sophomore center Josh Mitchell sprained a foot – his redshirt is now burned. The move put Isaac Seumalo back at center (third string center Justin Addie has remained inactive with a concussion all week) and brought Harlow off the bench to play right tackle. Riley and his staff were hoping to keep Harlow off the field for as long as possible in order to encourage the growth of his skill set and save him a year of eligibility, but OSU played the hand it was dealt Saturday – will Harlow start at RT from now on? It would seem likely.
Oregon State was responsible for 11 penalties in the first half alone. They ended the night victorious, sure, but with 13 penalties totaling 99 hashes. In the first half at Qualcomm, OSU allowed more penalties than they did throughout the entire Utah bout last weekend. Penalties are a growing concern for OSU, and is really hurting the Beavs when trying to gain momentum and lock down a lead on presumably sub-par opponents.
San Diego State put a ton of pressure on the Oregon State offense, namely Sean Mannion, Harlow and Grant Bays. It would be easy to argue here that with a dilapidated offensive line, it's no surprise that intense pressure reached the QB. But Mannion struggled to shrug off the heat in the second half and looked rattled at times. And instead of increasing the run game, OSU kept throwing it, kept encouraging the blitz and aiding the SDSU defensive attack schematically. Again, without a lot of luck and some sharp eyes in the secondary, OSU would be 2-2 right now
Meaningless Stats of the Game-
Is running a meaningless stat? The Beaver ground game was about as potent as non-alcoholic beer. Mike Riley and his staff only called four runs in the first half. Four. Hard to figure.
Terron Ward posted 23 total yards on the ground, but much of that was lost due to sacks on Mannion in the final tally. Had it not been for a last minute run by Brandin Cooks that went for 12 hashes and a final bruising first down, the Beavs would have completed the game with negative rushing yardage for the first time in a long, long time. Saying the OSU ground game is marginally ineffective is sugar coating it here – I think it has become obvious that the Beavs are not going to try and truly run the ball in 2013 barring something very unforeseen.
OSU outscored SDSU 20-3 in the second half.
Oddly, Cooks 14 receptions for 141 yards didn't have near the import one might think. Yes, the yardage was huge, as were some of the clutch grabs Cooks made along the sideline in the second half. But OSU needed two stunning defensive plays to grab this victory.
Oregon State tight ends combined for nine receptions and 71 yards between Connor Hamlett, Caleb Smith and Kellen Clute. Clute notched the only receiving TD for the TE corps at Qualcomm, his second of the season.
Monday Morning Quarterbacking –
If you don't run the ball, what exactly is the point of a play action pass? I'm curious, because OSU's passing options in the first half relied so heavily on play action fakes, despite a practically nonexistent running attack.
The overwhelming majority of OSU's penalties were undoubtedly maddening for fans. Bays had multiple false starts and the entire o-line caused the head field judge to make a joke because everyone had jumped the gun except for now injured center Josh Mitchell (ankle sprain).
On a brighter note – the OSU defense figured out how to blitz. And that should mean the secondary will be stouter. All in all, the run defense Saturday was the best OSU has put together this season. Now, if they could just learn how to tackle… br>
Special Teams Edge
The special teams edge goes to SDSU here. Kicker Wes Feer was three-for-three, a handful of kick returns by Colin Lockett netted 101 return yards and they downed two punts inside the Beavers' 20-yard line including one inside the five-yard line..
Both MIK Rommel Mageo and DT Brandon Bennett saw a good chunk of time in the starting defensive rotation on Saturday. Bennett Jackson had a sack on the evening and Mageo put up a hell of a fight in the trenches.